Floating Orange ‘Swimmers’ Are Coming to the Fort Point Channel

A flock of 20 humanoids in inner tubes will appear in the water this October.
SOS pic

Photo courtesy of the Fort Point Arts Community

Peer out over the Congress Street Bridge this fall, and you might notice an unusual sight in the chilly waters below: more than 20 people coasting down the Fort Point Channel in inner tubes. Except they won’t actually be people. They’ll be orange, and they’ll be made of foam.

For six weeks starting in mid-October, a floating art piece called SOS (Safety Orange Swimmers) will be taking shape in the watery area near the Boston Children’s Museum—the same space that has recently housed a floating pyramid and giant floating sheep.

Meant to evoke the global refugee crisis amid unrest abroad, the featureless swimmers of SOS will all be painted “safety orange,” the same hue used in life vests.

“It’s a conversation piece for sure,” says Emily O’Neil, executive director of the Fort Point Arts Community, which for years has commissioned public art in the channel. “We’ve never in my time at FPAC done anything that’s had this much of a global connection, so it’s going to be really interesting.”

The marine-grade foam mannequins, all cast from a sculpted mold of a larger-than-life-size human, will fill a space of about 50 feet by 30 feet (which O’Neil says likely makes it the largest artwork by area to ever float in the channel). They will be tied together in such a way that they move freely around the water’s surface with the currents (“like a flock of just-landed geese bobbing in the water,” according to the artists’ written description) but always point in the same direction.

A jury convened by FPAC picked the artists—Somerville-based duo Ann Hirsch and Jeremy Angier, of A + J Art and Design—after a public call-out earlier this year. Funding for the installation comes from the Friends of Fort Point Channel and the Fort Point Operations Board.

The project is inspired by harrowing world events, says Hirsch, a sculptor and professor whose past works include the Bill Russell Legacy Project at City Hall. But they also wanted to create something that can be appreciated from multiple angles and on multiple levels. Hirsch insists SOS is “not political.” Instead, she says, “it’s kind of about how we see Boston as a place that welcomes people from all over the world.”

And even though the bright orange humanoids will be appearing in the channel just a few weeks before Election Day, she says the project has nothing to do with a certain bright orange man running for president, who so happens to have a less sympathetic take than the artists on the plight of refugees.

“Our main goal is just to ask questions,” Hirsch says. “I think an artist’s goal is to provoke discussion and raise questions, rather than provide answers.”

Below are two new photos of SOS (Safety Orange Swimmers), released on Friday, Sept. 30. The installation is slated to debut alongside the three-day Fort Point Arts Community Fall Open Studios, which kicks off Friday, Oct. 14 from 4-7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 12-6 p.m.

orange swimmers 2

Fort Point Arts Community

orange swimmers 3

Fort Point Arts Community

Note:  This story has been updated to note the project’s funding sources, and to better reflect Ann Hirsch’s description of her team’s inspiration for the artwork. Also, the title of the piece is SOS, not S.O.S.