The Barge: A Furry Encounter by Renata Toney

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Last Thursday evening I scheduled a special voyage on Displacement: Barge Prototype, Phase I of the Cultural Commodities project. The multi-phase exhibition and public programming series explores the connections amongst art, Erie Canal commerce, the growth of industry and development of culture along our waterways.  An arresting, full-scale 100 x 30 x 16 replica of a barge anchored in The Center’s Big East Gallery houses an array of sailing, creative expression on view now through October 19.

While touring I drifted by one installation curated by artist A.J. Fries, a member of the hotbed of creative collaborators behind the project. Fries is undeniably one of my most admired painters, notably his works of photographic urban landscapes and damp moments in misty environments he re-interprets on canvas.  

To know AJ and his eclectic sense of irrationality is to love him.  Last week my family and friends were treated to an interactive interpretation of his 10 X 6, sterile fuzzy cabin. To say we were both engaged and enlightened would be an understatement.

Subsequent phases of the nomadic, art barge project include transporting the prototype and its six-member crew to a vessel for the 550-mile canal tour from Buffalo to New York City and back. “My idea behind the designing the cabin was when I take this trip up the Canal in 2016, I’m going to be cooped up with six other lunatics and wanted to create a fortress of solitude for myself, a cozy womb to go to and surround myself by artwork I’ve always liked,” he shared with a laughing, captive audience charmed by the vision of his future living quarters.  

“When I was selecting what the works that would go in the space, I realized they all had a similar theme which was fur so I decided to cover the walls with it. Doing so also presented a tactile part of the work you usually don’t experience in galleries,” he said.  “I wanted people to feel up and down the walls or just lay down in the bed and enjoy the fuzzy artistry of Jackie Felix, Al Vullo, Jacqueline Welch and Michael Mararian.”  

The informal, interactive exchange between A.J. and visitors included Q&A, an exploration of artwork in his cabin and a demonstration of how furry walls toy with the senses by visitor Judy Robinson Odom.  Witnessing this affirmed the Barge is hitting its mark. “The goal is to bring exhibition practices to life,” said D. Olivier Delrieu-Schulze, another member of the crew. “Exploring new methods to engage artists and the public, and having good conversation are what this project is all about.”  

— Renata Toney

Renata Toney is Public Relations and Communications Strategist at the Burchfield Penney.