Revenge of The Shipwrecked
(updated 1/1/99) Flotilla (also spelled "Flo-tilla") is this annual Spring floating Art event in Chicago, originally organized by Luke Dohner and ... somebody and ... somebody else. It ran from 1991 through 1995. After 1995 Dohner gave up on it. It was revived again (finally) in 1998 by some of the shipwrecked floaters of 1995.
"So, Luke, why is there a dash in Flo-tilla?"
"Well you see, it's a pun -- Flo."
"You know -- Flo. Like, it's a woman's name."-- conversation with Dohner, 1993.
A little history: 1991 - 1995
1992 - "Waiting for Flotilla"
I wanted to record the trip down the Chicago river, so I mounted a rotating 35mm slit-shutter camera three feet up on a platform. The launch was at the junk yard at Cortland, and the destination was Ogden Slip.
The launch was scheduled for one in the afternoon, and various fans and friends were at the Cortland Bridge waiting to see off the floating art. But, and typical of Flotilla, things didn't get underway until 6 PM. By that time the camera had run out of film, and no-one was left on the bridge.
When I got to Ogden slip I was told that, oops, at some point the camera had capsized, but they had uprighted it again. I took the film to a lab with instructions that the film was wet, but to process it anyway. They promptly called up to inform me that the film was wet, and should they process it anyway?
In September (1992) the Chicago gallery of Illinois State Museum (where Luke Dohner worked) did an overview exhibition of work from the Uncomfortable Spaces Galleries (and others of the same ilk). I rebuilt a lantern-slide projector to move the Flotilla film slowly from one reel to another. Very slow.
Only sixty feet of film, representing maybe an hour of taking time, it took six hours to project. Titled "Waiting for Flotilla." The instructions to the gallery staff were to just flip the film at the end of a run, and run it backwards for the following six hours.
1993 - "The Giant Pyramids of Ogden slip"
Having just completed an exhibition of models of the Giza Pyramids (Cheops had a six by six foot base, and was five feet high), I decided that pyramids were less likely to have accidents than platform mounted equipment. So it was. Nothing capsized.
The crew this year coordinated things with the Art Expo which was having its show at the same time in a tent on an empty salt lot next to Ogden Slip. The launch point this time was a parkinglot East of the Slip.
I sent only two pyramids, though. Ned Schwartz showed off the work to various potential buyers (but who wants wet pyramids?) and explained that they were slowly sinking, as indeed they were, and the smaller had already sunk beneath the water.
Jacob and I hauled them out of the water at the end of a week, weighing ten times as much as when they first went in (and the wood alone weighed over a hundred pounds). We ripped them apart and removed them piecemeal.
1994 - "Floating Point Error"
In 1994 the launch happened again from the Cortland Bridge, this time from Joe's Fishery's docks. This year it was a computer, monitor, and keyboard, with the message "Floating Point Error" on the monitor, and two arms from a store manikin attached to the box, waving in the air as if troubled by the message from the FPU.
This time I got smart, and after gutting a computer (a Tandy 2000), I stuffed it full of styrofoam, as with the keyboard. Not the monitor. But altough nothing sank, capsized, or got destroyed, not anyone got the idea. What can you expect, anyway, from artists..
1995 - "Picnic on the Raft"
This proved to be the best year for good looking floats, and the worst year for disasters. I had modeled three live size seals of chicken wire and paper mache, posed in reclining positions, a la Manet, one in naked pink, and two in gray, on a raft, titled "Picnic on the Raft."
These seals had spent weeks on my livingroom couch, slowly coming alive. That was were Luke Dohner got in trouble. I would have written it off, but these animals had endeared themselves to Claudia.
So when the 1995 float turned to complete disaster, she was furious. Not just the fact that 40 floats were capsized and destroyed, but the fact that not a single word ever came forward, neither apology nor simple regrets.
The launch was again from the Cortland Bridge, this time from a third corner, the Finkle Factory parking lot, with Ogden Slip as a destination again.
The destroyed floats were found anchored at the Turning Basin, hours after the launch. We had waited at the Grand Avenue bridge, but when the floats passed, there were no Manet seals. We backtracked, and found the destroyed seals, along with thirty other destroyed floats. We fished seal parts out of the water, and called the Harbor Police.
Claudia's fury infected me, and I planned to mount seal heads on poles on the railing just outside the door where Luke Dohner worked: the Illinois State Museum Gallery at the State of Illinois Building. But I never got around to it.
Luke Dohner and his remaining floats reached Ogden Slip and were turned out by the Harbor Police. That evening there was a barbecue at Dohner's. Only the floaters who hadn't capsized or been destroyed attended. The losers had not been notified.
A wave of resentment slowly rose in the art community, and as it crested (which took a year), Dohner fled to Portugal. Don't get artists pissed at you, they will rediscover voodoo, if need be, to get even.
Chicago Tribune, May 8 1995
Ogden Slip's owner thinks floating art show's all wet
by Larry Hartstein
As a styrofoam Cleopatra, an armor-plated fish and giant cardboard cigarettes were towed into Ogden Slip Sunday as part of an annual floating sculpture exhibit, the owner of part of the slip complained to police that the artists have no right to display their work there.
The complaint was lodged by a representative of the Chicago Dock and Canal Trust, which owns half the slip, which is on the south side of North Pier.
"They allegedly don't have the permission to put their material there," said Officer Tom Duffy of the Chicago Police Department's marine division.
Police allowed the 30 or so floating sculptures to remain in the water but told the artists, who belong to an organization called Flotilla, to make sure their work does not restrict boat traffic. Police encouraged each side to settle the matter through their lawyers.
"It's a civil matter right now," Duffy said.
Fiotilla previously had staged the exhibit for four years, including the last two at Ogden Slip, said the group's president, Luke Dohner. The exhibit has coincided with an outdoor spring art fair near North Pier, but this year's Art 1995 Chicago was moved to Navy Pier.
Dohner said he was told by a representative of the Chicago Dock and Canal Trust that the exhibit "just did not go" in Ogden Slip without the art fair alongside. But he said he decided to open the nine-day exhibit anyway because he believed the trust owned only the bank of the slip, not part of the slip itself.
"We would have gone to Lake Michigan but it's too choppy," Dohner said, "We don't want to have a war with them. We just want to have a nice little sculpture show, and next year we'll do it somewhere else if we have to go through this whole ordeal."
The Chicago Dock representative would not give her name or comment on the dispute.
The sculptures, which also featured toilet seats, inner tubes of all sizes and a swing set standing on a pontoon, attracted a small crowd Sunday evening.
"Terrific! phenomenal!" said Nina Madinca, a garment manufacturer sitting on a ledge overlooking the water, "These guys are working so hard I think they deserve credit."
Meanwhile artist Joe Fontana of Chicago had another reason, aside from the dispute to be concerned Sunday. The head of his bronze-painted Cleopatra had fallen off by the time it was towed into Ogden Slip.
"I guess a barge took her apart," he said.
Meanwhile - 1996, 1997
There was no Flotilla in 1996.
There was an attempt in 1997, by Joe Fontana and Michael Thompson, at the pond in Lincoln Park, due for October. A web site was organized too, at [Chuck Eaton's server].
Then the City wanted a gazillion bucks for a permit. This sank the effort for 1997. Joe moved the actual floating event to August of 1998, same place, sort of, and to coincide with the Oz Fest (whatever that is) ("they sell beer").
Addendum: The 1998 Flotilla
1998 - "The Luke Dohner Chair of Flotation"
The revenge session was thus to be held in July. Plans were to construct the "Luke Dohner Chair of Flotation" and launch it Monday July 27th in Lincoln Park Lagoon (off Fullerton). Diagram above. If you can't make it out: it looks sort of like a Salem witches' dunking chair. On a 3x4 foot platform; a total length of about 14 feet.
Flotilla 1998 happened from July 27 through August 3
at the Lincoln Park Lagoon in Chicago
(behind the Zoo, south of Fullerton).
Seen by Zoo goers and visitors to the Oz Fest,
and seen on the fly by anyone traveling South on Lake Shore Drive
between Fullerton and North Avenue.
Many of the pieces subsequently were on display
at the "Artists Air and Water Show"
at Acme Artists' Community Gallery,
2418 Bloomington (773 489 6396).
a few I missed, video stills by Chuck Eaton...
Map by Mel Kupfer, design for a Flotilla brochure, 1995
1995 photography by Charles Reynolds, scanned from 3x4" laser prints
1995 photography by Simon Cygielski, scanned from 3x4" prints
1998 photography by Jno Cook, scanned from slides
1998 video stills by Chuck Eaton, stolen from the [official] Flo-Tilla web site.
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