Scenes at sea, through many eyes

Aug. 01, 2013 @ 01:17 PM

Allison Swaim turns on the sound during an artist talk at The Carrack Modern Art. The sounds come from cargo ships, where “it’s loud all the time. I want to create that feeling,” she said.

“The space is very much a work in progress,” Swaim said. “We spent the last two days trying to build a ship.”
As the soundscape played, artists and some 30 visitors viewed videos, photographs, poems, handmade books, sculptures and other works inspired by Swaim’s recent documentary research on the life of people who carry the world’s freight on the oceans. Using a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, Swaim, a freelance documentarian, circumnavigated the globe on cargo ships, taping stories and taking video of the people who work on the ships. She came back with 2.5 tetrabytes of images, sound and text.
This summer, she asked nine fellow artists to look at the materials and create their own pieces that reflected movement, space, isolation and other themes of life at sea. The multimedia exhibit “Hold Capacity/Trade Route Stories, Reimagined” is now on view at The Carrack.
The exhibit opened officially at Tuesday’s artist talk, where several of Swaim’s collaborators showed and discussed their work. 
Several pieces draw inspiration from Swaim’s interviews with ship captains, deck hands and other workers. Jenny Morgan’s “Intimations of Life at Sea” contains poems inspired from interviews, printed on crumpled sheets of paper that hang from the gallery. A visitor can read the poems, while also listening to some of the recordings with a portable sound player.
Nora Weatherby’s work includes a book of poems titled “Fifteen Poems from a Year at Sea,” inspired by Swaim’s journals of her trip. She also created several “poem constellations,” mobiles with hanging cards that contain text from navigators and the names of stars. Weatherby compared the mobiles to “poems in motion.” She was “inspired by pieces of the transcripts where people were talking about the sky and the water,” and wanted to recreate that feeling of looking up into the sky in the way that navigators do.
Words also are central to Chris Vitiello’s sculpture “The Furies,” made up of used windows arranged in the shape of a house. Each window pane contains a statement based on the “hours and hours of audio” he listened to (example: “It’s impossible not to find a ship in the middle of the ocean”).  In the interviews, “they all eventually talk about home,” Vitiello said, and his sculpture reflects that longing among the sailors.
Jon O’Neill took some of Swaim’s video and created a continuous loop video installation. O’Neill put tape and paper over his film projection lens to give the video of various ship scenes a weathered look. The installation is presented in a small storage closet that, whether intended or not, also evokes the feeling of being in the small, contained space of a ship. Eric Waters also created a video, which viewers can watch on a laptop computer while listening to audio of some of the participants.
Using an overhead projector, Jaclyn Bowie demonstrated several of her paper cut-out drawings, some inspired by people in Swaim’s archive, others by scenes on board the ships. Bowie said she draws the figures on paper, then cuts out the areas where light will escape. When projected, the images resemble black-and-white drawings.
Other contributing artists are Amanda Dahill-Moore, Jonathan Lee and Jacki Huntington.
Swaim said she chose to present her work through collaboration because the artists can see it with fresh eyes. “I’m too close to it. … It’s really cool to see what someone else can see in it.”


WHAT: Opening events for “Hold Capacity/Trade Route Stories, Reimagined”

WHEN: Opening reception Saturday from 7 to 10 p.m. A performance will be held Aug. 9 at 8 p.m.
WHERE: The Carrack Modern Art, 111 W. Parrish St., Durham
ADMISSION: Free. This exhibit is on view until Aug. 10. The Carrack is open Tuesday-Friday from noon to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m.