Sea Fairer

When Michael Seymour saw Tacita Dean’s Disappearance at Sea, a film made in 1996 and based on the story of Donald Crowhurst, he was fascinated. Crowhurst was a sailboat enthusiast and businessman who entered the 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race, in which yachtsmen had to single-handedly sail around the world in a competition that was about speed, endurance and ingenuity. Crowhurst was desperate to win the substantial prize, but his behaviour during the race was erratic and he appeared to have gone mad and committed suicide. “He didn’t really have a focus,” Seymour says. “He basically sailed into the abyss; he sailed for two months before he lost his mind.”

Crowhurst became a legend for having disappeared, and his absence tied into something in which Seymour himself had become interested. He watched the speedy demolition of a building in downtown Winnipeg and noticed that after the structure was gone, the site reminded him of the ocean. Crowhurst’s disappearance and that of the building became enmeshed in his mind. As a student in the School of Architecture at the University of Manitoba, he set himself an architectural proposition: to probe into the condition of being adrift, spatially and psychologically. Seymour’s method was to construct a drawing machine, an analogue site in which he could stage his version of a disappearance act. Seymour made an apparatus that recorded, through a string of hanging lights, the expansive quality of the site. Along with Crowhurst, he became an adventurer in a sea of space. What the lights hanging down from the frame of his machine do is both search for, and indicate, the sense of expansiveness Seymour feels.

The images that emerge from this space probing are less drawings than photographs, a kind of abstract representation of an imagined journey. There are elegant swirls of colour (deep blues and purples), silhouettes, white spaces and embryonic forms. Neil Minuk, an architect and Seymour’s supervisor for the project, calls them “feeling drawings, a registry of the process of inhabiting the site in his mind. They ask questions like, What do you feel? Where do you feel the expansiveness?”

There is something touchingly personal about Seymour’s commitment to this project and its abstract nature. He says that he experiences a vicarious engagement from the Crowhurst story. “I have this wild urge to be like that. I try to unhinge myself.” Seymour moved to Vancouver six months ago and claims that his wild impulse was the provocation for change. “I love the kind of wildness that is more restrained. Winnipeg has a metaphysical madness, but in Vancouver it’s very contained, maybe even suppressed. It’s as if there’s something waiting to be revealed.”

The revelation in Seymour’s Crowhurst project comes in the form of a single drawing on which he worked for six months. Acrylic, pencil and pen, it is a heavily annotated psychological rendering, a record of both the project and of Crowhurst’s laborious deception. Throughout his wayward wandering, he filed false reports that were sufficiently convincing to make him a likely winner of the race. Seymour places them as delicate drops in an arc that is faintly visible above the denser, blue half circle below. “I wanted to have one record of the project as it evolved,” the artist/seafarer admits, but the truth is, he has used his artist’s hand to provide us with an elegant insight into an unsettling world.

To see more of Michael Seymour’s work, view the Art Pages

Volume 31, Number 2: Arnaud Maggs

This article originally appeared in Border Crossings #122, published May 2012.

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