Born in Jordan and now working out of Beirut and Toronto, artist Nour Bishouty has just returned from a momentous artist-in-residence experience – twenty-three days on a slow boat to China. That’s right, a container ship plying the Pacific from Vancouver to Shanghai. The program is called, appropriately, 23 Days At Sea.
The idea of a maritime residency is the brainchild of Kimberly Phillips, curator at Vancouver’s Access Gallery. “I’m very interested in what might constitute creative space,” says Phillips who came up with the idea, raised funds and worked a deal with Hanjin Shipping to put working artists aboard their ships. Over 800 artists from around the world applied for the position; four were chosen and three have returned to home port.
“I applied because I was interested in the transience of the residence,” Bishouty says of her 23 days aboard the MV Hanjin Brussels. “That resonated with some of my works dealing with the notion of place and experiencing it. Plus, it was simply exciting.”
Home and a sense of belonging, or the loss of it, is a recurring theme in her work. She uses images, text and found objects to comment on the trappings of everyday life. Dress, for instance, is a series of supersized dress patterns that adorn the walls of the Fine Arts Centre at the University of Massachusetts, her alma mater. With Instead of a Resolution, Bishouty stitched bits of her own hair onto paper to make the connection between her personal history, the global family and events around her.
Once on board the Brussels, she didn’t stay locked in her cabin turning out art works. She didn’t sketch. She had the run of the ship and as a result, became engaged in the vessel’s social life, digitally recording officers and crew.
“I was giving myself the opportunity to explore whatever the ship had to offer. I was intentionally trying to remove myself from my usual themes and trying to venture into something else,” she says.
It worked. Conscious of the dichotomy between a ship travelling through endless tracts of the ocean (long and interminable) and the transitory nature of her onboard conversations (short and limited), Bishouty is now sifting through her recordings, trying to connect the dots. At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be a connection but look closer and there is movement – one through space and one through time. “I think there is a certain kind of movement in storytelling, sort of like a traceable line. I`m interested in this idea of a trace or mark, in contrast with the physical or spatial tracelessness of sea travel.”
No super graphics or hair on paper this time around. Her piece is likely to be an intricate sound and video work. Perhaps multi-media.
“The idea of crossing a large ocean slowly on a vessel is not something that most of us experience,” says curator Phillips, adding that the goal of the program was to see “what it might mean to send artists on this trajectory” and more importantly, how they would deal with time and space.
The public will get to see results of the adventure for themselves when Bishoury’s creation, along with that of her three other shipmates, will be part of a group show at Access next summer.