Hanjin’s Stranded Ships Contained One Absurdist Filmmaker

October 3, 2016

“The workman of today works every day in his life at the same tasks, and his fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious.”- Albert Camus, “The Myth of Sisyphus”

By Jenny Krusoe

In a strange twist of life imitating art, the Hanjin Geneva, a 68,000-ton ship stranded 24 nautical miles off the coast of Japan, is carrying thousands of cargo containers, a roughly 20-man crew, and absurdist British filmmaker Rebecca Moss.

Ms. Moss, 25 years old, boarded the vessel late last month in Vancouver, bound for Shanghai, as part of a program called “23 Days at Sea” which puts artists in residence on cargo ships, created by Access Gallery in partnership with Burrard Arts Foundation and Contraste Agence d’art. Now it’s unclear just how long her stint will be.” The predicament in which I currently find myself is extraordinarily absurd,” Ms. Moss wrote in an email from aboard the ship Thursday.

In a corresponding Wall Street Journal article, Ms. Moss was one of four artists drawn from nearly 2,000 applications by the program’s creator, Access Gallery in Vancouver, which calls the residency “a profoundly generative time and space—in the unconventional studio space of the cargo ship cabin—for focused research and the creation of provocative new ideas and work.”

According to Kimberly Phillips, the director of the Vancouver Access Gallery running the artist residency program, getting stuck in the middle of the ocean offers a “tremendous opportunity” for Moss’ work.

“It actually underscores perfectly the aims of the residency in the first place,” Phillips told CNN Money. “A consideration of time and duration, unpinned from the cadence of everyday life, as well as an attempt to make visible a global system of seaborne freight that most of us remain blissfully unaware of.”

The vessel isn’t stuck because of bad weather, pirates or an equipment failure. No, this is a case of bankruptcy playing out on the high seas.

Filmmaker Rebecca Moss boarded the ship, the Hanjin Geneva, for an artist residency program known as “23 Days at Sea.” But now it’s uncertain how long her voyage will last. “Still waiting on the Hanjin Geneva. Another week of inactivity and absence of communication?” she tweeted Monday from the ship, which is anchored miles off the coast of Japan.

Her bizarre predicament began about two weeks ago when Hanjin Shipping, one of the world’s biggest cargo carriers, filed for bankruptcy protection in its home country of South Korea. The move left hundreds of people stranded aboard scores of ships that were turned away from ports over fears they wouldn’t be able to pay for things like docking and fuel. Hanjin has also been scrambling to stop creditors from having its vessels seized.

Some people have called the stranded vessels “ghost ships.”

In her films, Ms. Moss performs offbeat stunts in dull settings. In one, she is dressed as a frog, using a pogo stick to hop through a muddy puddle. In another, she rolls down a hillside into a patch of mouse traps. “I construct a scene, and place my body within it to tear down transcendent, powerful systems through humor,” Ms. Moss wrote in her email.

This week, two Hanjin Shipping Co. vessels, waiting for more than a week to unload their cargo at the Port of Long Beach after the company filed for bankruptcy, have finally been allowed to dock. The ships and their crews of about 25 sailors each had been idling offshore because no money was available to pay docking fees. Around the world, 73 Hanjin ships were reportedly seized or denied access to ports, as the seventh-largest cargo carrier on the planet drowned under $5.5 billion in debt.

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