I was glancing through the New York Times one day in September 2010 when I found myself transfixed by a series of small black-and-white photographs titled Inaccessible New York. The photos featured rusty submarine parts, views of a desolate, windswept shoreline, and mysterious dwellings observed from a safe distance. According to Marie Lorenz, the artist who’d created the photos, many of these images were taken just a few miles from Times Square. Lorenz had been operating a small rowboat made from plywood along New York’s waterways. Propelled by the tidal currents in the harbor, the craft did not need a diesel engine. I made arrangements via Marie’s website to take a ride in the taxi.
Eleven months later, a friend and I found Lorenz waiting for us on a sliver of sandy beach near the Long Island Expressway. Marie greeted us with a cheerful smile, a paddle, and a sturdy life preserver. After months of anticipation, we clambered eagerly into the tiny boat. Even if we had wanted to, there was no time to change our minds, because Marie needed to keep to a tight schedule in order to meet the next passengers waiting for her in a bagel shop eight miles down the Long Island coast.
My friend and I began rowing vigorously. Marie sat behind us, patiently steering the tiny craft toward a point in the hazy distance. Once we found a current, we put down the paddles to rub our burning shoulders and catch our breath. We must have been quite a sight—three women in a rowboat. We attracted plenty of quizzical smiles and good-natured greetings from the people who stood on the decks of the fancy speedboats zooming past us in both directions. As we made our way slowly past the piers, we could hear the occasional catcall.
Ever so gradually we left the familiar behind. From the boat, the quotidian landscape seemed somehow wild. The shore was speckled with colorful flotsam and jetsam, and it unfolded before us like uncharted terrain. We became explorers, examining everything we came across with intense attention, as if seeing it for the very first time. Our encounter with land and water, in this homemade craft, was casting a spell on our senses. As the day wore on, everything I observed, smelled, or heard—including the three of us—seemed to be invisibly connected to a larger whole. My usually acute sense of time disappeared, and I felt as if I had been waterborne forever.
Maria Lorenz’s Tide and Current Taxi is not what’s typically considered a work of art. The project is a kind of performance that draws from an almost exclusively masculine tradition of the lone voyager venturing into the wilderness in order to experience a re-enchantment with nature, and to affirm his individuality. Lorenz disrupts this solitary, transcendental convention by taking along a passenger or two to share the experience. My friend and I were not only the audience that day, but participants as well.