‘Tidal Flowers’ flow in Charles

Sarina Tracy
Journal Contributor

There are flowers blooming in the water of Boston’s Fort Point Channel, being planted by an unexpected source: a man and his recycling.   Artist Tim Murdoch harnesses the power of the water and its tides to showcase his latest art installation, “Tidal Flowers” on the South Boston Waterfront, facing the Summer Street Bridge.  Using recycled laundry detergent bottles, Mr. Murdoch creates floating flowers, 10-18 feet in diameter, reminiscent of the 1960’s and 70’s, when “environmental responsibility” first rose to prominence.

When the channel reaches low tide, the flowers appear on the surface of the water, revealing their wonderfully bright colors.  When the water rises during high tide, the flowers become submerged, waiting for the water to recede once again.  Not only do they act as thought-provoking sculptures, but also as a practical extension of Murdoch’s message.

I was fortunate enough to ask Tim a few questions regarding his goals, the environment, and his artwork as a whole.

Suffolk Journal: What was your artistic objective for Tidal Flowers?

Murdoch: My objective was to take what is normally considered refuse and transform it into something surprising and interesting. Using the natural action and energy of the tide was also compelling. Another objective was to call attention to the ecology of the oceans. Through working on this project I’ve learned to be intensely aware of the tides, the weather, the pollution in the Channel and also the remarkable strength of the natural environment. My hope is for others viewing this project to also become more aware of the ocean.

SJ: How does the Fort Point Channel, or Boston in general, enhance your installation?

Murdoch: The proximity of the Channel to an active urban environment provides access to the many people living and working in the area. While working on this project I’ve had to spend a lot of time in the Channel installing the work and repairing petals that the current and weather had turned over. This has allowed me the opportunity to interact with people as they’re watching the progress of the project. I’ve had lots of positive feedback and encouragement. The Channel is also a place where nature and the built environment collide. It’s the perfect showcase to talk about art and environmental issues with a built in audience.

SJ: The water itself is an integral part of each piece. It has wonderful environmental undertones. In the wake of British Petroleum’s Gulf Coast oil spill, do you think the previous generations have irreconcilably ruined the future of healthy sea life?

Murdoch: I’m not really qualified to speak on the extent of the damage that’s been done or the ability of the oceans to overcome and survive our neglect. I can say, however, that my brief experience working in the ocean has actually been encouraging. The flowers are mostly plastic and as far removed from natural as possible. Yet each time I take my rowboat out to check on them, I notice more life growing and overtaking the plastics. Not only is blue-green algae coating the surface, but barnacles, a colony of mussels, and all sorts of creatures and plant life are thriving throughout the flowers. They’ve become an ecosystem teaming with life. At one point I thought of cleaning all the algae so the flowers would return to their original bright colors but stopped because it seemed to go directly against the message of the artwork.

SJ: Public art commissions do not generate revenue, thus they have been held under heavy scrutiny for many years.  What would your response be to all the critics?

Murdoch: If our society is only about generating revenue then we are already ruined. Personally, I want the place where I live to be populated with not only beautiful things but things that make me stop and think, things that challenge what I know, teach me what I don’t know. I don’t want to be sold something every time I turn a corner. It’s our loss not to have great public art in the city.

SJ: What does the future look like for Tim Murdoch?

Murdoch: Hopefully I can continue making work and asking questions.

SJ: If you could give one piece of advice to the young adults of my generation, what would it be?

Murdoch: Oh god, it would probably be something cheesy like don’t give up on your dreams. I’m not that old and wizened yet to be giving advice!

“Tidal Flowers” runs through November 1st.