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Nick Tobier

Artist and Designer


How do you get around now? Literally and metaphorically? How did you get around as a child? An adolescent? In the period since the COVID 19 pandemic and the accompanying periods of civil unrest, vehicles have taken on forms that reflect the accompanying scenarios of protest and adjusted social gathering for distance. Access to mobility and transportation carry assumptions, privileges and opportunities that are tied to our conception of self. Who am I, who can I be, what is open to me, as a matter of physical conveyance and agency. I have been imagining vehicles for lakes and snows, rising water levels and icy roads that are at once practical and speculative, inventing new forms in response to emergency to act with urgency and connection in the face of being separated from all that is familiar. 


In her 2009 book, A Paradise Built in Hell (Penguin, 2009), Rebecca Solnit writes of the sense of shared purpose and coincidental communities that arise in response to disasters. If you haven’t read it the book is great, and chronicles the efforts of volunteers at Ground Zero post 9-11, soup kitchens in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, workers in The Halifax Shipyard Fire, citizens in the Mexico City Earthquake, and the on the ground relief efforts during and post Hurricane Katrina - and we can keep adding - the 2011 tsunami in Japan, Hong Kong Democracy protests, the COVID19 pandemic, Black Lives Matter. 


As an artist and designer whose work is devoted to public space and social interaction, this period instigated, for me, a series of imaginings for a near and present future that range from the exchange of goods and services to constructions that enable social protest. Over these past months, my impulse has been to toggle between two extremes - one that recognizes our daily lives as social beings and ways to enable doses of human connection, and the other that contends with the abuses of power through building platforms that enable protest and rupture. Inventing new forms in response to emergency - a more precise and generative term than the language of new normal which suggests a passivity or acceptance - is to act with urgency in the face of being separated from all that is familiar. 


Our daily lives may in fact return to what they were like before our current moment - but truthfully, I hope not without wilful transformation. The aftermath ideally, of an emergency, is that we emerge into a world where we never forget what we confronted, how we found solace in the smallest exchanges and how we found our voices through shared anguish, outrage and connection. 


'Vessel to be in the water rather than on the water'

This boat affords an individual a modest flotation system to be immersed in an aquatic body, where the physical contact forms a necessary empathic connection between inhabitants and their place.

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