CARDBOARD CITY SHIP - Alfredo & Isabel Aquilizan, Passage (The Eighth Fleet), transport cardboard boxes and packing tape, 2011
The artists, a married couple from the Philippines, focus on migration in their work. In this case, it’s early Austronesian ship travel and transport, particularly inspired by the migration canoes of the Maori.
This gorgeous piece involving the transit of an entire culture/city/country by canoe, was constructed in the Govett-Brewster Gallery in New Plymouth, using the assistance of schoolchildren from the area.
Is it not totally amazing? This complicated city dangling upside down, the way it sways, the deceptive solidity of something that, in the water, would sink, sodden. I have an urgent desire to live aboard this ship. I’d also like to get up in there and get a whole lot of closer looks. When I was a kid, my grandfather brought my sister a refrigerator box as a present. He labeled it Molly’s House, and cut a door and window. She lived in that box inside our house, emerging for meals, for the better part of a year. It had what it needed: walls, a ceiling, a window and a door. Others in the Actual House were wildly jealous of Molly’s House.
Of course, all this - the city canoe, the refrigerator box - bring to mind other houses made of cardboard, and the way these unhomes are homes for so many. So this piece, too, is a piece about a culture that might be washed away in a wave, or in a heavy rain. We can talk about floods. We can talk about our current culture of Atlantis.
I refer you as well, with an emphatic recommendation, to William Vollman’s extraordinary Harper’s Magazine piece from a couple years ago, Homeless in Sacramento: Welcome to the New Tent Cities. I could also refer you to any number of related fantastical things, cities floating, cities collapsing, but I think the nonfiction is more relevant here. We have a cardboard civilization alongside the bricks and stones. Lots of us are out there in the dark. In some moments in the world, this was simply the nature of living. Now? Cities inside of cities. Though you might be living free, you are also living under the lights of the freeway, inside a collapsible home, under threat of dismantling by whatever city you’re inside.