Cold Fête

A fund-raiser for an unusual art space gives new meaning to the term "frozen dinner"

Despite the fire, wine, and conversation, folks begin grumbling as the dinner hour comes and goes.

"Shackleton's crew didn't eat each other, but we might," says a man in sailor's garb just as Shipyard artist Tom McCarty, a native of Anchorage, Alaska, emerges from the warehouse wearing a full snowsuit with hood and goggles and a necktie made of ice.

We are invited to walk the gangplank.

Tom McCarty and his ice necktie.
Paul Trapani
Tom McCarty and his ice necktie.
Shipyard guests chill while waiting for dinner.
Paul Trapani
Shipyard guests chill while waiting for dinner.

Inside the colorless warehouse, black-and-white images of the Antarctic, taken by Endurance crew member Frank Hurley, cover the ceilings and walls, enveloping the room in hoarfrost. Plates made of ice sit on the white tablecloths with silverware, white cloth napkins, and crystal wineglasses; centerpieces of ice flicker with candlelight. Whale baleen and glacial columns rise out of the floor and stage, where Cotton Candy Cabaretperforms sweet, frosty songs dressed in puffy hues of pastel pink and baby blue. A dozen diners seat themselves at a long banquet table inside the refrigeration car, which is attached to the building for chilling intentions. I sit on the main floor between film maven Molli Amara Simon, who occasionally rises to change the dramatic images overhead, and Brian Doherty, a journalist from Los Angeles.

As the first dish is served -- "Arctic Penguin Toasties," which taste a lot like marinated medallions of tuna spread over gourmet greens -- glasses of blue alcohol are offered for setting afire, and the narration of the Endurance begins.

"Changing the name of a ship is like changing the name of a racehorse," says author Don Herron. "You just don't do it. But a better name might have been the Reluctant."

The audience members laugh and wrap their fingers around the icy silverware, marveling at the roughneck culinary skills of Cafe Lolaowner Joanna Schneider.

Collapsing Silence, a marvelous butoh troupe whose clay-white faces and wispy attire dissolve into the white of the room, enters as the Endurance crumples in the images above our heads. "Roast Husky" is served, a leg of lamb so tender the meat falls off the bone as it is placed before me. Herron speaks of gutting sea lions and eating the fish found inside. The heat of the animal meat begins to melt my ice plate. Folks watch as a pond of ice water seeps from beneath the tables and covers the cold gray concrete. Mr. Luckytakes the stage to perform "My Way" for the triumphant arrival of Shackleton at the whaling station, just as dessert is served, a slightly melted mound of ice cream with small cookies.

"It's not cold enough in here," says Doherty, taking off his gloves, hat, and scarf. Certainly not as cold as an expedition to Antarctica, but cold enough for dinner.

As the meal comes to a close, a pillar of ice blocks collapses and most of the other frozen accouterments begin to list and lean. The timing is near perfect as Mason explains that Shackleton returned home safely, only to suffer a nervous breakdown a few years later. Mason does not mention the failed ice-and-fire chimney upon which he had earlier slaved, and no one misses it. Guests are invited outside to marvel at the warmth created by Shipyard artists: a fire-breathing motorcycle dragon designed by Amacker Bullwinkleand DJ Bartlett, a spherical tangle of tubes lit with flame by R. Scott Bartlett, a rolling desert vehicle by Ryon Gesink, and a copper bird woman by Sarah Kotamani, who is the only artist to install windows in her cargo container. Flames lick the night sky as the Mermenbegin their sea-fueled set.

"I cannot go back to Rome," says Shipyard artist Yael Braha, who came to the Bay Area for a graphic arts convention and stayed to pursue her true love. "Where could I do this? Nowhere else."

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