Almost exactly five years ago Todd Chandler was floating atop a garbage heap in the Adriatic Sea bound for a party he had not been invited to, the Venice Biennale. A crew of about 30 artists, freegans, anarchists, bike punks and the like were at the helm of the rafts which made up a fleet of buoyant recycled materials.
This would be Chandler’s fourth and last voyage atop one of these raft projects, which were dreamed up by a group of artists, including Swoon, back in 2006. The aesthetic is a familiar one by now– it takes notes from Huckleberry Finn, LSD, and bike punk culture. Over the years, a gaggle of artists and friends teamed-up to pilot caravans of floating barges and scrap wood rafts, skiffs that Chandler described as “basically built out of bullshit.”
The filmmaker and musician’s third voyage, from upstate to New York City down the Hudson River, would become the setting for Chandler’s film, Flood Tide. Part documentary, part fiction, part ghost story, Floor Tide utilizes the month-long performance piece of sorts, called Swimming Cities of Switchback Sea, as a backdrop.
“It’s really kind of about loss and possibility,” Chandler explained of the film. Flood Tide made its New York City debut at the Brooklyn Museum on June 12 (and coincided with Swoon’s exhibition, Submerged Motherlands) and was screened at Northside Festival earlier this summer. But Chandler said that the screening this upcoming Sunday is “the last time it will be shown in Brooklyn for a long time.”
Chandler’s raft years started with the Miss Rockaway Armada project back in 2006. The trip was something of a “social experiment,” and took a band of floating hippie-punk barges down the Mississippi River. Chandler says he joined the crew mainly as a means of stepping outside his comfort zone– he’d never been adept at hanging out with large groups of people. “I was in a band, and that’s about all I could handle,” he said.
As time went on, the raft projects evolved, but the same people kept coming back.“If the first two years it was slightly more life than art, the second two years were more art than life.”
While Chandler was in grad school, Swoon called him up and asked him to be a part of Swimming Cities of Switchback Sea. “It was very much her aesthetic vision,” Chandler said. He realized this was the perfect opportunity to make a film about the raft projects and the community that surrounded them. It was something he’d been thinking about for years.
“I just kind of noticed this mythology that surrounded them,” he explained. “There were all these different motivations [people had for being there] and all these different ideas, and I was interested in sort of building on that and adding layers of mythology in a way.”
Chandler talked of the initial voyage as life changing, but as much as the experience was “amazing,” he also described it as “challenging and frustrating.”
“There were a lot of questions that came up for me during those projects about community, and isolation, and collaboration, and privilege– making Flood Tide was a way for me to continue asking those questions.”
Privilege is somewhat of a sticky subject when it comes to the raft projects. Consider the vast distance between the scrappy, materialism-eschewing, anti-establishment aesthetic of the various projects, and the capital backing them. Crashing the Biennale was not some spur-of-the-moment, daredevilish stunt, rather it was carefully planned and backed by $150,000 in donations.
Regardless, it’s hard not to admire the boldness of the raft project participants and it’s impossible to deny the fact that impressive feats were achieved on and off these ragged little floats. “There’s a whole network of individuals and communities that coalesced around the rafts. Many people knew each other previously, worked together before, or were part of various collectives and ongoing projects,” Chandler wrote in an email to B+B. “There was certainly something about the raft projects though– particularly the Miss Rockaway– that kind of solidified this loose network into a more deeply connected community that continues to have a lot of cross pollination and collaborations.”
Chandler described the difficulties of living with 30 people on the Swimming Cities of Switchback Sea raft for a month, and shooting a film on such a chaotic float. He said the process of filming with big-rig cameras was “totally ridiculous.”
The filmmaking process went forward at nothing short of breakneck pace. The barge docked each night, and Chandler said with every night he was “jumping away from shooting to go rehearse and perform” with his band, Dark Dark Dark. “So yeah, I sort of lost my mind during that period.”
The participants’ reactions to the work in progress and then the completed film varied, according to Chandler. “Some said, ‘Well, that wasn’t my experience.’ And I said, ‘Well, fair enough.’ It’s not a documentary and it’s not trying to represent everyone’s experience.”
But Chandler is committed to multifacetedness. As an artist, he’s a rabid devotee of collaboration and works in several different mediums. He’s not only put several years into a band, Dark Dark Dark (of which he is no longer a part), but he’s also carried out one very massive installation project with Jeff Stark (yeah, that Jeff Stark). You might remember the pop-up movie theater that landed in Queens last year, Empire Drive-In.
As an artist, Chandler has also consistently demonstrated his interest in “creative reuse–” another way of acknowledging multiple facets. The Empire project adopted scrap cars from local junkyards and reimagined them as seating for the drive-in theater. Much like the raft project, the garbage was rearranged to create a utilitarian and imaginative space.
Flood Tide then, as a mosaic of lived experience, imagined plot, and ambient meditations, seems to be the penultimate encapsulation of Chandler’s work, at least so far. “Yeah, I would say it’s definitely my biggest and most personal film project,” he said.
Check out the trailer for Flood Tide below.
Flood Tide will be screened at The Center for Performance Research in Greenpoint on Sunday, July 20th. Doors: 7pm. There will be snacks, drinks, and Q+A with Todd Chandler. $6 suggested donation. Presented by Mono No Aware.