Constance Hockaday makes large-scale installations on open water. Identifying as a Chilean-American queer artist, Hockaday creates spaces that celebrate creative freedom and counterculture communities while defying gentrification. Take the Floating Peep Show — in which out-of-work drag queens and exotic dancers performed in the hulls of sailboats in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Now, Hockaday plans to turn a retired Coast Guard vessel into a venue for a huge waterborne multimedia spectacle. Always Get on the Boat will both celebrate and mourn the likely demise of the Fifth Street Marina — a longstanding alternative community on a post-industrial waterfront in Oakland, California, that is slated to be overrun by commercial development.
As she sets the plans for this new work, we talked to Hockaday about the struggle to make space for alternative culture, and why urban access to open water is so important.
In your talk at TEDGlobal 2014, you described the Floating Peep Show, and how it was inspired by two San Francisco counterculture establishments that had closed within months of each other — the Lusty Lady and Esta Noche. Tell us more about what these were.
The Lusty Lady was the nation’s only worker-owned, unionized adult entertainment business. It was a peep show, so you looked through a window at women — and people of actually many different genders, body shapes and looks — and you look at them without their clothes off, or erotic dancing. It was an institution, and it was located in what was known as the Barbary Coast. It felt a part of the old San Francisco, maybe one of the last places that felt like it was connected to that. It catered to the general public and also specifically to feminists, queers and radical sex culture, as well as kink and a very counterculture underground scene that’s played a huge part in the shaping of San Francisco. They shut down this past year.
Then, six months later, so did Esta Noche, a Latino gay bar in the Mission. It was spectacular, very special. It provided a place for gay Latinos who didn’t necessarily have a place in white gay-man world or in Latino culture. Everybody was welcome — it was like a queer Quinceañera every night.
Why did they shut down?
It was partly because clientele had moved out of the city because they couldn’t afford to be there. Social networking has also changed a lot of the way that queer culture interacts with each other. But these were cultural institutions.
So I rafted together four sailboats, and each one was a performance space. I contacted a bunch of Lusty Lady alumni, a bunch of drag queens from Esta Noche, as well as DJs and people from the Center for Sex and Culture. I hired them for four nights to perform inside the hulls of sailboats. We built a wall so that you couldn’t actually walk all the way into the boat: you could just step in. There was a money slot, and you could pay to see the performers. I told them to do whatever they wanted. Some of them did sex shows, some of them did strip shows, some of them did karaoke shows, some of them did super high fashion.
We picked people up in small inflatable boats, and transported more than 600 audience members across the San Francisco Bay to the sailboats in four nights. One night we did it near Dogpatch, in industrial San Francisco, and then three nights we did it in Clipper Cove, on Treasure Island. Everybody was there: all the old, curmudgeonly sailors who were all in charge of the sailboats, plus sex workers, drag queens, friends, art dorks, pervy kink dudes, tech kids. All hanging out in the middle of the water on these boats.
This was great, because it can be lonely and frustrating and confusing to be an artist in a place where artists are losing real estate, and losing a way to survive in that role in society. It’s hard enough to be an artist in general. It’s a scary life path to choose.
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