Concrete boat creators James Langford, left, and Larry Tchogninou, right, stand alongside their craft and art collective head Steve Matiasek at the Archimedes opening on Friday, May 21, 2021, at Gear Symbol, 1701 W. 35th St., Chicago.

"Archimedes" Concrete Boat Lands at Gear Symbol Art Collective

Published June 10, 2021

A fully functional, concrete boat called Archimedes is the latest centerpiece at Gear Symbol art gallery and collective at 1701 W. 35th St. in Chicago's McKinley Park neighborhood. Brought to the new storefront space by James Langford and Larry Tchogninou of nautical-inspired design agency Points of Sail, the Archimedes exhibit showcased the boat and a collection of related multimedia art at an exhibition over the weekend of May 21-23, 2021.

 
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Gear Symbol is a recent addition to the neighborhood's art scene and comprises a collective of artists led by Steve Matiasek. The group works out its storefront at West 35th and South Paulina streets, easily recognizable by the gear art decorating the building, which was formerly a mattress store.

 
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The Archimedes exhibit featured the boat — named after the Greek mathematician who discovered the physical law of buoyancy — as well as photos, sketches, models and videos that document its creation: from Langford and Tchogninou’s brainstorming stage to Archimedes’ test sail.

Gear Symbol Archimedes Opening inside gallery 20210521Exhibition goers at the Archimedes art opening on Friday, May 21, 2021, examine a multimedia trove of related materials and work inside Gear Symbol's gallery space.The project grew from Langford's and Tchogninou's 2019 collaboration at the NikeLab Chicago Re-Creation Center, an eight-week mentorship program for up-and-coming creatives co-hosted by Virgil Abloh. At the end of the program, each mentee was tasked with producing a final project, and Langford and Tchogninou, unbeknownst to each other, both created pieces of furniture.

“Ever since then, we’ve been working together,” said Langford.

What If We Made a Boat?

The duo first collaborated on what was intended to be a one-time collection of nautical inspired furniture, exhibited at Congruent Space in September 2020. Combining Tchogninou’s design background as an architecture student at the Illinois Institute of Technology with Langford’s carpentry experience as a cabinet maker apprentice resulted in a three-piece furniture collection that Points of Sail described as “part furniture, part sculpture.”

 
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“But after that collection was finished, we felt the discussion was still open,” said Tchogninou. “We take inspiration from nautical design to make furniture, so we asked ourselves, what if we make the piece itself now? What if we actually made a boat?”

Collective Materiality

Points of Sail Archimedes zine coverThe 40-page Archimedes zine from Points of Sail is one of the many related pieces of media and artwork released in conjunction with the Gear Symbol exhibition.The pair played with the idea of building a functional boat out of concrete, but other projects prevented them from fully pursuing a plan of action. They shelved the idea until Langford met Matiasek at Gear Symbol.

“It wasn’t until we met Steve and saw how materiality based their work was that we thought we could definitely do something from the Points of Sail world and play with materials the way they do, and that's what made it such a good collaboration,” said Langford.

The creation of Archimedes began with a Google search and a bit of Internet research, which led Tchogninou to discover two techniques they could use to craft their own vessel.

Original Boat Design

“We found there are two ways to make a boat out of concrete: The first one is buying an existing boat, flipping it over and pouring concrete over it, like a cast. But we didn’t want to copy and paste a pre-existing design — it’s boring,” said Tchogninou

“We wanted to use our own design and aesthetics,” added Langford.

 
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Tchogninou also found a YouTube tutorial where concrete was laid flat over a template and then folded before it set to create a vessel.

 
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“But that tutorial wasn’t even successful — they didn’t do it well. It cracked everywhere and was not perfect,” said Tchogninou.

Passing the Test Sail

The first few attempts at creating Archimedes weren’t perfect, either. Their initial plans for a curved-bottom boat ended up cracking when the concrete was lifted and folded. But, after changing their design plan and using a combination of release agents and plastic, the completed vessel passed its test sail. All that was left was naming their new creation.

Points of Sail Archimedes boat floatingA page from the Archimedes zine presents a photo of the concrete boat floating on the Chicago river.“We were throwing some names around — there was some aesthetic names, some names that had sentimental significance to use," said Langford. "But ultimately our ethos is that everything is informed by research, so we settled on Archimedes. It’s a great story. He had his eureka moment when he sat in the bathtub and the water flowed out."

Continuing Collaboration Remotely

Although Langford has upcoming plans to move to Los Angeles while Tchogninou stays in Chicago, the Points of Sail partners have no intentions of stopping their design work together.

“We’re moving, but we’re going to keep working. A lot of the work we did on the first collection was done remotely because of COVID, so we know how to work together through the Internet,” said Langford.

While they don’t have specific plans for any new projects now, the team has two goals: to get their work in more people’s hands by creating flat-packed furniture that can easily be shipped around the world and to inspire others to bring unconventional ideas to fruition.

 
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Make Our Weirdness Normal

“More than anything, what we are doing is pretty weird and crazy to some people," Tchogninou said. "We want to make our weirdness normal. Keep moving. Make making your crazy ideas a reality become normal."

The Archimedes exhibit is no longer open to the public, but it can be see on an appointment basis by contacting the Gear Symbol art collective by sending email to cloudjimi@icloud.com.

Gear Symbol Archimedes Opening street fashion 20210521Original bespoke street fashion is the clothing of choice for many members of the Gear Symbol collective at the Archimedes art opening on Friday, May 21, 2021, in Chicago's McKinley Park neighborhood.

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