Mare Liberum is a small collective of visual artists, industrial designers, and writers who formed around a shared engagement with New York’s waterways in 2007. As part of a mobile, interdisciplinary, and pedagogical practice, we have designed and built boats, published broadsides, essays, and books, invented water-related art and educational forums, and collaborated with diverse institutions in order to produce public talks, participatory works, and voyages.
Our work bridges dialogues in art, activism, and science, by remapping landscapes, reclaiming local ecologies, and observing and recording the overlaps of nature, industry, and the polis. ML’s projects connect divergent constituencies with shared environmental concerns, create waterfront narratives ranging from the industrial to the personal, and catalyze the creation of engaged publics. Employing the methodologies of civic hacking, participation, open source, social sculpture, and temporary occupations, our work expands on Lefebvre’s “right to the city” to include its neglected waterways. Mare Liberum is premised on the speculation that water is a commons and the boat as a heterotopia – social platforms that catalyze societal change.
We have presented work at Bureau for Open Culture at MASS MoCA, Neuberger Museum, Maker Faire, the PsyGeoConflux Festival, The New School, Boston Center for the Arts, EFA Project Space, Smack Mellon, Alexandraplatz, and the Antique Boat Museum, and have been written about in Hyperallergic, The Brooklyn Rail, Bad at Sports, The Village Voice, and Vice Magazine, among others.
The collective was founded by Dylan Gauthier, Ben Cohen, Stephan von Muehlen in 2007.
The collective is currently led by Dylan Gauthier, Sunita Prasad, Jean Barberis, Ben Cohen, Kendra Sullivan, and Stephan von Muehlen.
For more information, visit – http:///www.thefreeseas.org.
Timeline of Recent Mare Liberum Projects
SeaChange, Hudson River – Troy, NY to NYC (2014)
SeaChange, a project we produced in collaboration with climate activists 350.org in the lead up to People’s Climate March here in New York City, culminated in a 150-mile voyage down the Hudson River (from Troy to New York City) in a fleet of hand-crafted paper boats. This on-the-water, durational performance lasted three weeks and served as an experiment in visualizing the impossible. The project invited collaborations with boat clubs, colleges, small presses, community centers, individual activists, artists, and art spaces – and a rotating crew of over fifty volunteer paddlers from diverse backgrounds – galvanizing communities along the river through events focused on regional climate and water concerns. Along the way, we collected narratives of community response to climate change and shared them, both in an online journal and in public talks aboard the historic ship Lilac moored in Battery Park City. Our arrival in New York City was marked by two culminating participatory events: the symbolic de-colonizing of an island in the East River and its dedication to global climate change refugees, and a traditional Lakota water ceremony led by tribal leaders. SeaChange posited that artists play an important role in shaping culture, in increasing civic engagement and community responsibility, and even in suggesting unconventional solutions to staggeringly complex policy and ecological issues. As we learned with SeaChange, water is an equalizer – we all live downstream, and we all require clean water – as well as a metaphor for our interdependence and interconnectivity to each other.
Script for an Unfinished Video About the Charles River, Boston Center for the Arts, Boston, MA (2013)
A voyage down the Charles River with a small grouping of paper boats, on a mission to discover where nature ends and the urban begins. Exhibited as part of “About, With and For” at the Boston Center for the Arts, Curated by Juliana Driever.
Down the Saint Lawrence, The Antique Boat Museum: Clayton, NY (2012)
In which we built a boat out of craft paper, re-inventing a 150+ year old technique for boatbuilding that originated in upstate New York and was forgotten there after the factory that held all of the patents burnt down in the 1880s. The paper craft was piloted up the St. Lawrence to Montreal, a journey of roughly 180 miles, safely delivering our French crew across the US-Canada border. We spoke about this project as part of the PsyGeoConflux festival at NYU in 2012 and reproduced the boatbuilding workshop component of this project as part of the World Maker Faire (NYC) in 2012 and again at the Unversity of Georgia in Spring 2013. Each iteration of a boatbuilding workshop yields new results, not only as the makeup of the participants changes but as we get better with the materials the form itself changes through practice and experimentation.
SeaWorthy NYC: Various Venues in New York City, NY (2011)
In New York City, the challenge was to bring a public beyond the water’s edge, to revisit the history of maritime New York City and look toward the future when climate change threatens to redefine the city’s shoreline and the feasibility of island living in general is imperiled. SeaWorthy NYC was a multi-venue curatorial project which brought together over three-dozen artists and provided support and public programming which enabled artists to produce projects for and on the city’s waterways. Mare Liberum created new work for this project, and, with Flux Factory, the Gowanus Studio Space and the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, provided the curatorial framework for the exhibition and series of programs.
The Boatel: Far Rockaway, NY (2011)
As part of SeaWorthy NYC, we also provided two of our dories to Connie Hockaday’s summer-long project at Marina 59 where abandoned pleasure craft were converted into “hotel rooms.” Guests were treated to uncommon access to the water and a schedule of cultural events every weekend on the dock and the water. Our boats were free for the guests to use to explore the marina located on the Jamaica Bay, and boy were they used!
All Hands on Deck, Artist Project at MassMoCA: North Adams, MA (2010-2011)
During the summer of 2011 we were invited by Bureau for Open Culture to MassMoCA to build a boat with museum employees as part of a project initiated by Dylan Gauthier and sometimes Mare Liberum member and artist Kendra Sullivan. The resulting exercise provided a backdrop for research into the relationships between museum workers and the work of the artist. We constructed a number of skin-on-frame kayaks, built on frames made from locally-sourced bamboo and wrapped in discarded outdoor museum banners. One of these boats was a highlight at MassMoCA’s annual benefit auction and attracted a great deal of public attention.
Gowanus Canal: Brooklyn, NY (2007-2010)
We constructed a fleet of “Liberum Dories” – based on the classic fishing and work boat. Our boats were used to bring the public – and other artists – into closer contact with a largely maligned and subsequently overlooked natural ecosystem.