School of Art professor discusses boat-building

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Photo by Henry Ehrenberg.

Maria Lorenz ART ’02 is not just a painter, printmaker and performance artist — she also builds boats.

Lorenz’s presentation was part of the School of Art’s ongoing series of “lunchtime talks” — discussion-based events that allow students to learn more about the work of a particular artist in an intimate setting. During the talk, Lorenz, an associate professor of Painting and Printmaking at the School of Art, discussed pieces spanning a variety of media, including printmaking and video as well as her work with boat building.

“It’s a familiar crowd, but it’s nice to look at things in a new context,” Lorenz said.

Lorenz explained the inspiration behind her “boat projects” — a collection of boats the artist has designed and built herself. She said she began the projects during her days as a student at the Rhode Island School of Design in the early 1990s. At the time, Lorenz said, Providence was in the midst of an enormous construction project that transformed its downtown area into a “huge pit of mud,” with miles of sewage tunnels that led under the city. It was then that Lorenz’s boat-making career began, with her creating tiny vessels from found materials to navigate the waterways that appeared as a result of the construction process.

Her fascination with boat-making and waterways continued after she moved away from Providence, Lorenz said. She described her interest in places such as tidal zones, where “the city and the water come together.” During 1996 and 1997, Lorenz said, she orchestrated fantastical performance pieces that were staged on her boats. She explained that she wanted the audience to view the pieces’ aquatic settings — often in areas that were polluted or industrial — in a different light.

After her move to New York in 2005, Lorenz said she began viewing water as more than just a backdrop for her work. She explained that she allowed water to become a portal through which her viewers, presumably sitting at their desks in Manhattan and viewing photos of her and her boats online, could reexamine their own environment.

“I always say when I moved to New York, I discovered two things: fiberglass and the Internet,” she said, explaining that she used fiberglass to build boats and the Internet to disseminate her artistic work.

In 2005, Lorenz also began what is still an ongoing project — a performance piece titled “The Tide and Current Taxi.” The project involves Lorenz operating a “water taxi” in the New York Harbor for a few weeks every summer. Participants email the artist with their desired destination, and Lorenz then takes them there by boat. After every trip, the artists posts photos of the experience to a blog.

Lorenz explained that though “Tide and Current Taxi” was initially about the notion of “existing in public space,” the work has gradually moved towards issues of permeability and boundaries, as a lot of shorefront areas are being purchased and transformed into luxury waterfront developments. Even though she said she is reluctant to take an explicit political stance, Lorenz noted that her work is slowly assuming an ecological dimension.

Many of the objects Lorenz has encountered on her boat trips have been incorporated into her most recent printmaking series. She said she began by carving a set of wooden plates, including motifs such as birds, boats, bridges, signage, garbage and water patterns. After completing several rubbings and prints from the carvings, Lorenz assembled the wooden plates into a boat, which now sits in a museum in upstate New York.

Several attendees said they admire Lorenz’s work, adding that they enjoyed hearing about the artist’s particular inspirations.

“It’s really interesting to see what School of Art faculty are doing outside of teaching,” said Rachel Paris ’17.

Mollie Ritterband ’17 noted that she may consider trying to schedule a ride in the “Tide and Current Taxi” this summer.

Maria Lorenz has won grants from organizations including Artists Space, Socrates Sculpture Park and the Harpo Foundation.

 

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