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Ahoy! Set Sail on an Artists’ Residency in the Middle of the Ocean

And you might even be able to get back on dry land after!

If your ideal artist's studio is a cabin aboard a research vessel in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the Falkor is your ship. Through Schmidt Ocean Institute’s Artist-at-Sea program, creatives from a broad range of disciplines and mediums can apply to make art alongside the research scientists on the vessel for up to five weeks.

Carlie Wiener, Communications Manager for Schmidt Ocean Institute, says that the goal of the program is to “bring artists on this burst of opportunity, to interact with the scientists and tell the story of the types of research going on through their different mediums.” She explains that the “burst of opportunity” refers to the fact that they launch research cruises when it all lines up right for the crew, scientists, and artists. “Every year we have an open call for scientists to come aboard and do research, and we try to pair up artists that we think will mesh well with the scientists and the research being done aboard the ship. We have had six artists scheduled for this year, all varying in the types of artwork that they do.” Included are a composer, an abstract painter, and a fiber artist “who basically yarn-bombed our entire ship.”

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Rebecca Rutstein with her work onboard in the wet-lab onboard the Falkor. Photo by Leighton Rolley. Image Courtesy Schmidt Ocean Institute.

So what are the accommodations like for participating artists? The bare essentials: a roomy bunk in a berth, and space to do their work in the ship’s wet- or dry-lab. “We don’t want them just going aside to do work and talking to scientists only once in awhile,” explains We want to be sure that the scientists are able to interact with the artists and vice versa so that they’re able to participate into the science, learn from the experience, and have that trickle into the work they’re doing.”

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Rebecca’s work implements satellite data and geographical mapping, this piece was made while on board the Falkor. Plume II- mekong satellite data 6-11-16 by Rebecca Rutstein. Photo courtesy of the artist and Bridgette Mayer Gallery.

Rebecca Rutstein is a painter living and working in Philadelphia who set sail on the Falkor in June 2016, traveling from Vietnam to Guam. “I’ve been very interested in geology, plate tectonics, and maps since I was in college,” Rutstein tells The Creators Project. “I was in upstate New York where it was a really awe-inspiring location, geology-wise. So I took a geology class that really changed my life.” Rutstein spent the last few years visiting land-based residencies like the Canadian Rockies and Hawaii, where she researched volcanoes, but “always had an interest in the ocean floor. There’s this whole world going on underneath the surface that we’re not even aware of." Instead, she began working found sonar maps into her paintings. "I always think about geology as a metaphor for interpersonal relationships, when you think about the forces that are going on underneath the surface. So that was another reason I started implemented it into my artwork.”

Wild Shore: Carrying Capacity composed by Ben Cosgrove. This piece is made from five decades of data about wildlife population dynamics on Isle Royale National Park. Courtesy of the artist.

New England-based composer Ben Cosgrove cruised on the Falkor in late September. His work focuses on implementing environmental data sets into the composition of the music. Speaking before he left for his trip from Vietnam to Australia, Cosgrove explained his approach to the upcoming experience. “I've been reading a lot about the history of oceanography and of seafloor mapping specifically,” says Cosgrove, “so that I'll be able to make new music that can respond meaningfully and intelligently to the work being done on the ship. Not having the resources I enjoy on dry land (instruments, microphones, etc) will certainly be a challenge, but I also think that having such significant restrictions will be helpful creatively: it will force me to use the tools I am able to bring on board more effectively and to think about my whole creative process in a new and hopefully fruitful way.”

You can read about another at-sea art residency here—and read the story of an at-sea residency gone wrong here

Visit Schmidt Ocean Institute to learn more about the Artist-at-Sea program and apply to join a cruise.

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