Dante Birch, our production manager for visual arts spent the last week travelling down the Hudson River in a canoe with Simon Starling.Â No stranger to canoeing, Dante has been on serious backwoods trips where they drop you by helicopter in Canadian wilderness but he didn’t expect that experiences gained in northern waters would ever come to bear on his currrent position in a contemporary art museum.Â He was mistaken.
Little did I knowâ€¦â€¦ I thought it was going to be a show in Building 5: fabrication of two monumental sculptures — behemoth upscale versions of stereoscopic images (from 4.5inches to 25 feet) — organization of borrowed works from abroad. There were the models, international travel, electron microscopes; Simon’s wife was having a baby in the midst of everything. General fare at MASS MoCA for a show in the largest gallery in North America, I guess. But then there were murmurings of a canoe tripâ€¦â€¦..elusive African animalsâ€¦â€¦ a natural history museum in NYCâ€¦â€¦?
It was a great concept, Simon’s work Strip Canoe is a metaphysical manifestation of the okapi and it wanted to go to the natural history museum in New York City. This was the home base of Herbert Lang, the individual who photographed the okapi in Africa. Ah a trend, photography, journey, the spirit of discovery and curiosityâ€¦.. It was starting to become clearerâ€¦.. Simon is a genius.
But a canoe trip from MASS MoCA to New York City, Really?
As plans progressed it quickly became evident that this was going to be a happening. The project unfolded and soon the notion of the process being integral to Simonâ€™s work revealed itself. Even our director, Joe Thompson joined in sailing a Hobie along with us. I know the guy is fearless but when he decided on a game of chicken with an oncoming barge — well, the image says it all!
The history and the passage through time on the Hudson is amazing. Traveling on the water gave new relevance and understanding. There was a sense of adventure at every turn and paddling all the way through it proved humbling.
As we moved forward, the river grew and so did my appreciation for Simon and what he was trying to achieve. It wasnâ€™t just about the product, it was about the process as well.
Amazing vistas opened before us and the river seemed to have no end.
We moved under the GW Bridge and the visa of the Manhattan sky line opened before us. We finally had our goal in site. And, all that was left was the portage through the Upper West Side.
What a hoot, sore, tired we paddled on. And then it hit me Iâ€™ve been to a lot of museums and many of them chronicle the history of art but here at MASS MoCA we have the opportunity to make it. I think thatâ€™s why I love this place!