Photo by Andrew Mrozowski / Arts & Culture Editor

When I say “journey”, what do you think of? You might think of an expedition into the lush rainforests of the Amazon, or maybe the popular rock band. But what if I told you there was a deeper meaning?

The passage of time can be seen as a journey through history, documenting each detail and every change. Hamilton is known for its history of producing and manufacturing steel, giving it the nickname, “The Hammer”. With the rise of the technological age, steel mills closed down around the city giving rise to other sectors such as arts and culture. 

According to Ernest Daetwyler, an Swiss artist based an hour outside of Hamilton, we experience journeys all around us, ranging from our own individual lives to a much grander scale of the world itself. 

“Throughout life we go through cycles and there’s a lot of uncertainty,” said Daetwyler. 

This thought eventually inspired the beginning of “The Boat Project/everythingwillbefine”.Two years ago, Daetwyler started collecting driftwood that washed up on the shores of the Great Lakes, bringing the pieces home with the intention to create a memoir of their journey.

“[Driftwood] has its own memories. It comes from the forest, the trees, the branches. It’s a natural product. The way it’s grown is very specific to each piece and how its journey has been throughout the turbulent water with the waves, the light, the wind, everything has its history. Every piece of driftwood is different,” said Daetwyler.

Around the same time, Carol Podedworny, the McMaster Museum of Art curator, approached Daetwyler to do a commissioned piece for the garden space located directly in front of the museum, which prompted Daetwyler to start thinking about the city and its history. 

“Hamilton is defined by the harbour and its industrial past. Hamilton is a steel town so originally I thought more of doing an industrial art piece — a sunken ship out of steel but then I came up with a more modern concept,” said Daetwyler.

With hundreds of driftwood pieces at home and still thinking about industrial boats, Daetwyler looked to ancient European history to add another layer to his piece. The artist started to develop a concept for a driftwood boat pulling elements from a variety of different ancient naval ships across Europe.

“The driftwood boat is more of a new form of transformation, a new form of journey for a new city that is developing,” said Daetwyler.

Construction on the boat began in Daetwyler’s studio but quickly became much larger than anticipated. The base, comprised of a welded chassis, was made to support the weight of the driftwood beams that would form the underside of the vessel. Smaller pieces of driftwood were then bolted and screwed together to rest on the frame. This completed “The Boat Project” at a final length of 27 feet.

Transporting the vessel was no small task. It had to be brought to McMaster’s campus in on a flat-bed trailer and lifted with a crane so it could finally ‘dock’ at its new home.

As Daetwyler developed and completed the boat, he started to think about how the boat could apply to students at McMaster as well — what was their journey? 

“I was thinking more about the idea of venturing into something, the idea of going on a journey — going on a voyage, which is something for the students of McMaster [can relate to] going to university. It’s a big step and journey with risk involved,” said Daetwyler.

The artist reflected on his own past journey, recounting a time when he was in Zurich, Switzerland and how “The Boat Project” gained its second title, “everythingwillbefine”. The first time he saw this second title was on the rooftop of an industrial building, in German as “alles wird gut” in the 90s. Daetwyler was intrigued by this saying, and it stuck with him as a statement that is open to multiple interpretations.

“One student at McMaster told me that she went almost every day to the boat because she understood that ‘everything will be fine’ was a very positive encouragement . . . it can be very much understood in that way as sort of a send off to somebody who is going on a journey and you can say ‘it’s gonna be fine, it’s gonna be okay, you’re gonna be alright’,” said Daetwyler.

The vessel is due to set sail away from the Museum of Art’s Artist Garden in 2020; however, the impact that it has left on some students will last a lifetime. 

University is much more than a time to get an education. It one of the biggest journeys that most will go through in their lives. A journey through self-discovery, where you will push yourself outside of your comfort zone and figure out what you truly want from life. “The Boat Project” is a reminder that everyone is going through a journey and in the end, “everything will be fine.”


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