Knife Ship I

Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation Gift of the Fondo Rivetti per l'Arte, Torino

Wood, steel, plastic-coated fabric, motor
Closed, without oars: 7 ft. 8 in. x 10 ft. 6 in. x 40 ft. 5 in. (2.3 x 3.2 x 12.3 m); extended, with oars: 26 ft. 4 in. x 31 ft. 6 in. x 82 ft. 11 in. (8 x 9.6 x 25.3 m)
Height with large blade raised: 31 ft. 8 in. (9.7 m)
Width with blades extended: 82 ft. 10 in. (25.2 m)

Originally used as prop in performance Il Corso del Coltello, Arsenale, Venice, Italy, September 1985
Installed 1997

Knife Ship I, 1985

Statement by the Artists

Knife Ship I, 1985 The Knife Ship had its genesis in two related events. For a seminar we, along with the architect Frank O. Gehry, conducted with students at the Faculty of Architecture of Milan in 1984, Coosje selected a classic red Swiss Army knife as the key image and on the first day, we hung up a large cut-out drawing of the object in the classroom. This was to be a "course" about the knife. We gave the students two projects, one for architecture in Venice, the other for a performance about the city. In the first, the knife stood for a method of cutting and slicing applied to architecture that would yield novel results in a traditional setting. In the second, the image was transformed into a giant prop, the The Knife Ship, for a performance that was later staged at the entrance to the Naval Yard in Venice and titled The Il Corso del Coltello, or "The Course of the Knife."

Knife Ship I, 1985 Like all the characters in the performance, the Knife Ship had two identities, past and present, one, the legendary ceremonial ship of Venice, the Bucintoro, the other, a mass-produced tourist souvenir. In vertical positions, the blades of the Knife Ship echoed the spires of the city, while the corkscrew recalled the "screwiness" of Carnevale.

Although the spectacle was filled with references to the knife, the prop itself was dormant during most of the action, tied up to the opposite quay in the canal that ran along the courtyard in which the performance took place. It awakened dramatically only at the climax of the performance, its blades, corkscrew, and oars in full motion, a paradigm of the process of condensing our observations of place into a symbol in architectural scale. Following the performance, the Knife Ship traveled to several museum destinations. Out of water and isolated from context, it retained its many associations while establishing its identity as sculpture.

Knife Ship I, 1985 Knife Ship I, 1985 Knife Ship I, 1985 Knife Ship I, 1985

Interview Excerpt with Coosje van Bruggen

As performed in the Canaletto-like panorama of the Campo dell’Arsenale, Il Corso del Coltello was the paradigm for the ebullient process of discovering cultural and physical properties of a site that could be transformed into the equivalent of a largescale project. The ultimate summation of the complex Venetian environment was one image -- the Knife Ship -- which was launched from the ancient naval yard, raising and lowering its blades and corkscrew while rotating its oars. Within the panorama, contending forces swirled in many disguises, reflected in the characters and props. Spectators had the chance to see objects and performers in action, eclipsing one another or embedded within props. Many of the characters were hampered in their movements, which were often repeated over and over: Basta Carambola in wooden leggings, recalling the pool table on which he played; Châteaubriand, the front end of a lion, carved from soft foam, concealing a performer; or the

two performers sitting in a large fish head that was rolled about, with only their eyes visible through a hole. Objects and human beings seemed engaged in an ongoing tug-of-war.

In the aftermath -- the performance was presented only three times to a total of 1,500 people -- certain props were sidelined, receding from view after the performance itself. Other strong, mnemonic images, like the costumes of the leading characters, Dr. Coltello, Georgia Sandbag, and Frankie P. Toronto, or the Architectural Fragments and the Houseball, in their strong reverberations of implied movement, plasticity, and painterly qualities, especially through the skin-like appearance of their canvas surfaces, became soft sculptures larger than life. (1)

Knife Ship I, 1985

1. Taken from an interview with Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen by Ida Gianelli: 'Solitude for Two, Shared: A Walk with Ida Gianelli', as printed in Claes Oldenburg Coosje van Bruggen: Sculpture By the Way. Castello di Rivoli, Museo d'Arte Contemporanea, Rivoli-Torino, 2006, p. 23. Exhibition catalogue.



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