A unique gondola will make its maiden voyage at this year’s Stratford upon Avon River Festival before heading off to Venice... via Birmingham! The launch of the 6.5m gondola made entirely of cardboard will be one of the highlights at the 2016 River Festival, which takes place on July 2 and 3.
The creation is half the length of a real gondola but made in exactly the same way only using cardboard instead of traditional materials. Renowned ‘cardboard’ artist Will Alexander has spent weeks constructing the gondola at a secret Warwickshire location. He will take the helm at the festival to practice his gondoliering skills before heading off to Venice. There he plans to show it at international exhibition, the Venice Biennale, and also hopes to work as a gondolier carrying passengers aboard his cardboard creation.
But before he heads abroad he’s taking his creation to Birmingham, argued by some as having more miles of canal than the Italian city, where it will form part of a festival in the city. Mr Alexander, 40, was born in Stratford and studied fine art at the University of Central England (UCE) now Birmingham City University but now lives in London.
The gondola is not his first cardboard construction. Previous work includes a cardboard ice cream van called ‘icecreamvanman’, and ‘Reinventing the Wheel’, which is currently part of the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition.
He first dreamed up his gondola project five years ago and enlisted the help of Avon Boating, a Stratforward member and River Festival sponsor which has its own fully restored gondola originally owned by Marie Corelli. Mr Alexander has been given space by Avon Boating to work on his creation, as well as advice and training from managing director Nick Birch.
Speaking at his hidden workshop, Mr Alexander said: “Ideally I want to take it to Venice and work as a gondolier with it, that’s my crazy dream. “It looks lovely just as a framework, and if I wanted to I could just put it in a gallery as it is. But the dream is to put it in the water and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Mr Alexander is internationally known for his work with cardboard. He was first inspired to work with it while studying in Birmingham and went on to make a cardboard car that he ‘drove’ down the city’s Broad Street on a Friday night. “A couple of years later a group of us went to Zurich and we took a cardboard tram that we actually took on the tracks in Zurich,” he said. “What I realised is if you make anything out of cardboard people love it because they remember sitting in cardboard boxes when they were children. It makes people feel like children again. With the ice cream van it makes people feel like they are having their first ice cream again. With the gondola it might remind people of what their first imagining of Venice was.”
The eighth annual Stratford River Festival, organised by Stratforward (BID), is one of the key dates in the town’s calendar. Last year’s event attracted nearly 60,000 revellers and scooped the Tourism Initiative of the Year Award 2016 in the Touch FM Pride of Stratford Awards.
The 2016 event will see up to 100 narrow boats moor up along the banks of the Avon. It will feature a huge firework display, dozens of charity, craft and food and drink stalls, and performances from worldclass acts on two stages. They will include six-piece party band Mister Shakes, featuring Brian Ferry’s sax player, and one of the UK’s leading Glenn Miller tribute groups, the Ashby Big Band.