Dada@Sea: An Interview with Frederick Young

Linus Lancaster and Frederick Young, Dada at dive bar getting off from Dada work, 2016. Image courtesy of Frederick Young.

Linus Lancaster and Frederick Young, Dada at dive bar getting off from Dada work, 2016. Image courtesy of Frederick Young.

KB:   Can you tell me a little bit more about Dada@Sea and your impetus for the project?

FY:    I have been interested in dada for quite a long time, personally, along with Peter Maravelis (City Lights Bookstore). I have always been interested working between the relationship of scholarship and conceptual art. I have a doctorate in Critical Theory, but have always worked on projects in conceptual art. My relationship with Linus and Peter has led us to interventions that go beyond the purely theoretical. The dada at sea came about in collaboration with Linus, who has a maritime background. One of the things we were playing with was the 100-year celebration of dada – how to make spirit of dada work within a very nostalgic understanding of dada by keeping it out of the gallery. When conceiving the barge, we were thinking about the historical conditions of World War I. The Dadaists came together during this dangerous period, and dada emerges through a series of chances, etc. in Switzerland, a country that was providing asylum. Peter is the only one who still lives in San Francisco, but Linus and I were priced out of the city. We have seen over and over again, With the Dot.com and tech booms, late capitalism in general, San Francisco is being occupied by certain spatial violences. Many creatives and artists are not able to live there anymore. The barge was meant as a tongue-in-cheek gesture, as we are sorting floating in exile – as a place for others in exile to go. We presented to Swissnex, the cultural branch of the Swiss Consulate, in November. The consulate was supposed to be moving to the site next to the Exploratorium, and the barge was going to be docked next to them, so that we would be, hopefully, in international or Swiss waters. We would be able to hold different types of events in these neutral waters. Through the duration of the San Francisco Dada World Fair, people seeking refuge would have a place to go. The original plans were to have these tents that were part of the Walter Benjamin installation and Wilhelm Reich’s orgone box, which will also be the captain’s helm, and Reichian orgone cannons. We were also hoping to have two microphones set up with two urinals, from which Linus, I, and others can speak from. Then, we would like to have 10 or 12 toilets set up where the press would sit and ask questions. As a question is asked, we were hoping to produce the sound of a toilet flushing.

KB:   Will you be living on the barge at all?

FY:   Right now, we are still working on funding and questions of zoning. If we can do it, we will.

KB:   Definitely! Adding another dimension to your need for housing and your solution to the problem being the sea. I see that you are working with several groups of students. What is their involvement?

FY:    Linus teaches high school up in Healdsburg, and his students have worked with him before. They are working with the Maritime Museum. Right now we are working on a dory built in its very rough form by at-risk students who work directly with the Maritime Museum, so they are not Linus’ students. Some of my former students from the Critical Theory undergrad seminar at SFAI are interested in participating as well. We will have people with different knowledge involved, and different roles. It will be anything from accomplished grad students to high school students who have no idea what dada is that are building things, that are getting caught up in the dada indoctrination.

KB:   There is so much variety in this project, it is understandably a lot to work out.

FY:    We are working now on coordinating these things and keeping it as collaborative as possible.

KB:   Great. There will also be radios transmitting from the barge?

FY:   There was an installation we did at SFAI called Radio Free Benjamin. We set up a tent and it was during a Benjamin conference at SFAI, that was put on in conjunction with international consulates in the city.

We will have radios set up on the barge. We have also collaborated with the Marconi Center, who transmits live from up north here, all run by volunteers. We hope to have different radio transmissions going on contacting different people. We have sent out messages already inviting Tristan Tzara and company to attend the Dada World Fair in San Francisco. We found out that it is common seafaring practice for ships to send messages out to ghost ships, sunken ships. So, on one level we are interested in Derrida’s notion, the more technical we become, the more ghosts we produce. And also to look at the notion of history, that it is not an empty historical time that functions in linear continuity. Benjamin refers to a constellation of history, the angel of history, based on his interpretation of Paul Klee’s drawing. I am interested in the radio as something that could potentially make connections to different historical moments. It is a different way of dialing in dada not to mimetically reproduce it for the museum or for nostalgia, but to see if we can tap into something else within dada.

KB:   You are approaching this historical movement in such an interesting way. Of course, you need the publications, exhibitions, theory, and historical documents as well, but it is nice to hear of something that is happening now, and site specific. There is a well-known law case, where men are shipwrecked and a murder occurs and the men return to land and are tried guilty but need to serve no punishment. The sea is a site that exists outside of regular laws, which leads me to think of dada’s international nature, and the sea physically connecting these artists and thinkers.

FY:   That is a really interesting way to look at it. That is part of what we were proposing to Swissnex – to be at sea and under the safety of Swiss waters where we can have these events. Part of the site specificity are theoretical projects as one intervention. The way in which this kind of neoliberal deregulation, globally and also locally, has created a type of spatial violence that puts people in a state of involuntary exile, under the name of freedom, etc. We are attempting to draw attention to at least some of this. We have even though about trying to get Google to fund us, which would be ironic.

KB:   You might need to be a very different proposal!

FY:   Yes, that’s one of the things we were playing with in the letter was the idea of the Google bus taking over metaphorically the tanks of Germany. While it is not a direct analogy, we are thinking about how public space is being deregulated into more and more privatized space, and the very site-specific debates about the Google buses in San Francisco. So we do have an image of a Google bus photo shopped into German-occupied France.

KB:   I think your projects are brining back the urgency of dada, something that gets lost in museum exhibitions and other institutionalized activities. Your work has a very social aspect to it.

FY:   San Francisco becomes a canvas, that we are somewhat playfully trying to reconstitute it. We are trying to figure out different strategies for more of an aesthetic intervention into SF spaces. And also the way that the spaces for these aesthetic or theoretical articulations of dada are often institutional. I participate in them and am supported by them, but at the same time, it doesn’t allow as much, in the US, to really hit the streets, to put the rubber to the road. One of the things Peter Maravelis has been doing with City Lights since 2008, working with mostly French avant-garde and French theory practices theorists to publicize and popularize their work. He is interested in working with consulates, institutions, to open up different theorists to the general public. We are trying to work it at a number of different levels.

KB:   Where do you see dada going in the future? Maybe the 200th anniversary?

FY:   Peter (Maravelis) is curating a show in 2018 in Athens, Greece. Linus and I will be doing an installation of Radio Free Benjamin, which will be tied into dada. We are going to looking closely at the city of Athens and the refugee crisis. Linus often works with site-specificity and soil, so when we had the Benjamin installation in 2014, we included soil from Spain and France. We mixed it with water to paint a walkway to the tent, which had the radios in them. It was a way of reclaiming the soil on which Benjamin had walked. So, we will be brining in soil from different refugee areas. These projects open up in different ways for us. I am currently teaching an immigration lawyer who works closely with the plight of Afghan women and Syrian refugees. We hope to involve her, as she is considering her work as a conceptual art practice, and she will reconfigure the relationships between art, the law, and social justice. We hope to continue to reconsider the collaborative nature of our projects. The historical close reading of dada, and Benjamin, is vital, and we hope to recuperate what their thought is like today. Referring to Benjamin’s volatile conception of history and other avant-garde theories is useful in critiquing this moment. It is interesting to bring Benjamin, a German exile, who to put it lightly, was kicked out of his country, into Greece. The tension between Greece and Germany inspired us to bring in a German thinker.

Dada@Sea
Dada World Fair
Dada@Sea at the Dada World Fair

More on Dada@Sea

Dada@Sea was conceived and executed by Linus Lancaster and Frederick Young with the assistance of art students from Healdsburg High School, University of California Merced, and the San Francisco Art Institute. Special thanks to City Lights Booksellers & Publishers, the Healdsburg Educational Fund, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and more to come...

About the creators:

Linus Lancaster, PhD
Linus Lancaster is a conceptual artist and independent scholar in the fields of performative arts, sculpture, and soil ecology. He teaches visual arts full time at Healdsburg High School in Northern California.  He holds an MA in art practice and philosophy from Sonoma State University, and a PhD in art practice and philosophy from University of Plymouth, UK. His exhibits and installations include large scale earth art projects in Sonoma County, guerilla installations at State and Federal Capital Buildings in Sacramento and Washington DC, a large show at the Korean Cultural Foundation in Seoul, and a recent installation at the San Francisco Art Institute entitled Radio Free Benjamin. He has published several articles in scholarly journals on the subjects of art theory and ecology. 

Frederick Young, PhD
Frederick Young received his PhD in English with an emphasis in Continental Philosophy and Conceptual Art. After completing a Post-Doc in New Media Theory and Practice at the Georgia Institute of Technology, he was a visiting scholar in Sweden. He has been invited to speak in Europe, Nepal and the US. He is currently faculty at the University of California, and a visiting scholar at the San Francisco Art Institute. He volunteers his time at the Prison University Project at San Quentin teaching inmates college courses. His publications include critical theory collections in French Theory (on Derrida, Levinas and Deleuze). His also works on technics, animality, conceptual art and transhumanism, and spatial politics. He serves on the Politics and Culture editorial board, and recently co-edited a special issue of “Angelaki: A Journal of Critical Thought on Technics, Art and Animality.” His recent work includes a co-edited book from Routledge, Being HumanBetween Animals and Technology. His current work is moving toward conceptual art-based practice (from Diogenes to DADA) and has collaborated in publications in Art Theory with artists in Europe and the US. With his old collaborator, Dr. Lancaster, he is currently adrift with the Dada@Sea waiting for what Derrida calls a “future to-come,” a future that exceeds the current market calculation of time and US commerce, and one that opens to a future without condition, one of possibility, what Benjamin refers to as a “weak messianism.”

For more on Dada@Sea, check out "S.O.SF!" in Issue 1 of DISSOLVE Magazine.


Kathryn Barulich is an independent curator, writer, and researcher. She received a BA in Art History and French Language and Literature from Fordham University. In 2015, she completed a Masters degree in History and Theory of Contemporary Art from San Francisco Art Institute. Her research interests focus on how nationalism and language impact contemporary visual culture and politics. She lives and works in San Francisco.