Explore the High Seas in an Artist Residency on a Container Ship

It all started when the artist needed a cheap way to travel.

Maayan Strauss, Curve, 2011, a photograph from the series
Maayan Strauss, Curve, 2011, a photograph from the series "Freight."

Artists these days can find residencies in all sorts of places: a Nebraska farm, Geneva’s CERN particle collider, and the Arctic Circle.

Now, thanks to New York artist and curator Maayan Strauss, adventurous artists can brave seasickness aboard commercial ships as part of the Container Artist Residency program. Works by the seven artists chosen will be included in a group show to open in Tel Aviv in 2016 and travel to six other cities. The open call launches October 7.

Artists will “voyage into the heart of international commerce” as part of the program, according to the open call. Strauss told me during a conversation last week that the project forms a critique that cuts two ways. The global economy is now the backdrop for all artistic production, she says, adding that at the same time, “The art world itself has become such an industry, and residencies play a big role in the professional pathway from the MFA toward group shows and gallery representation.”

We were chatting at New York design studio Project Projects, whose founder, Prem Krishnamurthy, will serve as the curator for the first round of the residency.

Artists get to spend up to three weeks on board a container ship, where their studio will be a private cabin measuring 12 square meters (about 12 by 10 feet). They’ll receive a $1,000 honorarium and an allowance for travel home; stipends of up to $5,000 are also available to pay for equipment and materials.

“You’re a worker among people who are performing a different kind of labor,” Strauss said of the artist’s role among the crew of a ship that might be transporting all sorts of goods, from sneakers to food, medicine, or even artwork. She certainly knows about various kinds of labor; she runs a gallery called Sushi Bar out of her studio, and is one of the people behind a new publication, Art Handler magazine, which champions those who get your artworks from A to B.

The artist is a veteran of such a residency, one that she organized herself in 2011 with Israel’s Zim Integrated Shipping Services, whose ships will host the incoming artists. It all started when Strauss was traveling in Israel and was so broke that she was afraid she couldn’t afford to get back to the US, where she was a second year MFA candidate at Yale University. The unusual voyage resulted in a set of photographs and a video.

Maayan Strauss, <i>Window</i>, 2011, a photograph from the series "Freight."

Maayan Strauss, Window (2011), a photograph from the series “Freight.”
Photo: Courtesy the artist.

Corporate sponsorship has its risks, as Strauss and Krishnamurthy know well; they’re aware that Zim has been the subject of pro-Palestinian protests by Block the Boat. But Strauss points out that, for example, private funders of museums, too, often have their own corporate ties that might not be met with enthusiasm by everyone in the art world.

In a residency like this, “You’re both in collaboration with them and leveraging their budget and infrastructure,” Krishnamurthy said. “It’s a critique and also complicit.”

The first round of applicants will be judged by a panel including Strauss and Krishnamurthy along with Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy, curator of contemporary art, Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, New York; Niels van Tomme, independent curator and organizer of the 7th Bucharest Biennale, 2016; and Xiaoyu Weng, associate curator of Chinese art at New York’s Guggenheim Museum, along with others to be announced.


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