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Being Here is Better than Wishing We’d Stayed

  • Exhibition

  • Apr 19, 2008 - March 1, 2009
  • Hunter Center Mezzanine

The Miss Rockaway Armada is a collective of artists, musicians, and adventurers-of-all-stripes who spent the summers of 2006 and 2007 journeying down the Mississippi River on a fleet of “junk-rafts.” Hailing from all parts of the country and all walks of life, the Miss Rockaway Armada is united by the desire to create, to demonstrate different ways of living and moving that are friendlier to the environment and to each other, and to indulge the urge to make something out of nothing. With this spirit and energy, the Miss Rockaway Armada came to MASS MoCA for its first project in collaboration with a museum. Being Here is Better Than Wishing We’d Stayed, a site-specific, interactive installation in the Hunter Center Mezzanine, opened to the public on April 19, 2008, and was on view through March 1, 2009. In addition to the exhibition, on April 12, 2008, the Miss Rockaway Armada gave a performance in the vein of the impromptu circus/theater performances they staged in towns along the Mississippi.

The Miss Rockaway Armada is a group of approximately 30 performers, artists, travelers, organizers, and dreamers including members of the Toyshop Collective, Visual Resistance, The Amateurs, The Floating Neutrinos, The Infernal Noise Brigade, The Madagascar Institute, Cyclecide, and the Rude Mechanical Orchestra. The group describes itself as “a small group of people with extensive experience making big, insane projects.”

Inspired by Johnny Appleseed, traveling medicine shows, nomadic jewel box theater, a long tradition of river raft-builders, and Mark Twain, members of the Miss Rockaway Armada embarked on a seemingly impossible journey. The crew set out to meet new people and exchange ideas, art, and inspiration. The collective was motivated in part by a desire to reclaim and reinvent the age-old longing to roam this vast, mysterious country. In their words, “We still live in a country that fights wars so it can consume more. We are taking the urge to flee and heading for the center.” With that in mind, the Mississippi River seemed like the perfect avenue for the artists to explore. “We suspect that there is something wildish about seeing the stars night after night from the grand old Mississippi. Yeah, sure, the Colorado is prettier, and the Rio Grande is its own divide, but the Mississippi has always been the main artery of this country. We wanted to start where the blood flows straight from the heart.”

The crew members began by organizing meetings, making phone calls, holding benefits, drawing blueprints, scraping up a storm of materials, and building like crazy. Beginning in the summer of 2006, the collective met in Minneapolis with various raft parts, food, supplies, and most importantly, irrepressible energy and enthusiasm. With the help of friends and strangers along the way, they floated down the Mississippi River for two summers, anchoring their rafts “here and there to perform, give workshops, and create the big huge stinking spectacle we wished would have stopped in our hometowns.”

At MASS MoCA, the Miss Rockaway Armada transformed MASS MoCA’s Hunter Center Mezzanine—a place where students and other visitors gather to eat lunch and discuss their museum experiences—into a dynamic, interactive space. Using wood and other materials salvaged from MASS MoCA’s campus, the group crafted an environment that exuded the aesthetic, vision, and essence of the Miss Rockaway Armada’s experiences on the Mississippi River. The idea was to build a new, fantastical environment that inspires a sense of possibility and wonder. As one Miss Rockaway crew member explained, “Let’s treat our MASS MoCA experience like a small-town stop on the way down the Hoosic River. Let’s make it current and as much about mutual inspiration, doing the impossible, building something new and crazy, cultural exchange, and direct interaction as the original Miss Rockaway voyage.” The environment included tables and chairs for groups to gather and eat lunch, as well as individual idea stations, where visitors had the opportunity to record their thoughts and stories and contribute to the installation.

Photo by Tod Seelie

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