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Reclaiming the Ground Note: Echoes from Broken Vessels

Crucible Steel Gallery
San Francisco, CA

Collaboration with composer Marilyn Hudson.  Sound Sculpture installation and performance where abandoned boats were converted into stringed and percussive instruments, a reclamation project symbolizing transformation and rebirth. In derelict boats we saw the possibility of rebirth into vessels of beautiful sound.

Musicians Mark Alburger, Opie Bellas, Jeff Nathanson, Ralph Prince and others contributed instrumentally and vocally. Alburger, also a composer, lent his talents. The artists also invited audience members to participate at given intervals. The public was invited to play the boats.

Judith and Marilyn perform on the blue dinghy strung with piano wire

The installation featured four boats. From these unconventional musical materials, we transformed discarded objects into something of value. Apart from their sheer sculptural presence, the boats brought forth sound that ranged from the haunting and surreal to the twangy, folksiness of a slide guitar.

The sound quality of these transformed castoffs combined well with their suitability as a metaphor for the project theme—abandonment and rebirth. This dual potential had kept us interested in the project for the five years that it took to gather our collection.

wide shot of performance in progress
Dress rehearsal. Blue boat (foreground), Sailboard (right rear), Canoe drum/bamboo marimba (center rear)

The performance

We constructed a half-hour performance to dramatize the stages of abandonment, recovery and rebirth, revealing glimpses of the our autobiographical connection to the message of the piece—childhoods (and subsequent adulthoods) shaped by adoption, divorce, and the death of one or more parents. This universal theme resonated with many who came in contact with our work.

Of the Jewish faith, I chose to recite the mourner’s kaddish as part of the performance. That emotional moment, in addition to the candle ritual, brought some audience members to tears.

aerial wide shot of performance in progress
Canoe drum/bamboo marimba (foreground), Sailboard (left rear), Blue boat (right rear), colander/tub of water and toy piano (center rear). Sound score on right wall.
two performers play the tall stringed sailboard
Jeff Nathanson and Mark Alburger play the Sailboard strung with piano wire. The range included a cello tonality when played with an electric guitar pickup.
Judith lights a candle mounted to the wall which has a poem written on it.
Candle ritual:
Opie Bellas recites each year between 1974 and 1999 year as I light each of 25 candles. These were the years that had passed since my mother died from a cerebral aneurism. A poem written on the wall references that loss.
Wall with lit candles, text, and blueprint of an MRI scan of my brain.
Wall with lit Yahrzeit candles, text, and blueprints of MRI scans of my brain.

The instruments

Two 8-foot dinghies and a 12-foot sailboard were converted into stringed instruments with piano wire and guitar strings. Fitted with rawhide frame drums and a bamboo “marimba”, a canoe doubled as a percussion instrument and an object for dragging across a gravel pile.

White Boat: details in caption below
White Boat (Dinghy Instrument):
Wood boat, maple, piano wire, piano tuning pins. 8′ x 5′ x 2′ Fine piano wire is strung in a herringbone pattern on an old white dinghy. It makes high pitched sounds when played like a harp (sort of).

Blue boat - bow, details in caption below
Blue Boat bow (Dinghy Instrument):
Wood boat, maple, piano wire, rubber tubing, piano tuning pins. 6′ x 3.5′ x 1.5′

Blue boat - rear showing piano tuning pins and wire slipped through plastic tubing
Blue Boat stern (Dinghy Instrument):
Wood boat, maple, piano wire, rubber tubing, piano tuning pins. 6′ x 3.5′ x 1.5′
Judith holds a colander that is pouring water into a metal tub
Water shower, with colander and metal tub

sailboard, details in caption below
Sunfish sailboard, maple, piano wire, piano tuning pins
12.5′ x 3.5′ x .5′
Canoe sitting on a bed of gravel, with a drum and bamboo marimba in it.
Canoe drum/bamboo marimba (foreground).
Canoe, paint, bamboo, animal skin. 9′ x 3′ x 1′