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Photo: Kate Laster.
Kate Laster’s paper cutout “Waiting Game” (2022).

I’ve been reading almost more than I can bear lately about the Holocaust, so when I saw this unusual use of a Jewish paper-cutting tradition at Hyperallergic, it really spoke to me.

Isabella Segalovich wrote, “April 5 marked the first night of Passover. Upholding Jewish tradition, we reclined in our chairs, sang boisterously, and drank ample wine. We reveled in the joy and safety many of us are thankful to have in the present while holding close the memory of those that came before us. Alaskan-born Jewish artist Kate Laster carves those memories into delicate paper cuts. Then, she dunks that paper in the ocean.

“ ‘My art is about the people we carry with us,’ she told Hyperallergic in an interview.

“Laster’s first memories are of snow floating on water. She grew up moving from place to place in rural Alaska, from temperate rainforest of Juneau to the icy treeless wilderness in Utqiaġvik. In a world ‘dense with imagination,’ as she described it, she learned to whittle scraps of wood into small figures while hearing stories and poetry by a warm fireside. She said she first saw language being used as a ‘visual medium in the sense of people putting time aside and really either being in nature or being in warm space talking.’

“Today, she uses the visual force behind letters themselves, cutting paper into vibrant collages with fragments of poems — some collected, some written by her. The paper is thoroughly weathered as stencils, multiplying its message as it’s doused in spray paint again and again. Then, she painstakingly laminates the paper by hand, using ‘really scruffy bits of tape.’ The ritual is completed at sundown when Laster dips her works into the Pacific Ocean. As the paper undulates and floats, she understands the waves, part of a living, ‘primordial soup,’ to be reading the text on the pages.

“Laster’s youth in Alaska is proof that the Jewish diaspora spreads far beyond the urban landscape. But for all of us, Jewish practices are deeply tied to the natural world. Festivals begin with the setting sun. … As the great star sets, Laster lifts the text up from the water. And as drips fall off its edges, she uses the hollow paper cut as a viewfinder, so words are filled with the sky. 

“The water that laps at Laster’s paper cuts is of the same body that carried our ancestors as they wandered the world, searching for home and safety. “…

“Laster is one of growing number of anti-Zionist American Jews. For those who do not wish to move to Israel, it’s common to lift up and celebrate the beauty of the diaspora. Following the love of movement, this celebration is also a deep love of the places we find ourselves now. For the Laster, that place is the Bay Area, where the Mexican and Chicano paper-cutting tradition of papel picado is tied to trees lining the Mission, a historically Latinx neighborhood. Chinese paper cuts — 窗花 chuāng huā, or ‘window flowers’ — bloom in glass panes. …

“But this artist’s work is also a part of her own ancestry. Jewish paper cutting is a centuries-old tradition that used to be much more commonplace. It was practiced by both professionals and amateurs at home, not only for marriage contracts or ketubot, but also for holidays like Shavuot and Sukkot. Laster now sees herself as a part of the newest generation carrying it forth. With no other materials needed than paper and a sharp edge, she sees the beauty in paper cutting’s accessibility.

“The belief that everyone has a fundamental right to engage with and create art is central to Laster’s work, both in and outside of her visual practice. She runs suggested donation-based art history classes, and has held a position as a studio assistant at Hospitality House’s Community Arts Program, a free-of-charge art studio for unhoused and low-income residents of the Tenderloin. Today, she works as a studio facilitator at the NIAD Art Center, a creative space for artists with disabilities. …

“ ‘Printmaking and paper cut in general are about accessibility, making a message, a transmission, go as far as possible,’ she said. Laster is also in the tradition of modern Jewish graphic arts: Words that dance and shout diagonally across the page recall the utopian dreams of the 1920s Eastern European Kultur-Lige (Culture League) artists like El Lissitzky and Nathan Altman. …

“Messages can be interpreted differently depending on who hears them. ‘This is the struggle of sharing, of trying to convey anything you feel to someone else. And knowing once it’s public, it can be altered and transformed and interpreted,’ Laster noted. ‘I revel in that.’

“Laster’s work is also deeply personal, as she grieves the loss of her father during the COVID-19 pandemic. In ‘Kaddish Reunion’ (2021) a self-portrait shows the artist sitting by her father’s bedside. Spray-painted shapes bleed into each other. The text typical of her pieces is replaced by swirls, stars, and leaves. Shadows of these words return in another laminated book. Lovingly saved scraps from past paper cuts are laminated alongside a plastic bag that says ‘THANK YOU.’ The only full words are on the cover: ‘I don’t know how to say goodbye.

“Laster’s father was a pilot of a small bush plane. As a child, she studied the dense text and cartoons of flight emergency manuals, replicated today in her shining messages of grief, love, and hope. Perhaps the Haggadah is another kind of emergency manual: a guide on how to keep on going?

“On Passover, we remember those that came before us and those that we lost. … We taste the bitter herbs of longing and grief, but also wash down dry matzoh with sweet wine. And most importantly, we argue, laugh, and tell stories of our survival.”

More at Hyperallergic, here. No firewall. Check out the short video of a paper cutout floating on water.

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Photo: Kevin Scott/Dezeen.
The designers of this sauna aimed to build a structure that engaged the local waterways and encouraged people to use them throughout the year, says Dezeen.

When Erik saw my post about a birdhouse championship, he told me one picture reminded him of floating saunas in Sweden. I had to look that up. I found out that saunas on the water are both like and unlike ice-fishing huts. You definitely have to dress differently.

Jenna McKnight at Dezeen writes about the sauna in the above photo: “Visitors can take a plunge into a cold lake after warming up in this floating wooden sauna by Seattle firm goCstudio – the latest example of the trend for buoyant architecture (+ slideshow).

“The structure is intended to be used all year round on Seattle’s lakes and can accommodate up to six people. It is called WA Sauna. … It follows the growing trend among architects to explore the possibilities afforded by building on water rather than land.

” ‘Following in the Scandinavian tradition of saunas as a place for gathering, WA Sauna provides a place for Seattle’s community to share a unique experience on the water,” said goCstudio, a firm founded in 2012 by Jon Gentry and Aimée O’Carroll. …

“Inspired by the concepts of fire, water and community, the designers aimed to build a structure that engaged the local waterways and encouraged people to use them throughout the year. The $25,000 (£17,000) project was funded through community donations and a Kickstarter campaign hosted in the fall of 2014.

“The deck consists of a pre-manufactured aluminum frame and marine-grade plywood with a clear varnish. Boats and kayaks can be tied up to the deck. The floating structure is powered by a 36-volt electric trolling motor. More than two dozen 208-litre plastic drums keep the vessel afloat. …

“Spruce was used to clad the interior and to form the benches. A wood-burning stove heats the space. Users can easily exit the vessel via a door or side hatch and dive into the cool water. …

“The structure was built by studio employees and skilled volunteers. It was erected within a warehouse owned by the local brewery, Hilliard’s, which allowed the team to use the space for free.

“One of the greatest challenges was getting the structure to the lakefront for the first time. … ‘Towed on six steel casters with a 1980 Volkswagen Vanagon, we slowly crept along at dawn making the eight-block trip to the boat ramp in just under three hours.’ …

“Rising sea levels and a shortage of development sites are leading to a surge of interest in floating buildings, with proposals ranging from mass housing on London’s canals to entire amphibious cities in China.

“Other examples that, like WA Sauna, are targeted at communities include a buoyant Nigerian school and a travelling London cinema.”

You can read about another nice sauna at designboom, a site that doesn’t seem to believe in capital letters: ” ‘löyly’ is a prefab floating sauna made of swiss douglas fir. gently swaying in the middle of lake geneva, ‘löyly’ is a floating prefab sauna designed by trolle rudebeck haar – a graduate from the lausanne university of art and design. haar completed this project after spending a year in finland, where he found a true appreciation for the sauna concept and translated it into ‘löyly’ – his final year project. 

“haar designed the structure as a 24 sq. ft floating sauna made of locally sourced swiss douglas fir – a lightweight yet durable material that he salvaged from a sawmill nearby. the entire structure was then coated with teak oil to create a more resistant shell all while preserving the fir’s natural look and feel.

“the interior of the floating sauna oozes with tones of intimacy and comfort. using sliding doors that echo japanese shoji screens, visitors are met with a small wooden burning stove from morzhand. … the choice of stove was made based on practicality: ‘I chose it because it’s compact, transportable, lightweight, and easy to heat up’,  comments haar. 

“haar also had to consider balance and weight while designing the sauna. ‘I was calculating the mass of every unit,’ he explains. the presence/absence of people aboard the floating structure, as well as the placement of the barrels underneath it were all carefully studied to create a safe and enjoyable experience. 

“in just six hours, the floating sauna was built – but haar made it easy to disassemble and scale for different uses.” 

You might also want to click at the Gessato website to see a sauna created by an Italian design team.

Beautifully integrated into its natural surroundings and context, this floating sauna conceptually links Sweden, Italy, and Japan.

“The structure stands on a floating platform, connecting the lake to the land and providing a relaxing space for the guests staying in the clients’ small bed and breakfast. … Self-built by the studio, the project pays homage to nature and sustainability, with impact on the birch forest minimized by moving the sauna on the surface of the water. …

“A glazed wall provides stunning views over the lake, helping guests relax completely and contemplate the beauty of nature. This floating sauna project was presented during the Superdesign Show 2017, held at Superstudio Più via Tortona 27, Milano in April 2017.”

More at Gessato, here, at Designboom, here, and at Dezeen, here. Lots of super pictures.

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Photo: Reuters via the Christian Science Monitor.
The giant violin above was built by Venetian artisans and carries musicians performing a live concert.

How have people around the world found a path to joy and laughter during the pandemic? In Venice, a giant, floating violin is providing fun on the Grand Canal.

As Elisabetta Povoledo reported this month at the New York Times, “In its 1,600-odd years, any number of phantasmagorical vessels have floated down Venice’s Grand Canal, often during regattas or elaborate ceremonies dedicated to the sea. On Saturday morning, a decidedly unusual head-turner took a spin: a gigantic violin, carrying a string quartet playing Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons.’

“The craft, called ‘Noah’s Violin,’ set sail accompanied by an escort of gondolas, and in no time a small flotilla of motorboats, water taxis and traditional flat-bottomed Venetian sandoli joined the violin as it glided from city hall, near the Rialto Bridge, to the ancient Customs House across from Piazza San Marco, about an hour’s ride.

“The vessel is a faithful, large-scale replica of a real violin, made from about a dozen different kinds of wood, with nuts and bolts inside, as well as space for a motor. In addition to the artistry involved, it took a lot of tinkering and nautical expertise to make it seaworthy, its makers say.

‘It was a novelty for us, too,’ said Michele Pitteri, a member of the Consorzio Venezia Sviluppo, which financed the boat and built it along with Livio De Marchi, a Venetian artist, who conceived the idea during last year’s lockdown.

“De Marchi named the work ‘Noah’s Violin,’ because like the ark, it was meant to bring a message of hope after a storm, in this case a message that promoted ‘art, culture and music,’ he said.

“It’s no coincidence that the journey down the Grand Canal was plotted to end beside the church of La Salute, Italian for health, in the Dorsoduro district, which was built as a votive offering to the Virgin Mary for deliverance from a plague that decimated the city in 1630. …

“The boat was steered by a helmsman dressed in a black cape and wearing a black tricorn hat like those popular in the 18th century. ‘I wanted him to channel the spirit of Vivaldi,’ De Marchi said.

“Leone Zannovello, the president of the consortium, said that the project had revived enthusiasm at the shipyard on the island of Giudecca, where it was made, after the darkest days of the coronavirus pandemic. Companies and individuals who weren’t part of the group even offered to help out, he said. ‘It was something that united us even more,’ he said. ‘We worked with our hearts.’

“On Saturday, Zannovello and others followed the violin down the Grand Canal on sundry boats, palpably proud.

“ ‘Bravo Livio!’ a voice cried out in praise of De Marchi.

“ ‘Bravi tutti!’ (‘Well done, everyone!’), De Marchi responded.

“It was mostly smooth sailing, though De Marchi mumbled anxiously whenever the prow (the neck of the violin) veered too sharply to one side or other. But even though the musicians played standing up (barefoot for a better grip), they scarcely missed a note. At one point the score for the viola flew off the music stand and into the water, but it was quickly recovered.

“ ‘Let’s just say that between the wind and the waves, it was challenging,’ said Caterina Camozzi, the viola player, after she was back on dry ground. Tiziana Gasparoni, the cellist, chimed in to say, ‘as a Venetian and a musician, it was the most moving experience of my life.’

“As is often the case in Italy, the real hitches along with way were bureaucratic.

“ ‘We were told we needed a vehicle registration plate, but officials didn’t know how to classify it,’ said Mario Bullo, a carpenter in the consortium. At first, they were issued the same plates given to rafts. ‘But the traffic police objected, saying that’s not a raft, it’s a violin,’ he said with a shrug. In the end, city officials worked it out. …

“ ‘The artisans in the city never stopped during the lockdown. Even if they couldn’t work with their hands, they still used their brains,’ said Aldo Reato, a local lawmaker who arranged for the half-dozen gondolas to accompany the violin. ‘There is no one better than a gondolier to represent the city’s traditions,’ he said.

“It’s not the first time that De Marchi, an artist known for sculpting household objects or clothing in wood, has created large-scale floating works. He began with an origami-style paper hat made of wood, in 1985, and since then he’s put several large-scale wooden objects out to sea, including a woman’s shoe, a pumpkin coach with horses, and a variety of cars, including a 1937 Jaguar, a Volkswagen Beetle and a Ferrari convertible.

“People gathered over the Ponte dell’Accademia and along the paved banks of the Grand Canal to watch the floating concert that included works by Bach and Schubert. …

“A brief ceremony attended by members of the consortium and their families and friends, followed. De Marchi made a speech, and commemorated the relatives of people who had worked on the violin who had died before seeing it finished. The Rev. Florio Tessari blessed the violin and said he hoped it would ‘travel the world as a message of hope.’ There has been interest in the violin from businesses in Italy and a museum in China, De Marchi said.

“The musical entertainment continued there along with toasts and a singalong of sorts.

“Zannovello, the consortium president, said he hoped the violin would serve to showcase Venetian crafts after a slow and difficult period. ‘I am convinced there will be a return,’ he said.”

Do check out the photos at the Times, here, and enjoy the grins of people just having fun.

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Photo: Lucy Young/Evening Standard
Jonathan Privett, co-owner of Word On The Water inside the barge.

I love stories about unusual libraries and unusual bookstores. Here’s one from the New York Times about a bookselling endeavor powered by the famed eccentricity of Englishmen.

Rod Nordland writes, “The two men who run London’s only floating bookstore, Word on the Water, are living proof that there really is something you can do in life with an English lit degree, other than teach English literature.

“The store — a 50-foot-long canalboat stuffed to its bulkheads and overflowing onto the towpath with books — has a permanent berth on the Regent’s Canal, around the corner from the British Library. This comes after years of its owners staying one step ahead of eviction from the canals, by relocating fortnightly.

“It is doing so well that Paddy Screech, 51, an Oxford-educated Cornishman with a close-trimmed beard and a soft-spoken manner, and Jonathan Privett, 52, a gaptoothed Yorkshireman who has trouble staying still for long (except with a book), finally took their dream vacations this year. …

“The men got the idea for the store from a book, of course — ‘Children of Ol’ Man River,’ in which Billy Bryant recounts how his British immigrant family arrived on the Mississippi River, homeless, living on a floating board, which they built into a theater, and then into the showboat craze of the late 1800s.

“When they met, Mr. Privett was living on a canalboat, part of a subculture of boat dwellers who berth on London’s canals for free — as long as they keep moving periodically. Mr. Screech had been working with homeless people and drug addicts, while caring for an alcoholic mother at home. ‘Overnight, she stopped drinking and turned into a little old lady who only drank tea,’ he said. …

“Mr. Privett had the book-business experience. Before settling on his canalboat, he had at times been a homeless squatter who supported himself selling used books from street stalls.

“A French friend, Stephane Chaudat, provided a boat big enough to be a store, a 1920s-era Dutch barge; he remains their partner.

“Mr. Privett had a stock of used books. Mr. Screech borrowed 2,000 pounds from his then-sober mother as capital, and their business was born in early 2010. …

“Things went downstream fast. Forced by the berthing laws to move every fortnight, they often found themselves on parts of the nine-mile-long Regent’s Canal with industrial buildings and no customers. …

“Mr. Screech said. ‘For years, it just felt like it was going to sink.’

“Then it did. A friend used the sea toilet on the book barge and left an inlet open, and the boat sank to the bottom; even their prized copy of ‘Ol’ Man River’ was lost. Shortly later, the boat Mr. Privett lived on sunk as well, and he lost all of his family photographs.

“ ‘[We] were just sitting there on the towpath, crying,’ Mr. Screech said. …

“As the canal trust peppered them with legal notices, fines and threats to have the boat barge lifted out of the water and broken up, their supporters got busy, too. One rallying cry of a Twitter post, from the science-fiction author Cory Doctorow, was retweeted a million times, Mr. Screech said.”

Read the whole saga here.

As small blurbs filling out New Yorker magazine columns were once titled, “There’ll always be an England.”

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Is the neighborhood of the future going to be on the water? A growing number of architects around the world seem to think so.

Eleanor Ross and Laura Paddison write at the Guardian about some pluses and minuses.

“Architects and city planners across the world are starting to look beyond the traditional confines of the city, towards building on water as one of the answers to reducing inner-city population density and also developing flood-resilient designs. Global damage to cities from flooding could amount to $1tn a year by 2050 if no action is taken, according to a World Bank report. …

“Building on water isn’t straightforward, however. The recent collapse of the Makoko Floating School in Lagos, one of the most famous examples of floating architecture, shows some of the complexities. …

“There are also environmental concerns. The need for foundations of many floating buildings to go deep into the river bed, for example, will have an impact on the environment, says Phillip Mills, director of the Policy Consulting Network, and a specialist in water construction.

“ ‘Foundations or structures within the river could also alter the river bed with silt erosion and deposition elsewhere in the river. The same thing already happens around bridge piers,’ he says. …

“However, Lucy Bullivant, adjunct professor of history and theory of urban design at Syracuse University, thinks there are greater environmental consequences building on land – such as the tendency to be more car focused – than on rivers. ‘Floating designs will create a good anchor point for plants to help foster biodiversity and create habitats for fish and birds.’

“Building on ‘bluefield’ sights can be environmentally friendly, according to Mark Junak, director of Floating Homes. He says floating structures such as those at Noorderhaven in the Netherlands have recently been subject to underwater drone surveys to observe whether their construction has negatively affected the ecosystem.

“According to the research project, the underwater footage ‘revealed the existence of a dynamic and diverse aquatic habitat in the vicinity of these structures, showing that floating structures can have a positive effect on the aquatic environment.’

“For London architect Carl Turner, who has designed a pre-fabricated, open-source amphibious house specifically designed to float on floodwater, called the Floating House, climate change means needing to work with water.

“ ‘You either protect the house or protect the land,’ he says. ‘Creating large-scale flood protection zones is expensive and in itself potentially harmful to the environment. Once breached, homes are left defenceless, as opposed to floating homes that can simply rise with flood waters.’ ”

More.

Photo: Mark Junak 
The Chichester prototype floating home designed by Baca Architects.

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Photograph: Devesh Uba
Grocery store in Makoko, Lagos, Nigeria.

A recent manmade-island story in the Guardian made me think of Francesca Forrest’s lovely novel Pen Pal, which involves a girl in a floating community in the U.S. South who corresponds with a political prisoner in Asia.

The Guardian article, however, is about designers and architects building islands for populations threatened by rising seas.

Jessa Gamble writes, “It may seem like science fiction, but as rising sea levels threaten low-lying nations around the world, neighbourhoods like [the Yan Ma Tei breakwater in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay, where residents live in boats] may become more common.

“Whereas some coastal cities will double down on sea defences, others are beginning to explore a solution that welcomes approaching tides. What if our cities themselves were to take to the seas? …

“The immediate and most numerous victims of climate change are sure to be in the developing world. In Lagos, the sprawling slum of Makoko regularly suffers floods, and its stilted houses are shored up with each new inundation. It’s under threat of razing by authorities.

“The Nigerian-born architect Kunlé Adeyemi proposes a series of A-frame floating houses to replace the existing slum. As proof of concept, his team constructed a floating school for the community. Still, many buildings do not make a city: infrastructure remains a problem here. One solution would be to use docking stations with centralised services, rather like hooking up a caravan to power, water and drainage lines at a campground.” More.

It all sounds like Noah building an ark. But I can’t help thinking it would be better to end global warming in the first place.

Photograph: Seasteading Institute, by way of the Guardian
The Seasteading Institute proposes a series of floating villages.

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