Last November, we brought you the story of Nour Bishouty (Artists Find Inspiration on a Slow Boat to China) and her 23 day residency-at-sea aboard the container ship Hanjan Brussels from Vancouver to Shanghai. “I’m very interested in what might constitute creative space,” said organizer and Access Gallery curator Kimberly Phillips at the time. Phillips had negotiated a deal with Hanjan Shipping, raised funds and put Bishouty and three others aboard Hanjan ships to see what would happen. “I was also interested in what kind of response might be generated if we offered the ability to be embedded in the situation.”

The experiment is over, at least momentarily, the artists have returned and Phillips is not disappointed.  “For me as a curator it was fascinating,” she says. “I had to place a great amount of trust in the artist because I couldn’t control the outcome and that is completely exciting.”

Ship Shape

Installation view, Twenty-Three Days at Sea, Chapter One, with views of Christopher Boyne’s Geneva (2016) in foreground and Nour Bishouty’s Shifting Surfaces (2016) and Heim Frost (2016) on gallery wall (Image Credit: Vicky Hung)

Exciting and diverse. Montreal artist Christopher Boyne has distilled his experience into 23 wooden boats, each representing a day on his ship, the Hanjan Geneva, and re-crafted them to represent an object or experience that defined his day.  “He’s interested in whittling down a complex set of memories or sentiments into something concrete,” says Phillips. The first piece is instantly recognizable as a container ship but as the journey progresses, the pieces morph into symbols. One piece resembles a fishing trawler, one of many he passed. Another symbolizes the lifeboat he remembers from lifeboat drill. One piece is nothing more than the letter H, the sign of the shipping company, Hanjan, which transported him. Boyne’s work gives credence to the phrase “no ideas but in things.”

Ship Shape - 02Details of Christopher Boyne’s Geneva (Image Credit: Karen Zalamea)

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(Image Credit: John Thomson)

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(Image Credit: Karen Zalamea)

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(Image Credit: John Thomson)

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(Image Credit: Karen Zalamea)

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“H”, the sign of the shipping company, Hanjan, which transported Artist Christopher Boyne ((Image Credit: John Thomson)

Toronto-based Nour Bishouty has used video to document her 23-day journey. Her subject, the vessel’s second officer, Johannes Streicher, first appears in a smaller wall-mounted screen in which he recounts his evolution from landlubber to seaman and again in a larger two-screen presentation in which he talks about shipboard food, women and Filipino crewmen. The dominant screen consists of Streicher on camera while the second screen depicts shipboard life. Sometimes the images reinforce each other; sometimes they don’t. “Nour is interested in faux heroic figures,” says Phillips. “Her previous work has been autobiographical. This is the first time a subject foisted himself upon her and she felt she had to respond.”  Part home movie and part rant, her work offers an eerie but fascinating glimpse of ego. Or, to put it another way, we all want to be recognized and remembered.
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Curator Kimberly Phillips at small Bishouty screen (Image Credit: John Thomson)

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Detail of Nour Bishouty, Heim Frost (2 channel video installation, gathered correspondence, photographs, and book passages) (Image credit: Nour Bishouty)

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Johannes Streicher on Bishouty’s video (Image Credit: John Thomson)

Vancouver artist Elisa Ferrari has created an installation consisting of speakers, photographs and wax molds. The wax molds are used to create threaded metal pipe and although utilitarian, are striking sculptural pieces in their own right. “Elisa is interested in historical record but also in the way experience differs from what’s in the record,” says Phillips.  Ferrari had been to Shanghai before and for her, the residency was a return to her family’s business holdings, hence the factory photographs and the molds. All this takes place against a soundscape consisting of factory sounds intermixed with navigation chatter and a deep, throbbing engine noise, a mix of the present and the past. For her, the journey was about retrieval and closure on her earlier Shanghai experience.

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Elisa Ferrari, Untitled (“to stay in the hold of the ship despite my fantasies of flight” v.1) (installation [sound, industrial wax models, 12 archival inkjet prints]), 2016. (Image Credit: Vicky Hung)


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Wax Molds

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“She had 12 months to prepare,” says Phillips about international artist Amaara Raheem, the last of the four to take part in the residency-at-sea program. Raheem has meticulously documented every stitch of clothing, every gadget and every toiletry she packed for the journey and has meticulously written them down on the gallery walls according to where their point of origin whether made in China, made in the USA or manufactured elsewhere. Her companion piece, “Positions at Noon” is a sheet of paper which visitors can rip off and take away with them. On one side of the paper – dialogue between her and crew members and on the other – navigational position, wind direction and temperature and a line about what she was thinking and feeling (she calls it internal weather) every day precisely at noon. “She’s interested in the ethics and aesthetics of mobility,” says Phillips, referring to Raheem’s concern over our relationship to things.

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Installation view, Amaara Raheem, Preparations, across twelve months (vinyl wall text), 2016. (Image Credit: Vicky Hung)

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Each artist also maintained a logbook and those too are on display. More of a notebook than a record book, these journals offer a more intimate picture of the artist through notes, sketches and photographs.

Ship Shape -Logbook1Logbooks by artists on display (Image Credit: John Thomson)Ship Shape -Logbook2

“There must have been something in my brain that said these four would resonate together and in fact they do,” says Phillips, “however differently they articulate the experience.”

The 23 Days at Sea residency program continues this summer when four more artists shove off for Shanghai. As for the current group show, it now leaves Vancouver for Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

“We’re all part of this system of global trade. What does it mean to an artist to be an observer of that system?” asks Phillips . “There’s a whole host of stuff that is very complex.” And that, of course, is what 23 Days at Sea is all about.

Access Gallery

Christopher Boyne

Nour Bishouty

Elisa Ferrari

Amaara Raheem

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