Floating Spirit / Floating Theater

I. The Harbor Goddess

Animist creation myth, commonplace in the East, seems strangely out of place in our Occidental response to the landscape. The personification—even deification—of the natural, fabricated and imagined features of Boston Harbor and the South Boston Seaport District yields another perspective on the process and goals of urban design.

The opportunity for European immigrants to gain this kind of insight from the careful stewardship of Boston’s indigenous Americans was perhaps lost by their victory in King Phillip’s War. As contemporary American myths (pioneer spirit, cowboys, etc.) apparently fail to address the concerns of city dwellers in an increasingly crowded and complicated metropolis, we endeavor to create our own mythology.

Christianized American Indians who sided with colonists, but refused to fight for them, were interned on Boston’s Deer Island during King Phillip’s War. Without shelter, or even a source of fresh water, many hundreds died there. A burial site on the island is currently undergoing conservation and will become a memorial park.

II. Floating Spirits

We envision the Harbor Goddess as product and protector of the dreams and aspirations of all who sail into her and seek access to her shores. A safe haven for the ships of fisher folk and a refuge for the harried office worker. As a being, a living system—not just a thing, a resource to be exploited—the harbor as Goddess is worthy of our respect and devotion.

A quiet, reflective moment while having lunch in a harbor-side park, elation while picking up your paycheck at the Fish Pier, a ceremony honoring the memory of lost sailors, or the inauguration of a new sewage treatment plant are all suitable devotional activities. The conciliation of harbor and human spirits is mutually inclusive.

III. Intercourse

Deification of the harbor suggests a reciprocal, coëvolutionary approach to future urbanism. Fingers of wharves projecting into the harbor are equally fingers of water let into the land. More interpenetration, greater access to the water for the community of South Boston and Boston at large, will create a deeper connection with the Harbor Goddess and, consequently, with the spirit of the city itself.

In this light the city is recast as mythic hero. A deity which supports the ambitions of his residents and makes entreaties on their behalf to the Harbor Goddess. Politicians emerge as divine intermediaries attempting to reconcile an eternal spirit-world with the short-term gains of developers. The construction of skyscrapers along the shoreline becomes overtly, grotesquely ithyphallic.

Naval procession and firework are popular in harbor festivals around the world. Contemporary American firework displays (even those on dry land) still contain traces of mock naval battles staged by ancient Romans in the flooded Coliseum. Whatever their explicitly stated purpose, harbor festivals infallibly, palpably, reify the connection between city and harbor through time and space.

IV. The Floating Theater

Amusement park and temple, entertainment and ethical heuristic, the dual nature of the theater, in form and practice, is a fitting metaphor for any harbor city. Within the particularly contentious development of the South Boston Seaport the floating theater extends this metaphor.

Theater is an engine of collective imagination; a crucible within which we allow ourselves to be shaped by magical forces. Where there is no land upon which to fashion a stage for this purpose the land must be extended into the harbor so that the Harbor Goddess can, in turn, extend herself into us.

Ean White, for all the Gods and Goddesses of the
Boston / Tainan Cultural Exchange, June 1998.