Artists inspired on cargo trip to China

Updated: 2015-11-11 12:04

By Hezi Jiang in New York(China Daily USA)

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A gallery in Vancouver's Chinatown has sent three visual artists on a cargo ship to Shanghai for an artist-residency program.

Kimberly Phillips, director of Access Gallery, said that looking at Vancouver's real estate prices, the gallery couldn't afford a conventional residency that awards artists with studio space, so she came up with the idea of a "residency that's not static, moving over a great expanse of space, of water".

"We feel close to Asia. The shipping industry links us to Asia in a real way," said Phillips. "Almost all of my stuff (belongings) in my life has taken that journey."

The gallery picked four emerging artists from more than 900 applicants to develop a new body of work from a 23-day voyage on a freighter. Three took the trip and a fourth will travel next spring.

Nour Bishouty, 28, born in Amman, Jordan, and based in Toronto and Beirut, Lebanon, carried her notion about belonging, which often shows in her art, to the sea.

Chris Boyne, 31, from Canada, who grew up in a port city on Canada's eastern coast, has had a longtime love of ships and maritime history. Boyne said he and his father used to hang out at ports on Sundays watching the cargo operations, looking for unusual ships and cargo and reading the names and flag countries of the berthed ships.

For Elisa Ferrari, 33, from Brescia, Italy, now based in Vancouver, it was Shanghai that motivated her to apply for the program.

She was in Shanghai for six months in 2008 to connect with Chinese businesspeople for her family's construction company. There, she witnessed the economic exchanges between China and foreign countries and took photos and videos that she hasn't been able to use.

Ferrari was the first artist to set sail on MV Hanjin Ottawa, a ship operated by Korea-based Hanjin Shipping, in June. Nowadays, many freighters are open to passenger travel, and the ticket costs about $2,000 for the voyage from Vancouver to Shanghai.

"Twenty-three days. I expected to get bored. I'm interested in boredom," said Ferrari. "But, I never felt bored. I was alert all the time."

For Boyne, the "most memorable thing was really being at sea with infinite horizon in every direction. These moments were always astonishing," he wrote to China Daily after getting off the ship.

A day on a container ship is scheduled around mealtimes: 7 am for breakfast, 10 am for a coffee break, noon for lunch, another coffee break, and an early dinner at 5 pm. Ferrari said the passengers are invited to join the German officers for meaty meals, though sometimes she ate with the Filipino crews.

"There is always rice and meat. A lot of proteins. Some kinds of vegetables, occasionally," she said.

Passengers got to know every part of the ship - the bridge, engine room, deck, except the containers. Ferrari said that usually only the captain and the chief officer know what they are transporting, and sometimes even they don't know.

"It's very interesting that the crews are so removed from the actual things they are working for," Ferrari said.

Bishouty called the ship "a place of solitude".

Artists inspired on cargo trip to China

As much as Boyne enjoyed the trip, he said the voyage could be "somebody's hell" because they were hardly connected to the outside world.

The three were given a quota of 60 e-mails sent via satellite communication for the trip, said Boyne, and each e-mail was limited to 50 kilobytes, which equates to 400 to 500 words, and no attachments.

Phillips said every communication by the artists felt precious.

"It was my first time to visit Shanghai. It was a difficult experience to leave the ship and the ocean to what seemed at the moment like an impossibly busy, loud, bright and polluted place," Boyne wrote from Shanghai. "It took me a few days to ground myself here. I have enjoyed exploring the smaller places and quieter streets."

"Overwhelming and fascinating," said Bishouty.

"I don't recognize the streets," Ferrari said. "The only thing I could remember from eight years ago were the smells, the sounds."

She was able to reconnect with the businessmen she met eight years ago. "I still feel a little bit like a businesswoman," she laughed.

The fourth artist, Amaara Raheem from Australia, will sail in April, and all works from the voyage will be exhibited at Access Gallery in May.

 Artists inspired on cargo trip to China

Nour Bishouty (left) and Elisa Ferrari, who both went on a 23-day voyage from Vancouver to Shanghai as part of an artist-residency program, chat at the Vancouver port. Provided to China Daily

(China Daily USA 11/11/2015 page2)