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May 3, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Brian Doss and Gabe Meyer, under the moniker Neon Treehouse, created the crazy clubhouse environment in the 2012 T/F Film Fest box office. They often slept in the building so they could wake up and work. Photos courtesy of Gabe Meyer
Brian Doss was almost stranded in London in 2005. At the end of a 20-day European art history tour with a group of friends, Doss, 27, wandered off and found himself in a precarious situation. He finally made his way back to his hotel four hours before his friends left for the airport. But before catching their flight home, he and Gabe Meyer, 29, snatched handfuls of hardboiled eggs from a pyramid display in the hotel.
Crazy experiences in the pursuit of art define the lifestyles of Meyer and Doss. Now the pair, who both grew up in Hannibal but didn’t become friends until their European trip, often collaborate on art projects, including transforming the 2012 True/False Film Fest box office and setting sail with the Miss Rockaway Armada, a group that travels the globe creating ships from reclaimed materials.
Their global adventures continued after Europe in August 2007 when they joined Rockaway. Meyer, a man with muscles that show years of labor, and Doss, a quiet, contemplative artist with visible tattoos, were both in Hannibal when the group passed through. They hung out with the traveling artists and both decided to set sail.
With the goal of making a sustainable, alternative method of transportation, the Miss Rockaway Armada is what Meyer describes as a group of rowdy, intuitive artists who create whimsical yet functional ships. The vessels often include structures set on a flat raft base, garnished with wood detailing and intricate, colorful paintings. “It’s this fine line we walk of being wild and feral children but also engaging people and also being an integral part of whatever smaller community we’re trying to work with,” Meyer says.
Like many of the artists involved in the Rockaway project, Doss and Meyer lead a transient lifestyle. They have left temporary jobs and unfinished art projects to travel across oceans to work on installations with Rockaway. In 2008, they worked on a project in Holland and this past summer they worked on land boats that traveled around Philadelphia before docking at the Philadelphia Art Alliance.
The hardboiled egg pyramid might arguably be the piece that began the team’s obsession with triangles. Meyer explains in his slight Southern accent how he and Doss spent an entire month working on a popcorn pyramid with thousands of popped kernels cemented together in the box office at True/False. The project also included wall murals with pyramids painted in aqua and magenta. The two men would emerge dressed in long johns from the sleeping bags tucked in the crawl space of the old Pasta Factory building and spend 16 to 20 hours per day working on their designs.
This fall they will work on a massive 3-D installation in the old swimming pool area at Stephens College for the Citizen Jane Film Festival. Doss hopes the installation will use a good deal of reclaimed wood, “like a mix between a bird’s nest and a black hole.”
No matter the unusual materials their work is made of, Meyer hopes to inspire people to become part of what they view. “All we can hope to do is somehow inspire people in a way that’s almost retroactive,” he says. “To provide an experience that’s not just looking at something, but actually being able to climb onto a boat and taking a tour of a floating sculpture. To be a part of something that exists.”
Doss and Meyer are unsure when the Armada will set sail again, but they continue to follow their philosophy of “think less, work more” to complete more whimsical sculptures and murals for local residents to experience — most likely with some type of pyramid involved.