A boat hangs on a heavy chain. It is a ‘pirogue’, a simple flat-bottomed fishing boat, suitable for one or two people. You can see this type of boat sailing the Volta Delta in Ghana. It is a design that can be traced back centuries and has spread across the Atlantic. Peoples who were transported to America to be forced into slavery took their knowledge of boatbuilding with them, and therefore, this type of boat can still be seen in North America today. The boat, bound in heavy chains descends, sinks below the water surface, and is raises from the water up into the air. A repetitive movement of going under water and being pulled up over the water surface again.
The artist has had a thing for boats in the past couple of years. This is the third in a trilogy. In Dordrecht, the first one will be realised: a large wooden barge that is going to be dragged through the city streets next fall. Since the streets are too narrow -or the vessel is too wide-, pieces will break off on the way. The project refers to the important social role of inland shipping, but it has caused quite some commotion in Dordrecht.
The trilogy’s second part is virtual. In this project, the romance of a lone sailor at sea serves as a frame story in which questions about climate, weather, pollution, data, history and perseverance are being explored. It tells the story of Bas Jan Ader, a Dutch conceptual artist who wanted to sail from America’s Cape Cod to Groningen in a small sailing boat in 1975. His boat was found, yet he was not. By using live weather data and simulation technology, an online oceanic world is created in which the viewer can follow the small boat live in actual circumstances.
And then there is number three ‘Spellbound’. Edward Thomson: “The installation is related to a dark side of Dutch history: the transatlantic slave trade. I wanted to create a work with fishing boats that are rarely displayed in this context. Watching the water in the Dutch docks, I was struck by how muddy they are. At the time I was mediating on the feeling of fear and what would be ‘Freedom from Fear’. The muddy dock, together with the charged history of slavery; I consider a trauma. And trauma like fear as something that can be hidden but is rarely gone.”
The boat and crane in ‘spellbound’ were built in Dordrecht by people from his artist studio and local volunteers. This collaboration, this collective activity is part of the art project to the artist.
Thomson: “The boat is made from local ash. I didn’t want to import wood. We work from photos and illustrations. During our research, we found hundreds of different types of sailing boats, but they didn’t include construction drawings of the small local Ghanaian fishing boats we were searching for. But this search lead us to academic research papers which linked the design of pirogues in the north American swamplands to technology brought to the Americas buy peoples forced into slavery in West Africa. There were many technical drawings of North American pirogues, so the boat we built is a hybrid, taking the proportions from these drawings and its detailing from photos we could find of Volta delta pirogues. The boat is then entangled in a large chain tied tightly with shibari inspired knots, the weight of this entanglement is what sinks the boat. When it is being hoisted, the water runs and splashes out of it, like a fountain. The sound of the installation is important. We keep the motor that lowers and lifts the boat as quiet as possible. You can hear the chain, you can hear the water gurgling when the boat sinks, you can hear the water running from the boat when it is slowly hoisted. My work is about time and space. I try to transfer certain histories into the present. That’s what is happening here.”