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The Boat Project, an initiative for 2012's Cultural Olympiad, aims to construct a ship of stories and memories from wooden belongings supplied by the public. What will you be donating?

Dan Gould
  • 19 may 2011


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This article titled “I wood, would you?” was written by Jonathan Jones, for guardian.co.uk on Thursday 19th May 2011 11.58 UTC

Wood has two important qualities that make it ideal for The Boat Project, a public art initiative by Lone Twin for the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. First, it floats. And second, as wood ages it holds memories, keeping them warm in its living grain.

Lone Twin is making a boat from any old wooden memorabilia you may have, which will become part of a collective artwork for the Olympic year. Anyone who wants to participate can turn up at donation days in south-east England – the next is in Portsmouth on 22 May – and bring along a wooden item, of whatever size or age, so long as you can tell a story about it. You can also take objects to the project’s base, The Boat Shed, at Thornham Marina. A wooden toy that belonged to your grandmother, a wooden spoon your mum stirs cake-mix with … examples collected so far include a mast from a Hastings fishing boat, driftwood from Thailand, an old hairbrush, and a fragment from Brighton’s West Pier. Everything that is donated will be used to construct a seaworthy yacht to be sailed along the south coast in 2012.

It sounds lovely, a boat of stories and memories – really unusual. But then, wood means a lot to me personally. My father Eric Lewis Jones is a highly skilled furniture-maker and from the earliest I can remember we were surrounded by beautiful wooden objects, glistening with varnish. My dad would point out lovingly the different kinds of wood in his creations – an oak table, a mahogany cabinet. He also made richly rounded wooden bowls, inlaid decorations and some truly extravagant toys, including my own Apollo space rocket, big enough to get inside.

I don’t think I’ll be giving any of these to Lone Twin – too precious – nor am I likely to hand over my grandfathers’s wooden tools, which look exactly like those in old paintings of Joseph. My grandfather – or rather, in Welsh, taid – was also a woodworker, employed as a joiner on building sites in north Wales, a technician on biplanes in the first world war and part of the team that built the Mulberry harbours for D-Day.

That’s enough nostalgia from me. The point is, Lone Twin have tapped into something vivid here. Wood is soft and organic, yet also tough and practical. A wooden object always feels handmade and makes you wonder who made it, when and where. It connects you with a story that might cross centuries and traverse the planet. Just last night I was looking at an painted wooden demon from (I think) Bali that I have had since I was a student. Its nose has broken off, but the colours are still vivid. It made me wonder who made it. It’s just an ordinary, half-forgotten object lying around but when you think about it, you sense a story. Perhaps I will hand it over for The Boat Project.

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