CURATED BY TANIA DUVERGNE
The Dumbo Arts Center (DAC) is pleased to present the first major New York solo exhibition by British artist Sarah Beddington. Crossing is a site-specific, mixed media installation responding to DAC’s ship-like interior and past maritime activity of the waterfront neighbourhood of Dumbo, Brooklyn. The exhibition’s premise draws on the story of ‘The Experiment’, the second ship to make a direct crossing to China from the newly independent United States in 1785. Over two hundred years later Beddington weaves an array of fragments backwards and forwards through time and space while interposing details of the historic voyage with current global realities including trade, transport, cultural exchange, migration, and travel.
Beddington began to develop Crossing through extensive research of 18th century records of the expedition of Captain Stewart Dean and his nine-man crew from New York to Canton (now Guangzhou) in China aboard a small Hudson River sloop. The ship, named ‘The Experiment,’ weighed a mere 85 tons, tiny in comparison to the 1000 ton East India trading ships typical of the period. The captain financed the risky enterprise by selling shares in the sloop to investors and bringing a variety of goods to sell, in large part, American ginseng. A year and a half later ‘The Experiment’ returned home safely bearing a hold full of Chinese tea, silk and porcelain. Beddington’s installation Crossing takes this entrepreneurial venture as an initial point of departure for a journey that moves seamlessly between past and present, east and west, dreams and reality.
The core of the exhibition is a three-channel video installation characteristic of Beddington’s cinematographic style – meticulous framing, sensuous imagery and suspense reminiscent of film noir. Mixing color and black-and-white footage, digital video, stills and Super 8mm film, the piece undermines any clear distinction between past and present. A feeling of the continuous motion of a ship is juxtaposed with an evocation of the lonely, inner world of those on board giving the work a haunting, dream-like quality. The accompanying multi-layered sound piece adds an additional sensory component to the experience and heightens the psychological tension. Using a variety of other elements, including sandblasted glass panels and an intricate large-scale drawing in silverpoint depicting a contemporary aerial view of the Hudson River leading from Albany – where ‘The Experiment’ was built – to the open sea, Beddington invites the viewer to construct their own narrative.
As with all of Beddington’s work, Crossing examines the intersection between the social, the personal and the political to be found at the periphery. The environment created for DAC reflects on the idea of ‘journey’ – both actual and metaphysical. Through fractured perspectives, stolen glimpses and a sense of parallel realities, the exhibition proposes a voyage where timelines are blurred and destinations unknown.