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Access Gallery artists set sail on a slow boat to China

Twenty-three Days at Sea program sends participants to Shanghai on cargo ships

Access Gallery, in partnership with the Burrard Arts Foundation and Contraste Art Agency, is providing a new twist on an artist in residency. They're putting up artists on cargo ships for the Twenty-three Days at Sea: A Travelling Artist Residency.

Providing a conventional artist in residency to emerging artists in Vancouver is cost prohibitive for Access Gallery, which was established as an artist-run centre in 1991, so it's sending artists from Vancouver to Shanghai on freighters instead.

The three-week voyage provides artists a unique experience of time and space on an uncommonly slow journey, plays on Vancouver's position as a port city on the edge of the Pacific Rim and allows artists access to a largely unseen world.

"The ports and the global shipping industry are completely invisible to us, even though it's unthinkable how we'd live our lives without global shipping," says curator Kimberly Phillips.

Organizers expected to receive 200 submissions for the opportunity but instead received nearly 900, "from the deeply political to the totally poetic," Phillips said.

The residency was only advertised on one international website, but word travelled far and wide, said Phillips, whose friends saw it in Paris and the Ukraine.

"It seemed to clearly resonate with people, no matter where you were from, whether it was Brazil or Russia, this idea of what a cargo ship could represent - it seemed like a conduit, talking about our contemporary world and your place within it," she says.

Access Gallery was going to offer the opportunity to one artist, then two and then four. Now it's launching a Kickstarter campaign ( to raise money to offer cargo ship residencies to four artists a year for three years.

Access Gallery plans to host an exhibit of the first four artists' works, and musings in the travel logs, they will all receive next May or June and each year thereafter, ideally with a large-scale publication that gathers all of the images with commissioned text written by emerging and established writers at the end of three years to accompany a touring exhibition.

According to Phillips, securing space on cargo ships was simple. Ships often sell tickets to civilians for one or two cabins, so Access Gallery purchased tickets that cost around $3,000 for the oneway trip, flying artists back to Vancouver from Shanghai.

The first artist to set sail, Elisa Ferrari, returned in July.

Ferrari initially was concerned about having patchy access to the Internet aboard the ship, but she soon found it irrelevant.

She expected to think and read during her threeweek residency, but became fascinated with the daily duties of sailors instead.

"It's like a category of people that's totally hidden, what they do," she says. "There are lots of stories and romantic ideas about sailors and being at sea, but actually, it's not that romantic."

The multi-media artist emulated the sailors' regimented schedules, and connected with the German officers and Filipino crew.

Ferrari was curious about cargo ships when she grew up, helping out at her family's factory in a town near Milan, wondering where all the containers came from. She worked for her family's business near Shanghai in 2008 and was interested in retracing her steps and expressing what she found and experienced once she arrived in Shanghai, with some detachment.

The Vancouver-based artist says she typically works to uncover disparities between historical documentation and experience in her practice.

She works with archival fragments of text, image and videography.

Ferrari expects she'll create a short video or a mixed-media installation with sound recordings from the ship that "considers the contradictions between growing up in an industrial complex" and then spending most of her time thinking about art, the relationships between the two, and her privilege.

Nour Bishouty set sail on her excursion Aug. 4. Phillips says the artist who was born in Jordan and is currently based in Beirut is more object based. She typically distills her ideas into things and often explores a lack of belonging.

Christopher Boyne, who grew up around boats in Halifax and is an accomplished sailor, will board a cargo ship in September. Boyne uses photography and sculpture to consider how fleeting experience can be distilled through recall into form.

"The thing he's most excited about is that moment where you see horizon on all sides," Phillips says. "The land falls away and there's literally nothing except for sea and sky."

Amaara Raheem, a Sri Lankan-born artist who lives between Melbourne and London, U.K. will sail west in April.

"I hope this offers [the artists] an incredibly generative experience, a profoundly changing experience and one that allows them to look within and dig into a place that they haven't before," Phillips said. "I hope that this project offers all of the audiences that will view it a series of really beautiful nuanced and diverse responses to this strange experience that most of us will never have, but, in fact, that most of us are all implicated with."

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