David Anderson ’19 received a Gibbons grant this summer to help a Bowdoin art professor organize ambitious site-specific art, sound, dance, and multimedia installations in the local area. His first project was to set up Visiting Artist Erin Colleen Johnson’s sound installation, Many Thousand Miles, at the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath.
“My role was to be technical assistant for her vision,” Anderson said. The installation, which will be up through August, weaves together two songs about returning home from long sea journeys: a 19th-century sea shanty sung in English and a 1970s Lebanese song in Arabic. The songs are played through four speakers that turn in different directions depending on the winds. The compositions, too, are affected by software that draws data from the local weather. Sitting in the middle of the speakers, you always hear a different version of the interlaced songs, were are both sung by women— including a Bowdoin student whose parents immigrated to the US from Syria and Palestine.
“We’re drawing data from wind speeds,” Anderson explained, “so the windier it is the, the more shifting and chaotic the piece will sound. Or if it is calm, it will be a more static piece.”
In her press release for the event, Johnson explains that maritime songs traditionally spoke “to the hope for smooth passages through treacherous waters and safe returns,” a theme that pertains today to the plight of refugees crossing the Mediterranean. “Many Thousand Miles asks the listener to consider these historically rich shanties in the context of current conversations around immigration and diversity in Maine,” she writes.
In addition, Anderson is helping Johnson with the technology for a series of events called A Long Wait, at Fort Gorges, an island in Casco Bay off Portland. On July 9, July 9, and July 16, will be three different artistic performances—a dance, an interactive social piece, and a musical performance, all tailored to the site of the small island and its fort, which was erected in 1858. Anderson is also helping publicize A Long Wait.
“I am interested in digital media,” Anderson said. Plus, his work Johnson, “blends together so many different really jobs at once,” from computer technology to public relations to art. “It’s a true liberal arts fellowship,” he added.