Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Raft Extensions

A raft suggests emergency, peril and danger. A means of transport or escape, something that supports existence: prevents submergence into a figurative void or chasm. The raft presents an allegorical construct of survival, beating the odds, but only just and never certain. If it were a boat a sure footing reveals itself, one based on sea legs but still quite certain. Never as resolute as dry land but as close as one can get. The raft though is a desperate measure; one summoned in need. When all avenues are explored, and when no others present themselves the raft is called up.

This last chance nature of the raft does not by any means imply a crudeness. It is its vitality which has ensured its sophistication. A life raft for instance does not want to be left to chance. On the other hand though a raft can be an amateur undertaking, one fueled by scarcity and ingenuity. One stranded for instance cannot freely choose their materials or tools. But is this view of rafts romanticized? How many people build rafts these days? How many people get stranded?

What does the raft mean in terms of artists and artist led spaces? We have suggested that they are modeled in a similar ethic to rafts. They are self-made floatation devices, arguably for survival; or more precisely out of desperation or need. They are as such an emergency measure. Their lasting ability though, may differ them from the raft. Do they last though, or are they ultimately temporary with uncertain futures and even more questionable necessity.

In turbulent economic times what does the raft offer? While businesses go bust and development slowly comes to a halt in what way does our raft offer a means of escape?

Raft references

  • Huckleberry fin. A much more leisurely view of rafts
  • Inflatable boat
  • Stephen Baxter science fiction novel. Survival in the future away from Earth.
  • Biological rafts
  • Berthon Boat
  • Lifeboat (science fiction)
  • Thor Heyerdahl
  • William Willis


  1. I like the idea that artist led spaces are like rafts!

    I think how you are drawn to the river/canal as the non-privatised space in the area around PSL is interesting - I start to wonder what rights of way people have on waterways and how they are regulated. You are right, there is a drive now to make rivers and canals a place for leisure as a part of regeneration and now they’re not industrial routes. In Leeds thought it’s fairly hard to access the river because privately owned buildings butt right up against it, there’s not a clear route along the waterway through the city centre and not much open space next to it. PSL has previously attended meetings of the “Aire Action Group” run by British Waterways. More info here:
    It’s a bit in its infancy but shows an impetus to improve the waterways.

    A raft on a river or canal is a slightly strange proposition. I think of rafts as being adrift in vast oceans. I guess these days rafts make me think of illegal migrants in makeshift vessels (not necessarily in charge of their own vessel or destiny). The other association that rafts have for me in a river context is as a team building exercise – i.e. on a corporate away day or at a youth camp.

    The idea comes into my head that you could build different rafts to represent different ideas/themes, like at town fetes where people compete to build floats (or at least we did in the town where I grew up!)

  2. hello

    I know emma bolland did some work on a canal barge in Leeds some years back for the Culture Company,

    they might give you a heads up with who to contact at British Waterways