Last week, artist Constance Hockaday‘s illuminating TED Talk, which we initially observed in April 2022, debuted online. Hockaday, among other imaginative accolades, created NYC’s Boggsville Boatel and Boat-In Theater and founded Artists-in-Presidents, an empowering series of “leadership makeovers” featuring inclusive public addresses, performances and portraiture of diverse people in power. Within her inspiring discourse at TED, the prolific creator directly addresses a path toward personal agency. Hockaday’s method for determining desire and actualizing dreams is carefully explained—and the story of her path toward these understandings is an inspiring one.
“I was queer, depressed, feeling totally alone in my tiny south Texas town on the Gulf of Mexico,” Hockaday explains in the talk. That was until a chance occurrence with Captain Betsy of the Floating Neutrinos (a close-knit community who lived on homemade rafts for decades) changed her life and taught her to articulate what she wanted with authority.
“I was driving over this bridge to go rent umbrellas on a beach,” Hockaday tells COOL HUNTING. “I saw this thing floating beside the bridge. It was a complete and total spectacle. It was so far outside of my reality, but it communicated so much to me. It said to me that there are so many other ways to live, that there is a portal out of this sad future that I saw around me.”
Hockaday approached the floating apparatus and learned that it was a homemade raft. She began to meet the people upon it, including Captain Betsy. “We became very close,” she says. “Most people focus on her husband, ‘Poppa Neutrino.’ He was a bombastic character and he talked about living in the fire of life. He is the one who often gets most of the attention. But Betsy was the one who was actually captaining all the rafts. She taught me to build boats.” She also had Hockaday ask questions about herself.
“They had a lot of teaching tools, the Three Deepest Desires was one of them,” Hockaday explains. “The belief is that the most important thing a person in the modern world needs to be able to do is articulate their deepest desires—to become the compass outside of their own lives, outside of the economy or culture or school. It’s not adequate enough to articulate a single desire. If you go down a single path and you’re thwarted, you have to start over. If you choose two paths, you’re often stuck ping-ponging in a dichotomy. The third deepest desire is the resolving path between one and two.” This process is called triadic thinking.
Captain Betsy told Hockaday that she could do whatever she wanted with her life. “I said, ‘No, I cannot.’ It was so hard for me,” she says. But a moment of realization on the raft meant she recognized she could venture out and be her own person. Hockaday then began to probe what she wanted to do. “At first the desires were all superficial,” she adds. “But over time, you mature with the question. I want to embody being a teacher of hope. I want a thriving creative arts community. The point of all it though is the urgency. Urgency drives the agency.”
“The thing that I continue to appreciate about them as I’ve gotten older is that they’re a spectacle but if you enter into their dimension there’s real information there that can change your life, that can change the way that you live. It’s not just an aesthetic,” Hockaday says. “There’s something very aesthetic about a lot of counter-cultures but they’re not actually changing the way that you think or the social structures. These people have actually been living on these rafts for decades. They have actually raised their children there. They actually live in chosen poverty. They actually sailed across the Atlantic on a raft made of trash and scrap metal from the streets of New York City. This is the real thing. This is the result of real desires. And this structure is the tool that helps these people get what they want.”
Art has to be extraordinary—it has to stop you in your tracks to give you a moment that says anything is possible in this life
This all informed Hockaday’s art practice, in literal ways (the Boatel was, in some ways, an homage to Captain Betsy and Poppa Neutrino) and in metaphoric ways. “Art has to be extraordinary,” she says. “It has to stop you in your tracks to give you a moment that says anything is possible in this life.”
Being a TED Fellow has been an extension of proclaimed desires. “I wanted a partner, a family and a home,” she says. “But I also desired and continue to desire a community of people that are themselves, in their own ways. The TED Fellows are this wildly magical group of people that really believe. They are people who are looking around themselves and seeing the power that they have and doing what they can with it.”
In addition to her talk, Hockaday also had a functional installation in the TED Fellows Lounge of clever “disaster furniture.” Hockaday transformed a liferaft into a couch, and added toiletpaper and earthquake kits to side tables and a coffee table. A lamp doubled as a fire extinguisher. “It’s about responding to people’s deepest fears,” she tells us. “It’s about this exercise of projecting ourselves into the future, which is the only thing that separates people who survive from those who don’t by overcoming their normalcy bias. The furniture is about overcoming this bias and acknowledging that climate change is happening.” It was a complementary installation to a compassionate discussion.
Constance Hockaday speaks at Fellows Talks Session 1 at TED2022: A New Era. April 10-14, 2022, Vancouver, BC, Canada. Photo: Ryan Lash / TED