FRONT, In Search of an Anthem: A Lake Erie Journey

The catamaran Florante Baldado, sailing from Buffalo to Cleveland with artists on board, in time for the beginning of FRONT International Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art.

On July 12, the 46-foot catamaran, Florante Baldado, will launch from Buffalo, New York, as part of Delegation 2022, a creative journey with two main objectives. The first is obvious enough: to dock safely in Cleveland’s North Coast Harbor on July 14. The second is a little trickier; within the duration of the trip, the passengers are tasked with composing an original song to perform at the FRONT 2022 opening Block Party. The creative lead on the project is Buffalo native and multi-disciplinary artist Asad Raza.

“The idea is to use the journey over water almost like a studio space for the musicians,” said Raza during a June 28 Zoom interview (he is currently located in Frankfurt, Germany). “This rhythmic journey will somehow translate into what we create musically.” While the group will have free reign, Raza notes that he created a “a little bit of a start for them, with a melody and stuff,” although he doesn’t expect that to predetermine the results.

The artists he’s tapped to compose an anthem for the dazzling international event include media and installation artist Andrea Mancuso (Buffalo), curator and multidisciplinary artist Olivier Delrieu-Schulze (Buffalo), poet and musician RA Washington (Cleveland), vocalist LaToya Kent (Cleveland), musician Rafay Rashid (Providence, RI), and multi-disciplinary artist Shasti O’Leary Soudant (Buffalo).

“They all have different skills and abilities,” said Raza, adding, “all of us understand it’s a little bit of an adventure.”

The excursion also represents something personal for Raza. “I grew up in Buffalo within a couple miles of the lake shore, but I never went to the lake much. I never swam in the lake.” Even when his father had an apartment immediately adjacent to the water, recalls Raza, “we just looked at the lake out the window—we didn’t go in it—so I’m really looking forward to meeting this character who’s been part of my life my whole life but I’ve never really met.”

During his research for the excursion, Raza spent time at the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum delving into the fraught history of Lake Erie and the indigenous people that historically thrived along its shores. “It’s an inspiration to me to think about the people who spent 20,000 or 30,000 years living on this lake. Now in the last 200 years, the things that have been happening on this lake have done some pretty serious damage to it.” Raza said he hopes the project fosters a connection between today’s Lake Erie and how indigenous people sustainably managed it for thousands of years.

Explore Asad Raza’s ongoing film project Ge, “an endless and evolving video work that blends fiction and documentary.”

As the crow flies, the distance from Buffalo, NY, to Cleveland, OH, is about 170 miles, or 190 miles and three hours by car. Via Lake Erie, the journey spans some 150 nautical miles, which per Captain Pierre Wallinder, director of operations for Sail Buffalo, represents 24 continuous hours of sailing. For the FRONT contingent, however, the trip will stretch over a couple of days, including a stop at Presque Isle near Erie, PA. Wallinder will be crewing on the Florante Baldado, along with the boat’s owner.

“It’s going to be a camping experience,” he said of what the mates can expect. And while the 22-foot-wide catamaran boasts a generous galley and salon, “bunk space is limited,” said Wallinder. “Some people may even want to sleep on the trampolines,” which are flat netted surfaces between the catamaran’s hulls where passengers can sleep or sunbathe.

The Florante Baldado is outfitted with two 75-horsepower engines if the weather goes south. The catamaran will also be flanked by a support vessel if an unexpected emergency arises. Wallinder, whose sailing experience includes numerous multi-day expeditions from locales such as the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic, has complete faith in the vessel and then some. “It’s a very, very seaworthy boat,” he said, adding of the eclectic passenger list, “they should be fine.”

Assurances notwithstanding, Wallinder said he’ll appeal to Mother Nature for good weather and another deity as well.

“We shall all make an individual prayer to Neptune.”

Track the progress of the Florante Baldado here. Zoom into Lake Erie and look for “FLO [US].”

“It’s such a lovely and strange, unusual endeavor,” noted O’Leary Soudant from Buffalo during a July 1 Zoom interview. Her lifelong sailing experience includes river excursions along the Hudson in NYC and childhood stints amid the islands and fjords of Sweden with her grandfather. “It’s something I have in my blood,” she said of the sailing life.

Eighteen years in Buffalo informs her expectations of the FRONT project as well. “The idea of a delegation from one old steel city to another is really moving,” she said, adding that the act of sailing further enhances the effort on account of the obligatory attention to orientation. “You have to know where you are and where you are in relation to other things,” she said. “It is such an apt metaphor for life in general—not just for the life of humans, but also for the life of cities.”

As for the group’s musical objective, O’Leary Soudant finds hope in the challenge, particularly in our charged political times. “Politics winds up being one of the strongest, most compelling reasons to do this: to connect with people who are wildly different and to see what we can make together. Something like this can be a remedy—even for a group of seven or eight people. We know what the butterfly effect does.”

She also has faith in the group’s ability to meet that challenge. “Collaboration is this completely unpredictable process and that’s what great about it. You don’t know what someone else is going to bring to the table until they bring it.”

The opinions expressed on CAN Blog are those of the individual writers. Art is somewhat subjective. Well, somewhat. But yes, everybody's a critic.

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