max mulhern aqua diceA story at the New York Times arts blog last week highlighted the eternal conundrum of just what it is that constitutes “art,” which finds a perfect example for discussion in a project called “Aqua Dice,” by an American artist who resides in France, Max Mulhern. As I write this, two huge “dice,” above, conceived by Mulhern and launched to sea on December 12, 2012 (date not coincidental), are headed to parts unknown, with bets being taken on where they will make their eventual landfall. On-board GPS systems send daily signals for those interested in tracking their progress.

sketch for aqua dice
One of several sketches for “Aqua Dice”

The seedlings were born of Mulhern’s love of all things sea-related, and a fascination for designing boats as sculptures. Two years ago, the idea was brought to life with start-up funding solicited on the Internet, and Mulhern’s concept – influenced by artistic works ranging from Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man to Milton’s Paradise Lost – was eventually constructed by a French shipbuilder, who specialized in fishing boats. The “dice” (both are about the size of standard shipping containers) took off from the Canary Islands, roughly on the same path as that of Christopher Columbus as he navigated his way towards the New World. Mulhern calls Columbus’ ships “big dice” – and the “Aqua Dice” themselves are seen by the artist as an “ode to chance and luck.”

“I’m placing them in nature’s hands…the waves and the winds and the currents are going to do the pushing, the rolling, the deciding,” says Mulhern. (For those who may see the creations as a maritime hazard, it should be noted that they are designed to collapse on impact, amongst other precautions — such as their color.)

So back to the “Is it really art?” discussion. “Ridiculous,” groused one commenter at the Times blog. “Irresponsible and ill-advised,” harrumphed a second. My own sentiments tend to echo yet another’s:

“Why not? Anything is possible.”

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