The Cruel Sea

Shift over, survivors of the North Atlantic convoys! Here’s a real story of nautical hardship:

When British artist Rebecca Moss was told over a ship’s breakfast one morning to sit down and brace herself for bad news, she wasn’t expecting to hear she was now stranded at sea.

She was told by the captain of the Hanjin Geneva that its South Korean owners had gone bankrupt, so the ship was barred from international ports.

The 25-year-old is taking part in an artist in residency programme, which was meant to be “23 Days at Sea”.

I don’t know what “art” she was supposed to be creating on this vessel had things gone according to plan, but it’s hard to imagine that the world will be denied a cultural treasure by this turn of events.

Rebecca figured it would just be a hiccup when she first heard the news.

She thought their ship would be redirected to a different port, or that a boat would be sent to fetch the passengers.

That was 13 days ago.

Aren’t artists supposed to draw inspiration from something new, something different, something unexpected, something challenging?  Any artist worth their salt would see this as an opportunity.  Alas, our intrepid artist-in-residence aboard the Hanjin Geneva sees only an opportunity to whinge:

“I have found the indefinite duration the most difficult aspect to deal with as an artist,” she said. “Formulating a strategy to make work becomes impossible when things could change at any minute”.

You’ve been stuck on a ship for 13 days.  You mean to say you’ve not been able to work because things could have “changed”?  This woman makes Frank Gallagher from Shameless look like a regular Stakhanovite.

Her daily life on board she says, is structured around meals.

Presumably if Hanjin had stayed in the black she’d have been working double shifts on engine maintenance.

There is enough food and drink on board to last them a few weeks.

Pity.  Live tweeting acts of cannibalism sounds like something worth following.  Especially if the tweeter is the one being eaten.

The programme, which started last year, sends artists across the Pacific Ocean each year between Vancouver and Shanghai and is meant to spark their creativity.

Yet God forbid anything happens which might potentially cause dreaded change.  Or mild inconvenience.

“I was, and am, excited about the trip as it chimed with a lot of my interests as an artist,” she said.

Getting free publicity for doing fuck all?

Her proposal for the trip was to explore how comedy arises in the tension between a mechanical system imposed into nature.

Leaving aside the issue of tension between a single system, this sounds about as funny as the cargo manifest.

“The situation is completely ironic,” she said. “It is bizarre how much it suits my interests.”

Hang on, weren’t you telling us a few minutes ago that you weren’t able to work?  Or is that what she means?

“I want to be informed of a definite plan for how the passengers are going to be able to disembark. I can work with a plan,” Rebecca said.

Funny how often these carefree, spontaneous, maverick “artists” need everything to be safely arranged in advance.  Usually by someone else.

The first thing she wants to do when she gets on land, she says, is meet up with other artists “in whatever place that ends up being”.

Which, I suspect, means meeting up with like-minded layabouts who are as much artists as I am a beekeeper.

“Every day I hope will bring news that we will get into a port,” says Rebecca. “(But) nothing has changed.”

Yeah.  So you could have done some work after all.

Unfortunately, she is now back on dry land and “due to start the final year of a postgraduate degree in fine art.”  Lucky us.

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8 thoughts on “The Cruel Sea

  1. Really, I don’t have a problem with someone in this situation whining a bit and I hardly expect anyone to have profound things to say about the situation, but it’s her compulsion to filter everything through the oh-so-specialness of her artist identity that leaves us grinding our teeth. She probably has that effect on a lot of people who know her.

  2. I don’t have a problem with someone in this situation whining a bit and I hardly expect anyone to have profound things to say about the situation

    Oh, quite: if it happened to me, I’d be dripping like a tap. But the BBC wouldn’t write an article about me, would they?

    but it’s her compulsion to filter everything through the oh-so-specialness of her artist identity that leaves us grinding our teeth.

    Exactly.

  3. I’d be dripping like a tap

    Only once you and the Chief Engineer, by now Godfather to your children and trustee to your mortal remains, have discovered that there is in fact a bottom to the coal bunker in which the vodka is stored.

  4. I guess they’ll wait till they run out of a) booze, and b) food, and then they will head for the nearest port. The passengers will disembark and the creditors will try to grab anything not tied down. It is not difficult. If a port refuses them entry, then just go ashore by dinghy and let the boat drift…someone else’s problem

  5. Only once you and the Chief Engineer, by now Godfather to your children and trustee to your mortal remains, have discovered that there is in fact a bottom to the coal bunker in which the vodka is stored.

    Yeah, to be fair I probably would make the best of it. These days I quite enjoy getting into ludicrous situations because it gives me more material to write about.

  6. @ Cal,

    Indeed, I think one of the things that drives me nuts about most modern-day “artists” is they genuinely believe they are the natural successors to the greats.

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