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Make this ‘Crossing’

The Dumbo Arts Center (DAC) presents 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 neighborhood of Dumbo, Brooklyn.

The show runs September 13-November 16; Wednesday-Sunday, 12-6 p.m. There is an opening reception, September 13 from 6-9 p.m.

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. More than 200 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 1,000 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.

The Dumbo Arts Center is at 30 Washington Street; for more, call 718-694-0831 or log onto www.dumboartscenter.org.

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