The next Departmental Seminar on Thursday Feb 27th, 5-6pm, will see Jesse Ransley discussing material stories and boats:

What is a boat? Materials and moments.

Subodh Gupta’s 2012 sculpture ‘What does the vessel contain, that the river does not’ is a kettuvallam, a ‘sewn’ boat from Kerala, filled with everyday objects, from chairs and cooking pots to a bicycle and television. Despite Gupta’s interest in abstracted ideas of belonging and displacement, standing in front of it, it is its material presence and the materials present in it that one is obliged to consider. Suspended in a Saville Row gallery, is it the same boat as the one in Kochi? Were those grains of sand and mud, collected in Kerala’s backwaters and lost in transit, part of the sculpture? Were they as much part of the boat as the particles of mud and molecules of fish oil intermingled in the seams between its planks? Where does the boat end and its contents  begin?

Massive, solid and heavy, but displaced and suspended, out of use, in a London gallery, his kettuvallam becomes a valuable tool with which to ask ‘what is a boat?’


Subodh Gupta, What does the vessel contain, that the river does not, 2012, Mixed media, Installation view Hauser & Wirth London, 2013, Photo: Alex Delfanne, © Subodh Gupta

‘What is a boat? Materials and moments’ Seminar on 27th Feb.

Jesse Ransley

My work centres on ethnographies of seafaring and oceans, particularly of the Indian Ocean past and present. I study the history and material culture of south Asian seafaring - from traditional boatbuilding and watery landscapes to lascars and piracy (and the politics and ethics of maritime archaeological heritage management). I am interested in the embodied knowledges of seafaring, the materiality and temporality of oceans and the larger philosophical question of how we imagine and understand maritime space. Or, as it was recently put to me: 'you do bodies on boats, don't you?' Which is definitely true. Boats. People. Water.

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