Journeys in Performance
The crew of Community Spirit at the launch event in Emsworth, Hampshire
I was drawn to this project from the beginning. Following progress online, I watched the collection and selection of hundreds of wooden objects, the design of the vessel, and the collective construction process taking place in a boat shed in Hampshire. The ambition and scale of Lone Twin’s plans was admirable. Residents of South East England were invited to tell their stories and donate items that would be turned into a seaworthy yacht. After its maiden voyage along the south coast and inland to Milton Keynes, the boat would be made available for public use as a sailing and arts resource. I felt left out and decided to be there for the launch.
On Monday 7th May 2012, I took the train from London Victoria to Emsworth and arrived in a downpour. Huddling by the station wall, a crowd of people waited for a bus to arrive. Some of them lived nearby and wanted to know what all the fuss was about, and others had traveled from elsewhere in the UK - artists, students, producers, as well as those who had donated their own objects and were seeing the boat for the first time. Soon, 'I' became 'we' as the weather provided a valuable way in to conversation.
After a short, damp journey, we arrived at the marina. The rain was not showing any signs of relenting and, as is so often the case in outdoor events in this country, we arrived to find that the vast majority of people had crammed themselves into the food and drink tents, cowering under the tarpaulin. The event had all the trappings of a quintessential English country fair - a bar run by the local publicans, an art exhibition, roast meat in bread rolls and a selection of produce available to sample and purchase. David Williams' book about The Lone Twin Boat Project was also on sale - a series of essays appended with a comprehensive catalogue of all the objects and stories that went into the construction of the boat.
Eventually, we were coaxed out of our shelters by the compère. As the rain gradually relented, a local choir and a sea-shanty group provided the entertainment. The music was interspersed by short interviews with the people who had made this project happen as the compère introduced Mark Covell, the chief builder and project manager; the captain and members of the crew; Gregg Whelan and Gary Winters from Lone Twin; and several of the hundreds of volunteers and donators.
Each had their own stories to tell about their individual contributions and experiences, but more importantly, all of them knew they were part of something much bigger - a sense of community formed around an idea and a belief that working together on something would make it possible. As Whelan and Winters assembled the team and found their builder, they were driven by 'enthusiasm for stories, adventure, humour and music, as well as a convivial ease with other people' as much as by the specialist knowledge and technical skill that the build required (Williams, 2012, p.23).
Detail from the rain-covered hull of Community Spirit
And at the centre of it all was the beautiful boat. Close up, the intricacy of the design was impressive; an apparently delicate surface but hardy enough for a voyage along the south coast:
A tiny elephant stands in the shadow of a bleached horse’s head between a tree and a spirit level. A helicopter hovers over a minute hillside house and a violin. A clothes hanger, clothes peg and rolling pin float in orbit around a miniscule train. A tiny cat stands transfixed with its back to two overlaid electric guitars. And an aardvark trundles stoically along beneath a tennis racket and a cricket bat. (Williams, 2012, p.29)
The final result of years of planning, collecting, listening and building is a remarkable travelling museum of people's lives and stories represented by an archive of personal possessions that have been generously donated to make something new. The layers and structures of individual and collective histories is tangible and it brings together international superstardom (a shard from Jimi Hendrix's guitar), maritime icons (a piece of the Mary Rose) and personal biographies (toys, tools and hundreds of other personal possessions).
Community Spirit is lowered into the water at Emsworth Marina
It would be possible to examine the fabric of the boat for hours but mid afternoon, as the sun crept out from behind the clouds, the crowd surrounding the boat parted to make way for the launch. This was the moment the assembled TV crews and paparazzi had been waiting for. A huge crane hoisted the vessel into the air and a slightly mistimed countdown preceded a confetti canon and a huge cheer as the boat was carefully and slowly lowered into the water.
As I stood amongst the jubilant onlookers, each stretching over each other's heads to take their own photographs of the floating vessel, the thing I was really struck by was the palpable sense of community that had developed throughout the afternoon. The craftsmanship in the boat was outstanding and the technical and management skills that realised Lone Twin's original idea was staggering. But more than that, it was the announcements to find the lost child, and later the lost old woman; the enthusiasm and anecdotes of the bar staff; the song by the daughter of the project manager. All this created a memorable event with the boat at the centre of it all.
In the lead up to the launch, a competition had been running to name the boat and earlier that week, it had been christened Community Spirit. The name captures the ethos, the methodology and the outcome of the Boat Project. Not only was the boat assembled through the contributions and time volunteered by the people of South East England, it will continue to encounter communities on its maiden voyage which includes stops in Brighton, Portsmouth, Suffolk and even landlocked Milton Keynes.
Community Spirit also reveals something about journey-based live art in the general. Like Pointed Arrow's Yorkshire Onland Boating Club and Kieran Hurley's journey to L'Aquila, Lone Twin's boat is ultimately created through ongoing meetings and encounters with people and communities. It is about working together to create something beautiful in the shared space of the live encounter. When that moment of interaction is at a point in a journey, it has a future. Community Spirit will touch the lives of many more communities as it takes on a new life as a public art and sailing resource. It was a privilege to be there at its launch.
David Williams (ed.) (2012) The Lone Twin Boat Project, Devon: Chiquilta Books.
Lone Twin (2012) The Boat Project: Maiden Voyage, Lone Twin Programme Guide.
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