‘Twenty-three Days at Sea’ travelling residency from Vancouver to Shanghai attracts global interest

A unique artist residency ‘ships’ artists across the ocean from Canada to China.

Canada’s Access Gallery further strengthens its innovative artist residency programme, which allows artists to experience the system of seaborne freight on a voyage from Vancouver to Shanghai.

Ross Kelly, '12 12 122 12 12 121', 2005/2015, limited edition giclee prints, 6 x 8 in print, 11 x 14 in matted, available to supporters of the Kickstarter Campaign. Image courtesy the artist and Access Gallery.

Ross Kelly, ’12 12 122 12 12 121′, 2005/2015, limited edition giclee prints, 6 x 8 in print, 11 x 14 in matted, available to supporters of the Kickstarter Campaign. Image courtesy the artist and Access Gallery.

In December 2014, Access Gallery in partnership with Burrard Arts Foundation (Vancouver) and Contraste agence d’art (Montreal/Shanghai) called for submissions for an unconventional and innovative artist residency. Named “Twenty-three Days at Sea: A Travelling Artist Residency”, the programme offered emerging and experimental artists the opportunity to travel aboard a cargo ship from Vancouver to Shanghai for a voyage of just under a month.

The organisers at Access Gallery told Art Radar that the call immediately received a lot of attention and an unexpected volume of responses from artists poured in from across the world, with close to 900 submissions from emergent artists worldwide – six-times the expected 150.

Residency artists, Nour Bishouty (left) and Elisa Ferrari (right) on the docks in Vancouver. Image courtesy Access Gallery.

Residency artists, Nour Bishouty (left) and Elisa Ferrari (right) on the docks in Vancouver. Image courtesy Access Gallery.

Director and Curator of the Gallery, Kimberly Phillips, said proposals came from as far as Lahore, Sevastopol, Sao Paolo and Busan. As she noted:

Encountering all these submissions, we quickly realized that the residency had touched a nerve, and seemed to be offering artists far more than simply a residency experience, but a means through which to describe the complexity of our contemporary situation.

On 11 August 2015, the second artist-in-residence, Nour Bishouty, departed for Shanghai on the MV Hanjin Brussels, and on that same day, the programme launched a Kickstarter Campaign to fund the residency as a multi-year project.

 

Challenging established routines

Access Gallery is an artist run centre committed to working with early career artists. Phillips explains that she had been considering how to develop a programme that could offer creative space and generate new experiences for artists, while at the same time avoiding the prohibitive costs of a conventional residency in Vancouver.

Phillips reveals to Art Radar how the idea for “Twenty-three Days at Sea” came about:

I began to consider a more radical option, which would resonate with the particulars of our spatial, geographical and cultural coordinates (Vancouver being a major port city on the edge of the Pacific Rim, and more specifically, Access Gallery is situated in the city’s historic Chinatown). I knew that certain cargo ship companies offered passage to civilians, and I felt that offering artists the ability to take this voyage across the Pacific, from Vancouver to Shanghai – and thus to experience time over space in way which has become very unusual in our culture of air travel – would be astonishing. Most importantly, I am interested in encouraging artists to question what it is that constitutes creative space, and that’s what Twenty-Three Days at Sea aims to do.

Christopher Boyne, 'container ship', 2015, black ink, archival glue and postage stamps. The original framed drawing (14 x 17 in unframed) is available for one very lucky supporter, as well as a limited edition series of archival inkjet prints (13 x 19 in) for supporters of the Kickstarter Campaign. Image courtesy the artist and Access Gallery.

Christopher Boyne, ‘Container Ship’, 2015, black ink, archival glue and postage stamps. The original framed drawing (14 x 17 in unframed) is available for one very lucky supporter, as well as a limited edition series of archival inkjet prints (13 x 19 in) for supporters of the Kickstarter Campaign. Image courtesy the artist and Access Gallery.

Containerised shipping: a pivot of contemporary society

There are today hundreds of conventional residencies across the world, with only a minority offering the possibility of engaging distinctive or challenging environments. As Phillips tells Art Radar, some offer settings such as “on hiking trails and in hammocks, in backyard sheds, distilleries, and on tall ships and shrimp boats”. There even is a residency called Container, which in a similar way to Access Gallery’s programme, offers artists a chance to travel onboard commercial container carriers along existing international shipping routes. According to Phillips,

Twenty-Three Days at Sea follows this “aberrant” turn in contemporary artist residency programmes, in that it imposes specific conditions and constraints (the strictures of the port; the solitude of the freighter cabin; the expanse of the open sea) that will in turn shape artists’ ideas and work. It offers the opportunity to integrate critical and creative practices into a new set of parameters, and the potential of challenging, or perhaps even uprooting, established routines, activities, and assumptions.

The conduct of contemporary life is dependent on the system of global seaborne freight, as Phillips explains, and founding the residency was a natural response to her interest in “the invisibility of the global shipping industry, and thus the invisibility of its labour practices, histories, and politics”. She continues:

Containerised shipping is absolutely fundamental to our modern way of life (the vast majority of commodity objects, materials and raw resources have taken the very journey that these artists are embarking upon). However, this industry has become very invisible. […] As ports have steadily retreated from metropolitan consciousness, the sea has become a forgotten – or more precisely a disavowed – space. As a curator, I was interested to see what responses might be generated by visual artists if I quite literally embedded them within this very charged, but very invisible spatial trajectory.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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