Shrimp Boat Projects is an artistic investigation of the Houston region that explores the connection between a region’s identity and its native landscape. As the last form of labor wholly dependent on this landscape, shrimping in Galveston Bay is the project’s point of departure. The process of the project melds the daily work aboard a commercial shrimp boat, the F/V Discovery, active participation in the local seafood economy, public programming, and cultural production.
What this means in practice is that during the Texas bay shrimp season, roughly May through November, we are shrimping in Galveston Bay, leaving the dock hours before sunrise, returning the same day, and then bringing our catch to restaurants, markets and direct to consumers in Houston. And then when we’re not on the water, we’re partnering with local institutions to organize events to discuss and highlight the issues we encounter in our project. We have been teaching classes at University of Houston, leading students on explorations of the region and inviting artists, writers, students and others to join us on our daily trips into the bay as a way of sharing the engagement with the landscape that this work affords. Ultimately we intend to use the perspective and understanding that comes from our work on the bay to inspire the creation of art that can more effectively communicate a knowledge of the Houston region that is derived from a true connection to the landscape.
Our project began in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, when we struggled with the problems of identity for our region that coverage of these disasters made so clear. Why is the gulf coast in the national consciousness only defined through the specter of disaster? Why are its problems allowed to overwhelm its identity? Why could the Gulf Coast not project a positive identity of itself? In short, we asked ourselves how we could communicate the nuance, complexity, and the beauty of this place we called home and help other people to do the same.
As artists and not anthropologists we did not have to be very scientific in trying to answer these questions and we began to be drawn to the shrimp boat and looking to it for answers. In many ways, these are cultural questions and we sought to find a commensurate cultural response.
In looking at the culture of the Gulf Coast, we saw no icon more ubiquitous than the characteristic profile of a shrimp boat. But rather than simply dwell on the iconography of these boats as images we sought to understand their full contexts and the consequence of their existence. We began to see the labor of shrimping, in the way it regularly navigates the ecology, economy and culture of the region as embodying a rare knowledge of the place that could offer us a lens onto the nuanced picture of the region that we sought to communicate.
And so, in an effort to access this knowledge, we studied, talked to whoever would meet with us, went out on the bay with other shrimpers, and eventually restored an aging shrimp boat, learned to set the nets and became shrimpers of sorts. But it was only then that we came to understand what was really at stake in this fishery, so connected to our regional identity and to the land, so romanticized and yet so at risk.
Zach Moser and Eric Leshinsky are artists who pursue socially engaged site-specific projects both independently and as an ongoing collaboration. They have developed the conceptual framework for Shrimp Boat Projects together for several years.
Zach Moser is an artist based in Houston, TX. Through his artistic practice, he facilitates collaborative and interactive investigations, designed to discover alternative methods of communication and new expectations of human potential. His work focuses on pursuing knowledge, alleviating the critical effects of injustice and participating in creative communities. He received a BA in studio art from Oberlin College in 2002 and attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 2008. In 2001, he founded and facilitated the Big Parade of Oberlin, OH, and in 2003, he co-founded the youth development organization Workshop Houston. He has exhibited his work and projects at the Contemporary Art Museum of Houston, the Glassell School of Art and Diverseworks Art Space. Moser received the Compton Mentor Fellowship in 2003, the Artadia Award in 2006, the Idea Fund in 2008 and, in 2011, was an Artist in Residence at the University of Houston Mitchell Center for the Arts.
Eric Leshinsky is an artist, designer and educator engaged in collaborative projects at the intersections of architecture, art and advocacy. He holds a Bachelors Degree from Columbia University in Political Science-Economics and a Masters in Architecture Degree from Rice University. In 2005, he founded the Museum for Missing Places as a short-term experimental institution in Houston, TX, to initiate dialogues about the city’s less acknowledged public places. His work has been shown at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, DiverseWorks Art Space in Houston, The Evergreen Museum and Library in Baltimore, Current Space in Baltimore and numerous site-specific exhibitions. In 2009, after many years of working collaboratively with other artists, architects, landscape architects, ecologists, planners and advocates, he founded GRAPH, an environmental research and design office, as a way of furthering these collaborations. Eric has held teaching positions at The George Washington University, Morgan State University School of Architecture & Planning, Delaware College of Art and Design, University of Maryland School of Architecture, Planning Preservation and, in 2011, was an Artist in Residence at the University of Houston Mitchell Center for the Arts.