Floating Lab Collective Gives a Voice to Social Concerns through Art

Posted: October 13, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Catherine Ferraro

When artists produce artwork, their inspiration can come from a variety of sources. Something as simple as a beautiful flower or a newspaper article can prompt an artist to create a stunning masterpiece.

For members of the Floating Lab Collective, an art group composed of Mason faculty members, graduate and undergraduate students and alumni in the Department of Art and Visual Technology (AVT), inspiration comes from the community.

“The goal of the Floating Lab Collective is to be a collaborator and communicator about the social implications of being an artist and how it impacts society,” says Susan Serafin, an AVT graduate student and member of the group.

“We want to give a voice to groups that don’t necessarily have one and who may be represented incorrectly in society — such as immigrants and nurses.”

Based on the number 435, which is the current fixed number of members of the U.S. House of Representatives, the group developed a project titled “43.5 actions in Usonia.” The term Usonia was popularized by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright and represented the name for a reformed American society.

The project’s first component was a mobile space — a “floating museum” — created from a former taco truck. Some of the group’s artwork is displayed in the floating museum, which travels around to various communities. According to Serafin, the purpose of the floating museum is to bring artwork to the community instead of people having to go to a museum. The artwork ranges from video documentation to paintings and sculptures.

The second part of the project is a series of initiatives that comment on local and national issues in collaboration with different communities.

One of the group’s first actions was to collaborate with Rolling Thunder, an organization dedicated to educating the public about POW-MIA issues and committed to helping American veterans.

Rolling Thunder is probably best known for its annual motorcycle “Ride for Freedom.” The group worked with several biker-veterans and asked what they would say if they had the ear of Congress. The group gave the veterans blank patches on which to write their messages; then the patches were sewn onto a jacket to spread the message to other communities.

For another project, the group worked with Latino day laborers from the Baltimore area. The day laborers were asked to construct miniature houses that represented their own aspirations. The project provided an opportunity for immigrant day laborers to interact directly with the community around them through the visual representation of their dreams. After the houses were completed, they were displayed in different public locations across Baltimore.

In collaboration with the Art Department at Gallaudet University, a university offering degrees to deaf and hard of hearing individuals using American Sign Language and English, a student named Kazeem Babatunde delivered portions of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in sign language on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The Floating Lab Collective recorded the performance, which represented the common concerns that bring deaf individuals together.

In addition, the Floating Lab Collective is part of a national arts initiative called Brushfire, which focuses on social activist art. The initiative now has an exhibit called “Close Encounters: Facing the Future” on display at the Katzen Arts Center at the American University Museum through Oct. 26. Several projects created by the collective and community organizations are included.

The Floating Lab Collective hopes to expand and become a nonprofit organization.

Below is a list of Mason-affiliated artists involved in the collective.


Kelly Schaffer-Carr

Edgar Endress

Sue Wrbican

Peter Winant

Mary Del Popolo

Graduate Students

Susan Serafin

Jennifer Fairfax

Gywenneth VanLaven

Deborah Lash

Sean Watkins

Nelly Sarkissian

Undergraduate students

Daniel Dean

Shannon McCarty

Paola Albao-Delgadillo

Blake Turner

Erwin Thamm

Alumni and Supporters

Helen Frederick

Maureen Tucker

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