Dreamboat

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Client: The Crocker Art Museum

Location: Sacramento, CA, United States

Completion date: 2017

Artwork budget: $20,000

Project Team

Artist

Martin Webb

Director of Museum Education

Stacey Shelnut-Hendrick

Crocker Art Museum

Overview

Dreamboat is an immersive, interactive environment for “Totland” the room that serves as a base for the under-fives in the museum’s amazing and award-winning education department. The starting point for my idea was a carved wood piece in the Crocker’s collection, a Papuan spirit canoe occupied by various human and animal figures, knowing that it would have intrigued the five-year old me. I’ve built my own version – a life-size boat with it’s own “crew”and surrounding environment. I hope that children feel drawn in and compelled to explore it and lose themselves in imaginative games of their own invention.

I’ve avoided anything that leads into a specific guided activity – I recall the thing that always kept me engaged with art at an early age was its ambiguity and mystery, and I still think that intangibility is one of Art’s biggest assets in our very analyzed and explained world. Instead, my intention for the piece is for it to present kids with a “stage set” in which to become absorbed in creative, fantastical play. The scene is familiar and accessible, but also a little strange and full of ambiguity. From a visual point of view I wanted it to feel like you were stepping inside one of my paintings.

Kids love to get into small secret spaces so the installation includes several of these including in the bow of the boat which is lit inside with LED lights. It also has a few little hatch doors to open – one reveals a mirror, and one a rubber octopus. The big-eyed figure looking out the front of the boat contains a periscope-like feature where kids can lie under it, look up into a mirror, and see out of his eyes – typically to a waving adult or friend. The shacks are another fun little hideaway, and on the roof, guarded by a cubist bird, is a speaker box emitting the sounds of crashing waves, gulls, creaking boats, and sea shanties.

Goals

The project goal was to engage children, especially under-fives, in creative play with all it's beneficial outcomes - physical and sensory development, collaboration and social skills, language, etc.

Process

The project started as a much smaller "visiting artist" type temporary installation, but soon expanded into this more fully realized permanent environment. I worked closely with the museum's education department, plus an educational consultant to develop the project. The design phase spread over six months, followed by three months of fabrication in my studio, then finally the installation was done with assistance from the museum's installation crew over three weeks.