Anchorage Daily News               A L A S K A              Monday July 30, 2001        


Lagoon proves harsh critic of artistic symbolism

By Doug O'Harra, Daily News reporter

    Shaped vaguely like half of a light bulb, the great plastic dome launched from the dock at Westchester Lagoon with a wobble. As it keeled to one side, it threatened to dump its symbolic cargo: a miniature marine mammal, seven plastic riflemen and a tall figure suggestive of Pocahontas.
    “This is the actual visualization of subsistence,” declared artist Jim Dault, snatching the contraption just before it capsized. “But it’s tentative. It’s very tentative.”     Indeed. On its second voyage, the sculpture flipped, allowing the visualization of traditional marine prey to sink to the mucky bottom.
    “OH — we lost the walrus,” Dault cried. “They struck one, but they did not land it.”
    In the annual summer celebration of floatable art, the water in the lagoon near the start of the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail became a wind-whipped gallery of foam-aided inspiration early Sunday afternoon, attracting a couple dozen artists along with scores of children and their parents. Their creations bobbed on the breeze as sea gulls cried overhead.
The artists, professional and amateur, launched works that ranged from political to whimsical: water bugs and lily pads, a hand, a pensive balloon face, a swamped easel, large wooden structures and small bowls.
    The works by children (and some by their parents) ranged from simple boats to armored sailing ships to abstract rafts bristling with pipe cleaners, plastic flowers and toy cowboys.
    The event, conjured up about four years ago by a group of downtown gallery artists, has a simple goofy aim.
    “We pull up there, and we stick things in the water and we hope they float,” said Julie Decker, of the International Gallery of Contemporary Art and one of the event’s organizers.     “The goal is do something different,” she added. “It’s kind of a challenge to artists to go outside of the gallery and figure out a way to make art float. It’s a technical and creative challenge.”
    A great unwieldy water strider made of wool and nylon stockings by Mary Hertert bobbed next to lily pads and smaller, buglike floats by Linda Robinson. (“I don’t know the species, but they’re definitely Alaskan bugs,”Robinson said.)

    Don Mohr. another organizer, had launched several crutches standing upright — a concept that intrigues him. “It’s easy to make stuff float flat in the water,” he said. "The trick is to make stuff stand straight up. ... Every year, I get pretty close.”

Jim Lavrakas photo

     In a makeshift rowboat carved from a foam block, artist Don Ricker towed out a wooden frame on floats that explored the idea of "sustainability" with a torn sheet and some sort of suspended globe.
    Dault. working the dock and launching children’s creations with great delight, heaved out his own ball. armored with small stones. “A stone ball.” he said. “It’s all about displacement.
    The salmon figure attached to yellow plastic oil bottles may have made the most overt political statement “Those are the two things that keep this state afloat: oil and salmon.” Dault quipped. “That should be next to the subsistence piece.”
    But the stuff produced by kids was driven solely by spontaneous fun.     “Once they see the artists’ work out there. then they get inspired to make their own,’ said artist Shala Dobson, helping kids duct tape and wire together the pieces. "They make amazing stuff.’
    Children crowded picnic tables bulging with supplies: Styrofoam squares and sandwich boxes, pipe cleaners, little foam stars and triangles and squares. balloons, plastic figures. sparkling doodads and strange knickknacks. Sometimes the parents became just as intent, Dobson said.
    Aman LaChaPelle, 5, directed his father Francis on an elaborate vessel equipped with Styrofoam coffeecup floats and a large plastic sail.     “The sail was already working because (the wind) blew it off of there.” the boy said.
    Brothers Hank and Slade Manning worked side by side with square foam pieces. loading them with pipe cleaners and little figures. Hank, 8. built an arch with a chopstick and pipe cleaners and then planted a tiny clothespinl with a smiling face in the middle. After repairing a hole in the hull with blue duct tape, he wrote “S.S. Hank” on every surtaee. He was ready to launch.
    ‘They’re very excited,’ said the boys’ mother, Dana. “He has a lot of confidence, so he named the boat after himself.”
    Shannon Croft. 3, led her father Eric to the end of the dock with a foam box faced by  translucent plastic windows. A red heart was suspended in the middle. it floated well. then scooted downwind fast.Croft, an Anchorage Legislator, said he made the contraption under his daughter’s close supervision with “a lot of directions.”     “It’s like a big TV set,” Croft said as his daughter’s artistic vlsion sailed out into a sea of bobbing sculptures and rafts. "Heart Art is what her mother named it.  It's the heart of TV".

Thanks to Ms Smith and the Anchorage Daily News  


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