Artists will spend 23 days at sea during Access Gallery cargo ship residency

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      The prohibitive nature of Vancouver's real estate market has created financial roadblocks for local galleries looking to offer emerging artists the opportunity to pursue residency in the city, according to Kimberly Phillips. The director and curator of Access Gallery has, however, found a unique alternative to static residencies, and it's receiving international attention.

      With the help of the Burrard Arts Foundation and Montreal-based Art Contraste, the Gastown gallery has introduced an unconventional opportunity that will see selected artists travelling from Vancouver to Shanghai aboard a NSB ReiseBüro container ship, spending 23 days at sea. There, they will reflect and create in a solitary environment with little to no communication with the outside world.

      "Giving artists space was completely out of our reach. What we thought we could do was something a little more radical and innovative," said Phillips in a telephone interview. "It's relevant to where we are in Vancouver, near the shipyard and Chinatown. We're completely dependent on the port and shipping industry, and we're often thinking about Asia."

      Phillips said that her idea for a travelling residency came after hearing about a similar program for writers that was launched in 2014 by American rail travel corporation Amtrak.

      "I'm quite interested in curatorial constraints, and how artists respond to those constraints. I was curious to find out what it would mean as a curator to literally embed artists on this journey, and what kind of responses it might illicit," said Phillips.

      After announcing the residency program in December 2014, the gallery received over 900 submissions from emerging artists worldwide. The juried selection was "an overwhelming and emotional process" for Phillips, who said she received submissions from artists working in a striking range of mediums. Of the selected indviduals, she said some are more object and installation-based, while others work with video and sound. A performance-based artist and choreographer was also selected for the trip.

      Initially, the program was to run for one year, but the overwhelming response has turned it into what will hopefully become a multi-year project. As for the associated costs, Phillips said that while less expensive than a traditional residency, the cost of each ship voyage alone is around $3,000. (For curious travellers, these voyages are accessible to the general public.) Access Gallery has launched a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds to extend the length of the program.

      This is, by far, the gallery's largest project to date, and Phillips is hoping to turn it into a three-year program, sending four artists per year on the voyage across the Pacific, and punctuating each year with a spring exhibition. Artists will also each be given personal log books to reflect on their trips, and Phillips hopes to publish their entries once the residency program comes to an end.

      "It's our biggest undertaking. The scope is far beyond anything Access has ever done before. For many artists, this will be a practice-changing trip, and it's special to be able to offer that."