An image from Maayan Strass's 2011 series "Freight" (All images courtesy of the artist)

An image from Maayan Strass’s 2011 series ‘Freight’ (all images courtesy of the artist)

Fantasizing about an artist residency? It’s unlikely that vision includes a cargo ship. The enormous container carriers supply 90% of everything — from the food you eat to the clothes you buy — but they aren’t exactly, well, dreamboats.

Israeli photographer Maayan Strauss sees potential, though. She is launching Container, an artist residency that will invite 12 creatives to travel along existing shipping routes for a month. “Artists require solitude, beauty, the natural sublime and global travel,” the website explains. “They crave extended stretches of time, free of any interruption, in order to create new work. All of this can be found on a container ship.” While aboard, each will create his or her own body of work, which will be shown later in a group exhibition.

“The program is also a part of my artistic practice,” Strauss told Hyperallergic. “It’s a different type of artistic fulfillment from making photographs or objects — creating something that is not representational, rather a new situation and exchange in the world.”


An image from “Freight” by Maayan Strauss

Strauss embarked on her own container carrier adventure in 2011. She was then in Israel on a summer break from her MFA program at Yale, and she didn’t have money for the flight back to the US. After a friend joked that she should just take a freight ship, she mulled it over seriously. “I kept thinking about how expensive it was for me to travel, while everything around me — basic commercial goods — travel constantly,” she told Hyperallergic. “[A freightliner] seemed like my only option to return,” she said.

It was difficult to find a ship that would agree to let her tag along, as such commercial enterprises rarely take passengers. Her status as independent photographer didn’t help either; who knew what might happen if she were given leeway to snoop around? But after a month of convincing, ZIM Integrated Shipping Services agreed. In late summer, Strauss stepped aboard a container carrier docked in Haifa — the only woman on ship.


An image from “Freight” by Maayan Strauss

“The port scenery at night was striking and almost surreal,” she remembered, “massive stacks of containers, heavy machinery, bells ringing, workers shouting, commotion that felt somewhat archaic.” They set sail toward New Jersey on a three-week trip with stops in Greece, Italy, and Spain. “Crossing the Atlantic took exactly one week — so every night you get an extra hour of sleep, which was delightful.”

The journey was a boon to Strauss’s artistic practice. She used the opportunity to take photographs that became Freight, a series of lush, moody photographs that capture life on the vessel. The experience also widened her perspective on so many things: the hugeness of the earth, the vastness of the ocean, the structure of contemporary cities, the importance of unplugging from the world every once in a while. And of course, the maritime shipping industry.

“Traveling on this network of sea routes illustrates the connections between global markets on which production, distribution, and consumption are based,” she said. “I hope that through this framing and the perspective it highlights, the program will encourage artists to consider their creative processes not simply as that of removed commentators, but as active producers and an integral part of the global economy.”


An image from “Freight” by Maayan Strauss


An image from “Freight” by Maayan Strauss


An image from “Freight” by Maayan Strauss

11_Control_Room_2011 (1)

An image from “Freight” by Maayan Strauss

A morning routine on a container carrier

An image from “Freight” by Maayan Strauss


An image from “Freight” by Maayan Strauss

12_Window_2011 (1)

An image from “Freight” by Maayan Strauss

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Laura C. Mallonee

Laura C. Mallonee is a Brooklyn-based writer. She holds an M.A. in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU and a B.F.A. in painting from Missouri State University. She enjoys exploring new cities and...

12 replies on “An Artist Residency Aboard a Cargo Ship”

  1. “I hope that…the program will encourage artists to consider their creative processes not simply as that of removed commentators, but as active producers and an integral part of the global economy.”

    ZIM — as in “Block the Boat” ZIM?

    It’s irresponsible NOT to mention ZIM’s recent history with the Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions movement and the implications of what it means to “commentate.”

    1. Yeah the Arab-lovers have targeted the company in their ongoing effort to dstroy Israel. They want to turn Judea and Samarra over to the Arabs, can you imagine? Arab rule in Jerusalem? Bring Islamic barbarity to historic birthplace of Christianity? What an absurd idea.

      1. Which idea do you consider absurd: Islam, Christianity, or that the people who were living in Palestine when the British decided it would make a good Jewish homeland after WWII should have a right to return to their homes? I’ll agree that religions, and anything based on religion is absurd.

        1. You are right my brother religion is absurd but Islam being six centuries younger than Xianity has has less time to come to it’s senses. As for the Arabs who had settled in Hebrew lands after the Jews were driven out, well, they should have welcomed their oppressed brothers home and assented to the partition and taken the (phony kingdom of) Jordan as their country. But we know the Arabs weren’t like that, were they? Like the Irish, they allied w the Nazis….

          1. Given that I still support the use of any means necessary to reunify Eire as an Irish state, free of any ties or duties to the Crown, I have no problem with Palestinians doing the same with a foreign, imperialistic power. The Jews were always welcome to live as citizens under Arab rule. They are not willing to be mere citizens, they demand the right to steal that which is not theirs, and for that they must be masters over those who have the right to live there.

            Much as a group of slave-holders from America’s slave states invaded part of Mexico, and then with the backing of America, declared they were now the Texas Republic, and to this day persecute the rightful natives of that land.

          2. Of course you do! Those damn Jews, always causing all this trouble, why should they have their own country? We got 17 disfunctional, crypto-fascist Arab states, and no Jewish ones — and the Arab states, like your Catholic homeland, make women into second-class citizens. Good! Fuck, don’t the Irish already have two states, not to mention a century-long chokehold on the NYC police department? Your brothers, I’m sure. . . .

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