Oakland North: In West Oakland, artists build lifesize submarine merging nostalgia and futurism

The Nautilus submarine from Oakland North on Vimeo.

Deep in West Oakland, a collective of artists called Five Ton Crane (5TC) is hard at work tuning up their submarine. Although it doesn’t go underwater, there seems to be little else this lifesize vessel can’t do—it even defends its perimeters with a water spear gun and bumps tunes from its built-in iPad technology. It’s structured with all the romantic details of retro-futurism–that is, modeling art after old school design, and then amplifying it with futuristic technology. When the artists, who recently returned from Burning Man, need to take a break, they head inside the sub to a spot they’ve dubbed “the make-out room” and sip from a vintage bottle in the mini-bar.

“We aim to be, rather than to seem,” said Sean Orlando, one of the lead artists of the Nautilus, who says his favorite spot is in the captain’s chair. “It’s important for us, with these large projects, that they remain immersive and interactive, and that people can climb around in them, drive around in them.”

This is the third large-scale installation Five Ton Crane has made. In 2007 they constructed a Tree House, and in 2009 they built the Raygun Gothic Rocketship, which is currently on display along San Francisco’s Embarcadero waterfront. The group gets its funding from private donations, and the staff are volunteers, making their childhood dreams of tree houses, rockets, and submarines a reality.

“All the things that people see in print but actually can’t imagine—we flesh them out,” Five Ton Crane artist Jay Kravitz said. “We make big toys for adults to play with.”

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