It looks like a barge and not an artwork but that doesn’t bother Cedric Bomford, his brother Nathan nor his father Jim who built it. Deadhead is a floating sculpture in the shape of a barge because it is a barge. The vessel is presently moored off the Vancouver Maritime Museum docks much to the delight –and the consternation – of the locals.
“There are people that swim out every day and berate us,” says Bomford. “At least it gets people excited. So if people react badly to it at least they’re reacting.”
Deadhead may look like a random jumble of shapes and sizes but once on board, it becomes an intriguing labyrinth of intersecting planes and angles. In fact the structures are not random at all but deliberately positioned to be aesthetically pleasing, created through a process called “building through thinking.” Yep, the piece was built without plans or blueprints which means there was a lot of tearing down and building up and tearing down until the builders were happy with the form. Bomford calls it “ad hoc improvisational architecture” with the creators tinkering with the final shape right up to its unveiling.
“It embodies thinking as a form of art and as a form of construction. So it’s more of a sketch than it is a building,” says Bomford.
Deadhead started as a pile of collectables. Reclaimed lumber such as hoardings, discarded metals and abandoned window frames were gathered in the Bomford studio, assembled into shapes and then placed onboard the barge. The sculpture is a salute to BC’s maritime history and specifically a nod to the handmade shacks that once dotted the Vancouver shoreline, often constructed out of the timber that washed ashore. Bomford wants the public to reflect upon these former communities and the logging industry upon which many present-day maritime communities depend. The word deadhead refers to log which has broken free of a log boom and is floating, often dangerously, just below the water’s surface.
Deadhead took four years to build and was overseen by Barbara Cole of Other Sights for Artists’ Projects, a Vancouver collective dedicated to challenging perceptions and fermenting discussion. The project was financed, in part, from the last remaining cultural funds from the 2010 Vancouver winter Olympics as well as contributions from the Canada Council, various government agencies and private foundations.
Come the fall, Bomford will be heading east to Manitoba to teach sculpture at the U of M’s School of Art while his creation, Deadhead, will be towed to another part of the BC coast and moored, no doubt intriguing – and infuriating – others.