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Bankrupt container ship strands artist on residency in Pacific Ocean

Here’s a testimony against “extreme destination residencies,” if there ever was one: British artist Rebecca Moss was on a residency on the Hanjin Geneva container ship as the shipping company that owned it went bankrupt and cannot pay its port fees, stranding Moss and the ship crew, unable to dock at any port in the entire world. The Vancouver Sun has interviewed Moss, in partial below, in full here.

Rebecca Moss is the British artist stranded on the Hanjin Geneva owned by the Hanjin shipping line that filed for receivership Wednesday. She was on board as part of the 23 Days at Sea Residency organized by Access Gallery in Vancouver.

The Hanjin Geneva is now somewhere off the coast of Japan near Tokyo. It cannot dock because ports around the world have barred Hanjin ships over concerns that include the payment of port and service fees.

I composed several questions and sent them to Moss via Kimberly Phillips, the curator/director at Access Gallery. Phillips is in touch with Moss by email. Moss’s answers have been edited for context and style.

The first story on Moss’s situation appeared Thursday in The Vancouver Sun.

Q: When did you hear that the Hanjin Shipping Line filed for receivership?

A: I heard (Wednesday) morning (Sept 1st).

How were you told?

I went down in the morning for my breakfast and the Captain was waiting for me. I poured myself a coffee and he told me to brace myself for a change of plan. He was very matter-of-fact and said he is going to do everything to ensure the passengers and crew arrive safely at a port at the earliest opportunity.

A large meeting was held shortly after with everybody on board. I was not at the meeting unfortunately as I was very seasick and had taken myself to bed, but John and Gail (two other passengers who embarked at Seattle) went, and it sounds like the same information was delivered to them. The Captain also told everybody to conserve water and food.

How was its impact explained to you?

Throughout this entire trip I have been acutely aware of the implications of the financial crisis on crew members. Some had already been handed their notice before they boarded the ship, others are expecting it when we are back on shore.

It is a well-known and documented fact among everyone that global shipping firms have been swamped by overcapacity. In terms of the impact of (Wednesday’s) news, it was explained to me that we are currently barred from all international ports and that meetings were currently being had to work out a solution for all drifting Hanjin vessels.

How did the crew react?

Resigned, unsurprised, determined to just get on with life on board.

How did you react?

I realized that this would become the aspect of my trip that my work would have to focus upon. All along I had felt the sheer absurdity of this journey, but in the moment I was told we wouldn’t even have a destination at the end of all this labour, I felt completely incredulous.

Did the news affect your sleep?

Yes, I didn’t sleep well (Wednesday) night as I was trying to mentally work out what I will do when I eventually get back onto dry land.

Did any of the crew say to you that they saw the bankruptcy coming?

Pretty much everybody!

How has the news about the bankruptcy changed any routine you might have had on the Hanjin Geneva?

Before the news, there was always a feeling that we were moving in a line toward a horizon, and there was a real sense of purpose. This was reflected in the way I approached my day — I had knowledge that I had a certain number of days left and I was trying to plan to execute my ideas accordingly.

However, now it feels more like we are a slowly drifting island, a feeling that I am sure will intensify when we actually drop anchor. I have found myself wandering more and feeling more in the present — taking each moment as it comes and not knowing when the end will be.