Twenty Three Days at Sea: A Travelling Art Residency

Artists have been known to go to extreme lengths for their work. From painting with basketballs to painting underwater, there are no limits to how far people will go to produce great art.

In December 2014, Access Gallery issued a call for submissions for a highly unconventional artist residency, offering experimental artists passage aboard cargo ships sailing from Vancouver to Shanghai. Crossing the Pacific Ocean takes approximately 23 days, during which time artists will be considered “in residence” aboard the vessel.

Over 800 artists submitted proposals and four were selected.

Director and curator of the gallery Kimberly Phillips, a UBC graduate, recently sent her first artist, Elisa Ferrari, on her Twenty-Three Days at Sea art residency program. Access Gallery’s travelling art residency is an avant-garde program that embeds artist onto vessels that cary everyday cargo shipment from Vancouver across the pacific ocean en route to Shanghai.

Although the four artists chosen for this program don’t share much in common -- from the varied places they are based in to their different art practices -- they all present cohesive themes in their work.

“They all approach their practices with a sense of seeking,” said Phillips.

Reading through proposals, Phillips was looking for a sense of openness. “None of [these artists] proposed something very definitive,” said Phillips. This meant the artists were free to evaluate this residency in a more challenging way.

Created as an extension of Access Galley’s mission statement, Twenty Three Days at Sea was intended to help young artists create communities for themselves. As Phillips was creating these communities she catatonically brought together communities that seemingly have nothing in common but actually share a lot.

“A lot of people are very intimidated by the arts who don't consider themselves part of that scene and in fact all of us we’re all dealing with what the arts are talking about,” said Phillips. From spending time exploring the gantry cranes at the port in Vancouver to working out the details of the project with Access’s partner’s in Shanghai, Phillips created a vehicle that brings visibility and insight to the often neglected political issues surrounding international shipment.

“As far as my work I think [it] is all about retracing certain histories and finding out through a small piece of information something that might be lost," said artist Elisa Ferrari.

Tracing and re-tracing are themes that resonated personally with Ferrari on this voyage. With her previous experience in Shanghai before this trip, Ferrari’s work will uncover not only the histories of other's but it will explore her own past from her time in Asia.

Participating artist Christopher Boyne praised Access Gallery for their commitment to affordability for up-and-coming artists.

“If you pay for a residency in my opinion it kind of delegitimizes it, so for somebody to pay you or at least to cover the expenses relating to a residency I think that legitimizes what the artists are doing and it legitimizes the residency,” said Boyne.

Paying homage to photographer Allan Sekula, Twenty Three Days at Sea is set to send their final two participants by the spring of 2016 to Shanghai.