The Museum of Seafaring Women (Stowaways)
My most recent photographic work utilizes photographs of LA maritime museums to engage questions surrounding representations of history. Since 2013, my collaborator Anastasiia Palamarchuk and I have been collecting stories of female stowaways through online news archives, traces on microfilm, and contact with amateur historians. These stories and found images form a surprisingly large amount of evidence of female stowaways aboard battleships, submarines and ocean liners. Especially popular in British and American newspapers of the 1920s, stories of these stowaways often ran alongside advertisements featuring gender-norm challenging flappers, or were relegated to tabloid sections of the newspaper. Alternative histories are often plagued by rumor, innuendo, inconsistencies, and doubt. We responded by creating an “archive” that embraced these elements using pieces cobbled together through Internet searches, online image auctions, personal interviews, court transcripts, and narratives within seafaring communities.
Embracing gender fluidity, fantasies of transportation, and cultural subversion, the Museum of Seafaring Women (Stowaways) is an ideal fit for a public place where viewers are also moving between origins and destinations. The larger black and white photographs were all made on ships in the Los Angeles Harbor including the R.M.S. Queen Mary and the U.S.S. Iowa, and a large number of the transcribed stories involve Los Angeles, as many ships sailed through the port of L.A., or attracted female stowaways destined for Hollywood. Isolated sections of displays emphasize the strangeness and mutability of the constructed “museum” space, and its incomplete or productively ambiguous representation of history. The text beneath the image operates like a prominent footnote or index, but is ultimately unable to solidify a single, stable narrative. Viewers will see the bottom of the 4ft x 3ft image first (as the bottom of the light box sits on the wall at approximately 6ft / above eye-level) and then will navigate the larger image informed by this “index.” These multiple, varied, and incomplete narratives emphasize the subjectivity of human decisions governing historical narratives and emphasize the highly inefficient, sprawling and contradictory nature of historical archives and photographic narratives.
The Museum of Seafaring Women (Stowaways) is part of the institute for Inverted histories (also known as iIh). Co-founded by Rebecca Sittler and Anastasiia Palamarchuk, iIh works at the intersections of art, design, politics, media, and cultural studies to produce objects and experiences that acknowledge and revel in mysteries among the material traces of history. Through humor, subversion, parafiction, gender-bending, and media archeology, iIh collects and reconfigures pieces of the historical landscape. Projects and publications highlight contradictory traces left by deceptively familiar stories, making them unfamiliar through subversion, juxtaposition, or voracious collecting in the face of an artificially normalized curation of the past. The absurdity of the authority of a single voice or narrative is amplified, along with the necessity of fiction, skepticism and play in the landscape of history. – www.invertedhistories.com