Japanese artist Yasuhiro Suzuki long has wondered about what lies beneath the surface of Tokyo’s Sumida River, a question he’s symbolically remedied with a sleek vessel that unzips the middle of the waterway. Suzuki’s “Zip-Fastener Ship” mimics the ubiquitous closures as it separates the central river with a wake that splays out just like the teeth-lined tape.
Completed in 2004, the silver vessel grew out of an idea Suzuki had in 2002 after he watched a ship glide down the waterway while flying overhead. “The undertow of the boat, which travels back and forth between Azuma-bashi Bridge and Sakura-bashi Bridge, opened up the water like a zipper to connect the other side of the river,” he says. “(I hoped) that it would change the way we look at the city landscape.”
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Banksy’s latest artwork can be spotted on a vessel rescuing refugees from north Africa, who are attempting to cross the Mediterranean to find safety in Europe. The anonymous British artist, whose work we’ve talked about extensively, used the proceeds from the sale of an artwork to purchase a former French Navy boat, which is named after anarchist Louise Michel. With a fire extinguisher, Banksy sprayed the exterior with pink paint and adorned it with a version of the iconic “Girl with Balloon.” This iteration outfits the child with a lifevest and swaps the red heart with a pink flotation device.
The project was conceived of in September 2019 when Banksy contacted Pia Klemp, who led several missions with NGO boats to rescue refugees. “Hello Pia, I’ve read about your story in the papers. You sound like a badass. I am an artist from the UK and I’ve made some work about the migrant crisis, obviously I can’t keep the money. Could you use it to buy a new boat or something? Please let me know. Well done. Banksy,” the artist wrote, according to The Guardian.
Now, Klemp and a professional rescue team helm the 31-meter lifeboat, which already has brought aboard hundreds of refugees. Capable of at least 27 knots, the boat is faster than most ships, allowing it to reach people faster and “hopefully outrun the so-called Libyan coastguard,” Klemp says. The project’s mission is explained on its site:
It might seem incredible there is need for a homemade emergency vehicle in one of Europe’s busiest waterways, but there is. The migrant crisis means that European states are instructing their Coastguard not to answer distress calls from ‘non-Europeans’ leaving desperate people to drift helplessly at sea. To make matters worse authorities prevent other boats from providing assistance, arresting crews and impounding boats that do.
This past weekend, the Italian Coast Guard responded to distress calls from the vessel after it became overloaded with passengers, at one point carrying 219 refugees and 10 crew members on the main ship, with 33 people still in rafts floating alongside. The agency evacuated 49 migrants along with the boat Sea-Watch 4, which brought aboard another 150.
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Through a Blur of Migratory Birds, Photographer Sankar Sridhar Captures the Rituals of the Yamuna River
When Dehli-based photographer Sankar Sridhar visits the Yamuna River in winter, he observes hundreds of gulls, terns, and other birds as they flock to the Ganges tributary that flows through the Indian city. Despite the river’s inability to maintain a thriving ecosystem in that stretch, the avians are spurred by site fidelity as they migrate each year, a ritualistic act Sridhar recently captured in a series titled Long Live the River.
Because the tributary attracts such an influx of avians, it’s also a site of religiosity and legend. People travel to the water to feed the birds, an act thought to bring good karma, and disperse offerings for their loved ones who’ve died. “My approach to documenting life along a small stretch of this river was driven by the deep connection of rivers and life and divinity in Hindu texts, mythology, and legend. The fact that the Yamuna is considered the only river with the power to grant immortality to humans seemed an irony that could not be overlooked,” the photographer says.
Fifteen drains of untreated wastewater from household, municipal, and industrial sources flow into the tributary, saturating it with chemicals, pesticides, heavy metals, and garbage that eliminate aquatic life. However, Sridhar notes that in 2017, officials recorded 24 bird species residing in the river’s wetlands. “This finding came as a surprise, given the greatly degraded water quality of the Yamuna,” he says.
Using a low shutter speed, Sridhar captures the annual rituals through clouds of Dehli’s thick smog, blurring the flying creatures as they swoop over the water. The obscured visitors mar clear shots of boats and the horizons as they appear to linger above the water in shadowy flocks. “I aimed to impart a surreal touch to the images by using the boats as the fabled transport into the afterlife while flight-paths of the birds as metaphors —as much for the souls of the dead as the mad chaos in our world that blinds us to the damage we do to the environment,” he says. “Throughout, though, the river remains a giver of life, despite having the life sucked out of her.”
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Tucked into the estuary of the River Adur in the coastal town of Shoreham-on-Sea in Sussex, England is a row of houseboats in dazzlingly slapdash designs and bustling with the creative energy of its residents. One such person is Hamish McKenzie, an older man with swirls of gray hair shaved into his short beard and a laid-back attitude that comes from spending most of his days living inside of a docked boat. McKenzie owns seven of the uniquely designed vessels that line the riverbank, which include a renovated boat ambulance topped with a black and white checkered public bus and an airplane nose that caps off the bow.
McKenzie explains to Great Big Story that he had been searching for a nose cone for quite some time, and finally ran across one in a farmyard down the way from his houseboats. This ingenuity speaks to the freedom McKenzie and the other owners have while crafting their homes, which include microwaves as mailboxes and giant tractor wheels as windows. “I can safely say that there is no two identical,” explains McKenzie. “To a large degree, they exhibit the character of the people who live on them.”
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New York City’s historic Fireboat John J. Harvey has been transformed into a dazzling display of red and white marbling in a new piece by artist Tauba Auerbach (previously). Flow Separation is a co-commission by the Public Art Fund and 14-18 NOW, a UK arts program created for the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. For the new piece Auerbach used the visual language of early 20th-century dazzle camouflage, a technique invented by British painter Norman Wilkinson during WWI to distort a ship’s form and confuse enemies who might be tracking its direction or speed.
Auerbach was also inspired by the pattern created by a wake when an object moves through water, which is referenced in the work’s title. The ship flies a flag that diagrams “flow separation,” a phenomenon that occurs when areas of fluid in a wake move backwards and create eddies. To imitate this form for the design of the boat she floated inks on a fluid bath and transferred this process to paper.
For the last four years, 14-18 NOW has commissioned four artists to create Dazzle Ships in the UK, including Carlos Cruz-Diez, Tobias Rehberger, Ciara Phillips, and Sir Peter Blake. Auerbach’s vessel will be the last work in the series, and the first boat to appear in the U.S. The ship will be available for free trips through September 23, 2018, and on view through May 12, 2019. You can visit the boat at Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pier 6 until August 12, 2018, at Hudson River Park’s Pier 25 from August 13 to September 23, 2018, and at Hudson River Park’s Pier 66a from September 24, 2018 to May 12, 2019. You can find more information about tickets and locations on the Public Art Fund’s website.
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Last year collaborative artists Claudius Schulze and Maciej Markowicz launched the aptly named project [2BOATS] — a duo of water-bound vessels that the pair steered from Hamburg to Amsterdam’s Unseen Photo Fair and Paris Photo over the course of several months. Both boats serve as traveling studios for the artists, however with vastly different functions. Schulze’s handmade houseboat (with outdoor disco ball and hammock) doubles as a hub for creative workshops and discussions, while Markowicz’s studio is also a fully functioning camera obscura.
Schulze and Markowicz plan to end their journey at the Hamburg Triennale of Photography, which opens on June 7th, 2018. You can keep up with Schulze’s explorations on Instagram at @claudiusschulze, Markowicz’s large-scale camera obscura at @obscurabus, and read about previous events visited by the two photographically-centered boats on the [2BOATS] blog.
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