On Friday morning, November 20, I stood hard-hatted and slack-jawed beneath Tea Mäkipää’s ship, Eden II, as it hung from a crane far above 100 Acres, and couldn’t help but marvel at the process that turns conversations, emails, and artist’s renderings into an actual, physical, 47-foot, 8-ton object.
This rare pleasure is experienced by those involved with object– and place-making everywhere, but it was felt most distinctly by the crowd gathered for the ship launch in 100 Acres, a park first envisioned in an IMA strategic plan in 1996. While Eden II began its journey via two cranes, one barge, and one motorboat from the park’s central meadow to its resting place in the southwest corner of the lake, one could also see crews at work building the walls of Alfredo Jaar’s Park of the Laments, hear the nearby construction of Marlon Blackwell’s visitor’s center, and observe the assembly of Andrea Zittel’s fiberglass floating island by LA-based fabricators The Barnacle Brothers. At long last, 100 Acres is really happening.
I came to the IMA in summer of 2007 and to Finnish artist Tea Mäkipää’s project in early 2009, after former IMA curator (and friend!) Rebecca Uchill left Indianapolis to pursue a PhD. Mäkipää had first travelled to Indianapolis in July of 2007 to conduct research for her commission, and the idea of developing a boat-based project surfaced early on. Having come across a warship when traveling in the United Arab Emirates earlier that year, Mäkipää was interested in thinking about the waterway system in Indianapolis and, in particular, the canal, river, and lake in and around 100 Acres. We had provided Mäkipää with information about the historic and ecological development of these waterways, and local volunteers took the artist on boat trips along the canal via pontoon boat.
She came to the museum with a proposal for a ship, Eden II, seemingly packed with emigrants from an unknown homeland and mysteriously present in the 100 Acres lake. Much research ensued over the possibility of finding a functional boat and transporting it to the park site, as Mäkipää had originally hoped to procure a ship in Europe and sail it to the United States as an extension of her recent project, 10 Commandments for the 21st Century, whose first rule is: “Do not fly.”
Although the voyage would have been a stunning artwork of its own, unfortunately cost, liability, and timing prevented this plan from proceeding. After searching high and low for suitable ships in the US that would fit the scale and needs of the project (thanks former IMA intern Lindsay Clark!), it became clear that a functioning boat would not only have unnecessary parts for our purposes (an engine), but would also be prohibitively expensive to purchase and transport. In the summer of 2008, the artist submitted a revised proposal to construct “a floating structure that resembles a ship”, and with her we embarked on the mission of devising a building plan.
In July of 2009, Icelandic artist Halldor Ulfarsson arrived at the IMA to work as Mäkipää’s assistant and begin construction of the skeleton of Eden II. The kind folks over at the Herron School of Art and Design, most notably Eric Nordgulen and Greg Hull, agreed to lend us their magnificent sculpture studio for a few weeks to accomplish some of the primary metal work for the project. Ulfarsson worked with IMA staffers, including Mike Bir, Brad Dilger, and Brose Partington, to finalize plans for the ship and construct its primary structure. In August, that structure was transported via truck to the central meadow of 100 Acres, and in September, Mäkipää arrived to begin the work of skinning and detailing the ship with Ulfarsson and noble IMAers Scott Shoultz, TJ Lemanski, and Toni Hook.
Herron students also joined the project: Jason Bord, Ava Larkin, Shi-Fen Liu, Wes French fabricated a menacing-looking harpoon and gun, and Amanda York and Kathryn Armstrong assembled a net of rubbish that hangs from the ship’s deck. All the while, a plan was taking shape for Eden II’s eventual launch into the 100 Acres lake, which would also entail the construction of a pontoon system, a keel with considerable ballast, and anchors that would be set in the bottom of the lake.
This narrative glosses over many details (you may now anxiously await my novel: East of Eden II), but we finally arrived at launch day in late November. After a week of waiting for rainy weather to clear, Mike Bir and much of the IMA’s installation crew assembled in the park early Friday morning with a tightly choreographed plan of action.
A smaller crane lifted the ship from the meadow (it stayed together!) and brought it to the shore of the lake (expertly navigating a grove of trees!). I winced as the crane tunneled enormous tracks into the park ground—under the watchful eyes of many from the Horticulture & Grounds crew who will no doubt have to address said tracks—but comforted myself by repeating my mantra for the day: Better now than a week before the park opens. After the ship was placed near the shore, we gathered for a quick group picture, which included the crew as well as the project’s engineers, crane operators, mighty 100 Acres project manager Dave Hunt, park director Lisa Freiman,
and IMA director Maxwell Anderson. In the absence of the artist, who sadly had to miss the event, and with Mike Bir’s support, I then said a silent prayer and broke a bottle of champagne (ok, ok, it was Prosecco) on the ship’s hull. Then, back to business: a second, enormous crane lifted the ship high enough so that the team could attach the keel and ballast, and the whole contraption was gingerly extended over the lake and placed gently in the water. A barge was then attached to the side of the ship, and it was ferried by motor boat over to its final location, where anchors attached by cable to buoys waiting to be attached. Enter Brad Dilger, IMA Multi-Media Designer and certified scuba diver, who helped set the keel and attach the anchors to Eden II.
By the day’s end, the ship was resting peacefully in its intended spot. There is still much work to be done to complete the stabilization of the ship. And there is still a guard shack to be constructed on the shore of the lake, which will house audiovisual components affording visitors views of what is supposedly transpiring aboard the mysterious vessel. However, my spirit is (forgive me) buoyed enormously by the success of Friday’s launch. Last I checked, museums aren’t in the business of building ships, or even independently floating sculptures that resemble ships. I’m awfully proud of what Tea Mäkipää has accomplished at the IMA, and it couldn’t have happened without the herculean efforts of the IMA staff and the Indianapolis community at large. Thanks, everyone.