Portland Press Herald: Maine artists head to the Arctic in search of a new frontier

Maine artists head to the Arctic in search of a new frontier
by Bob Keyes

Portland Press Herald
August 13, 2017


They go to bear witness, document change and tell stories.
Driven by a sense of urgency, artists are following in the tradition of Rockwell Kent and going to the Arctic to capture the majesty of the icebergs, the mystery of the landscape and the daily drama of a culture and way of life that feels out of place in a modern world. Others go for political and cultural reasons, to show the world what climate change looks like in its northernmost reaches.
And others just go — for the beauty, the adventure and the opportunity to see something new.

Levesque made a second trip to the Arctic this spring, aboard a sailing vessel. It was a dramatically different experience than his journey aboard the container ship. The Eimskip trip was about the intersection of art and commerce and Portland’s evolution as an international marine terminal. He was interested in the stories of the ships’s crew as much as he was the Arctic environment.
For the recent trip in June, he was on a sailboat among 30 artists and scientists on an Arctic Circle residency, exploring Svalbard and its environs. He imaged a romantic, remote experience, with “pure moments” of connecting with nature. He got some of that, he said. “We saw a lot of glaciers, we saw polar bears, walruses, minke whales, belugas.” He also saw evidence that the Arctic isn’t nearly as remote as it used to be. To the boat’s crew, Levesque’s group of artists and scientists were similar to any other group of ecotourists. “We were just the next group coming through,” he said. “That was very interesting to me.”

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CS Monitor: Maine looks north, hoping to become a gateway to the Arctic

Maine looks north, hoping to become a gateway to the Arctic
by Henry Gass

The Christian Science Monitor
December 27, 2016


For government and indigenous officials from around the world, the Arctic Council meeting here in October was a week-long opportunity to discuss shared Arctic issues like sustainable development and protecting ecosystems.
For the people of Maine, it was a week-long opportunity to reconnect with their rich Arctic history, and to imagine a future where Maine is not a remote and limited corner of a powerful country, but a gateway to, and steward of, the rapidly changing and increasingly active Arctic region.
The increased activity is, of course, in large part a result of climate change. The Arctic is warming at a rate almost twice the global average, and the 13 smallest recorded winter maximums for Arctic sea ice have come in the past 13 years, according to NASA. Meanwhile, Arctic sea routes are becoming more navigable and natural resources are becoming more accessible.

Cultural stirrings

Looking at all these changes unfolding around and within Maine, Justin Levesque wants to put an artist’s perspective on them. So in September 2015, the Portland-based photographer boarded an Eimskip vessel and spent nine days traveling to Reyjkavik. He took photographs and interviewed the crew, eventually combining it into the ICELANDx207 exhibit, which has been on display around the city since the Arctic Council meeting in October.
“I think it’s important to have artistic witnesses and artistic viewpoints on these emerging ideas,” he says.
These cultural exchanges are not limited to art. While the Arctic Council was in Portland, so was Inunnguaq Hegelund, a star chef from Greenland who spent the week working in the restaurant Vinland making Greenland-inspired dishes.
For his part, Mr. Levesque wants to bring his photographic observations further north, particularly in the context of Arctic climate change. So next year he will travel to Svalbard, a mountainous archipelago between Norway and the North Pole, for a three-week artist residency aboard a tall ship.
“We’re in the middle of it, and it’s hard to know what’s going to happen, but I think that’s why we need to provide access through cultural things,” he says. “If we can be voices in that conversation [about the Arctic] I think it’s great.”

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Down East Magazine / October 2016

On Deck
by Brian Kevin

Down East Magazine
October 2016 Issue


Photographer Justin Levesque considers Maine's relationship to its subarctic neighbors - and the lines across the sea that link us.
If you’re cruising Congress Street in Portland during the first half of this month, you may wonder what that hulking 40-foot Eimskip shipping container is doing in the middle of Congress Square Park. Did the Icelandic cargo titan, which made Portland its American port of call in 2013, stash a giant box full of intercontinental loot in the middle of the arts district?
In a sense, it did. The giant steel box houses ICELANDx207: Container, a photography exhibit (with audio elements) by Portland photographer Justin Levesque, who spent nine days aboard an Icelandic container ship last September, traveling the shipping route between Portland and Reykjavik. The residency-at-sea — first proposed by Icelandophile Levesque — revived a dormant Eimskip tradition of allowing artists free passage in exchange for a piece of art (and has since spurred a formalized residency program that’s brought aboard a handful of Maine artists).
At the ICELANDx207: Container exhibit, formal portraits of the crew are paired with recordings Levesque made aboard the ship, telling their stories.
Levesque’s work is on view in conjunction with the Senior Arctic Officials Meeting of the Arctic Council, which welcomes diplomats from Iceland, Canada, Russia, the Scandinavian nations, and elsewhere to Portland from October 4 through 6. Like the exhibit itself, the intergovernmental forum on Arctic cooperation spotlights Maine’s positioning as an American gateway to the Arctic and subarctic — a role the state has increasingly laid claim to since Eimskip’s arrival on the Portland docks.
We caught up with Levesque to talk boats, Björk, and Maine’s nascent status as an Arctic player.

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Exhibit to hang in a shipping container, showing Portland-Iceland connection

Exhibit to hang in a shipping container, showing Portland-Iceland connection
by Bob Keyes

MaineToday
Sept. 19, 2016 


It was about a year ago when photographer Justin Levesque had the epiphany to spend time on the Portland waterfront to document the city’s shipping industry. He was curious about all those container ships moving in and out of Portland harbor and assumed others were curious as well.
Levesque, who grew up in Biddeford, followed his wonder all the way to Iceland. Last fall, he hitched a ride on an Eimskip container ship and used the experience as a springboard to tell a much larger photographic story of the relationship between Portland and Iceland and the people who work for the Icelandic shipping company that calls Portland its North American home.
A year after hatching the idea in a Manhattan bar, Levesque, 30, is about to open a multi-media exhibition in Congress Square that will be displayed inside a 40-foot shipping container, just like the ones he’s been following for the past 12 months.
The exhibition, “ICELANDx207: Container,” will include photos from his journey aboard the MV Selfoss, portraits of the people who work on the ship and at the International Marine Terminal, as well as excerpts of podcasts that Levesque recorded with the crew while under way.
The container will arrive in Congress Square on Tuesday, and Levesque will open the show as soon as he sets it up. The official opening is Sept. 30, and it’s on view through Oct. 12.
“ICELANDx207: Container” also puts Portland’s Eimskip experience in context with the past and future of shipping in Maine. It will include audio and video stories of Portland’s working waterfront, collected by audio producer Galen Koch. Those stories will be told under the title “Wharfside: Stories from Portland Harbor’s Working Waterfront,” supported by Casco Bay Estuary Partnership and the Waterfront Alliance.
The exhibition coincides with the three-day Arctic Council international conference in Portland in early October.
For Levesque, the exhibition feels like the beginning of something bigger, not the end of a yearlong project.
“I think we’ve begun a contemporary conversation about shipping and transportation and helped make the invisible life of seafarers more visible to the general public again,” he said. “I really want to have this conversation away from the water. Putting it in a public space in the heart of downtown allows Mainers to engage a conversation they wouldn’t otherwise have.”
In June, Levesque will complete an artist residency in the Arctic Circle, traveling there in an older sailing vessel. That will help him tell another part of Maine’s shipping story.
The container for the art show will run lengthwise parallel to High Street. It’s a tight space, only 8 feet wide, and Levesque has a lot of work to display. He’s eager to get in there and hang the show. He’s worked it all out — on paper.
“I’ve had some problem-solving to do, in terms of figuring things out spatially. I have to maximize the space to achieve as great an impact as possible. But what’s nice about the container, it has the great ability to act as a metaphor for the story I’m trying to tell,” he said.

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Why this Maine artist is showing his exhibit in a shipping container by Kathleen Pierce

Why this Maine artist is showing his exhibit in a shipping container
by Kathleen Pierce

Bangor Daily News
Sept. 14, 2016


Last fall, University of Southern Maine graduate Justin Levesque of Portland spent nine days aboard an Eimskip container ship traveling from Portland to Reykjavik — all in the name of art.
“It was amazing. I loved it. I’m a little obsessed with ships. The smell of the sea and gasoline gives me flashbacks and makes me homesick,” Levesque said.
The photographer captured the working man’s view of marine trade through colorful and gritty images and podcast interviews. The results of his onboard residency, “ICELANDx207: Container,” lands in Congress Square Park on Sept. 27.
Fittingly, the photographer’s dream project will be shown in a shipping container.
"You’ll be able to walk through it,” said Levesque, who became intrigued by the idea of chronicling the crew shortly after Eimskip, an Icelandic shipping company, opened its North Atlantic headquarters in Portland in 2013. “Iceland has shown up in my backyard and entered into the Maine economy through shipping. I wanted to know, ‘What kind of effect does that have to our economic development?’”
Through his raw and nautical images aboard the MV Selfoss, viewers see below and above deck, glimpse hard-working crew members, see their maps and legends, cramped quarters, even a rainbow on the horizon.
“The ocean is the 13th crew member,” said Levesque, who is creating a self-guided multimedia exhibit including interviews with crew members that the public can access via their smartphones while viewing their portraits. The show dovetails with the 2016 Arctic Council meetings hosted by the Maine North Atlantic Development Office, which will be held in Portland from Oct. 4 to 6. The inter-governmental meeting brings senior officials from Arctic regions such as Finland, Russia and Canada to discuss Maine’s significant role.

Take Magazine by John W. Arvanitis

Slow Boat to Iceland
by John W. Arvanitis

Take Magazine
August 29, 2016


Almost one year ago, Maine-based photographer Justin Levesque hopped on a container ship headed to Iceland. The artist embarked on this nine-day journey as an attempt to document many complex ideas related to commerce and culture, podcasting and photographing his surroundings all the way. After almost a year of digesting his experience, editing photos, and planning, Justin is ready to show the world what he’s discovered from this unconventional residency through an up-coming exhibition,ICELANDx207: Container.
“I didn’t really know exactly what I was getting into…going to sea is something I’ve never really done before. I knew what kinds of images I generally like to make but doing it and thinking about it are two different things.”, stated Justin about his experiences with the sea prior to his journey. In addition, Levesque was new to the world of podcasting, which presented its own set of unique challenges. Imagine how long it takes to record a daily podcast in the middle of a container ship, then upload the 34 minute segment with very low wi-fi from the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean. Folks who followed him back then could track his geographic position across the ocean, in real-time, as he uploaded each new podcast episode.

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The Journal / Ohio State University / Interview by Margaret Cipriano

Selections from ICELANDx207: Green Line
Interview by Margaret Cipriano

The Journal Mag
May 18, 2016


Margaret Cipriano: Looking at your images, I have a sense of an implied narrative, or at least, a gesture toward narrative. How do these pieces combine your personal story with that of your subjects?

Justin Levesque: “ICELANDx207″ as whole personally speaks to a long-running fascination and love for Iceland. It’s been shockingly serendipitous that a borderline obsession was answered so accurately with the arrival of Eimskip in Portland and further, to then making the right phone call at the right time to the right person which ultimately put me smack dab in the middle of a conversation important to Maine. The peculiar luck of it all is not lost on me. I’ve never had a calling before but I imagine this is what it feels like.

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USM alumnus Justin Levesque chosen for prestigious art and science exhibition to Arctic

USM alumnus Justin Levesque chosen for prestigious art and science exhibition to Arctic

USM Public Affairs
March 31, 2016


"University of Southern Maine alumnus Justin Levesque has been invited to participate in The Arctic Circle 2017; an art and science expedition to the High Arctic, June 10th to June 28th, 2017.
Artist and scientist led, The Arctic Circle is an annual expeditionary residency program. The Arctic Circle brings together international artists of all disciplines, scientists, architects and educators who collectively explore remote and fascinating destinations aboard a sailing vessel.
A 2010 graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Art in photography, Levesque will continue his work documenting the Arctic and exploring its growing connections with the state of Maine after completing a week-plus long journey aboard a container ship in 2015. He will spend more than two weeks aboard a tall ship in the international territory of Svalbard, just 10 degrees from the North Pole.

Portland photographer wants to open gallery inside shipping container

Portland photographer wants to open gallery inside shipping container
by Bob Keyes

Portland Press Herald
April 18, 2016


"A Portland photographer whose work explores the intersection of art and commerce wants to open a temporary art gallery inside a shipping container like the ones that travel by boat between Portland and Iceland. Justin Levesque, 29, is seeking city permission for a temporary art installation in Congress Square in late September and early October that will coincide with the international Arctic Council conference in Portland.
The container-gallery would feature Levesque’s photographs of the Portland waterfront and the international workers who labor there. Levesque traveled from Portland to Iceland on the MV Selfoss last September, a guest of the Icelandic shipping company Eimskip, which has headquarters in Portland.
He documented his journey, and became friends with the Icelandic workers for whom the Maine-to-Iceland circuit is a regular work routine. The exhibition, “ICELANDx207: Container,” is part of Levesque’s yearlong project to tell the story behind Iceland’s role in the Maine economy, create portraits of Icelanders who work in Maine and document life on the Portland waterfront."

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The Reykjavík Grapevine: Artist Documents Seagoing Life Aboard Icelandic Cargo Ship

Artist Documents Seagoing Life Aboard Icelandic Cargo Ship
by John Rogers

The Reykjavík Grapevine
February 22, 2016


"After a visit to Iceland in 2014, American artist Justin Levesque was surprised one day to see that Iceland had followed him home, when stacks of blue Eimskip containers started appearing on the dock in his hometown of Portland, Maine.
A door opened up in his mind, and he immediately started to put together an ambitious project—a self-created artist residency that would entail a nine day voyage, spent living aboard an Eimskip vessel, using various media to document the journey, the experience, the crew, the sense of place, and the commercial significance of this new connection between Iceland and the United States.
What resulted is an intriguing and lyrical glimpse into the environment of the ship, and the everyday life of its crew. We caught up with Justin to find out how it was to be an outsider documenting this tight-knit seagoing community, and to find out where the project is headed now.

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HFA Community Voices: An Inhibitor On The High Seas

HFA Community Voices: An Inhibitor On The High Seas
Interview by Rich Pezzillo

HFA News Stories
February 16, 2016


"Justin Levesque has severe hemophilia with an inhibitor. Justin recently had an opportunity of a lifetime when he spent nine days aboard a ship to Iceland as part of an art project that he developed. In this Q & A, Justin explains this experience and how having a bleeding disorder has helped to make him into who he is today."

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University of Southern Maine: USM Art alum Justin Levesque ’10 explores Maine’s growing partnership with Iceland through photography, podcast

USM Art alum Justin Levesque ’10 explores Maine’s growing partnership with Iceland through photography, podcast
USM Public Affairs


"Class of 2010 graduate Justin Levesque's obsession with Iceland can be traced back to his youth, when his love for the arctic nation's most recognizable pop star helped to spurn his passion.
"I'll be very candid about it. I'm a huge Björk fan," said Levesque.
Besides Björk's unique and unmistakable voice, there's something else about Iceland that's piqued the interest of the Photography alumnus -- the growing connection between the arctic nation and the state of Maine."
 
 
"Curious about Iceland's involvement on the Portland, Maine waterfront, Levesque set out to tell the story of what exactly was going on.
The project? Documenting the nine day journey from Portland, Maine to Reykjavik, Iceland on Icelandic shipping company Eimskip's container ship, the MV Selfoss, taking the route known as the "Green Line."
And normally, passage aboard one of Eimskip's vessels is not open to the public.
The multimedia project, ICELANDx207, aims to document Iceland's recent entry into the Maine waterfront and the economy.
His mediums? Photography and podcast."

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The Chart: Towing The Green Line

Towing The Green Line
by Benjamin Spalding

The Chart
Vol. 1, No. 5
February 2016


"Driven by a love for photography and sparked by a musical crush on Björk, Justin Levesque’s ICELANDx207 uses film and audio to address the similarities between Iceland and Maine as well as what it means to exist in a liminal transitory state as experienced through international shipping lanes.
Through a Maine Arts Commission grant, Levesque was allowed to accompany an Eimskip commercial vessel on the Green Line, a shipping route from Portland, Maine, to Reykjavik, Iceland, where he photographed the crew and created a daily podcast from collected audio and interviews.
ICELANDx207 has proliferated into a rich multimedia project examining a wide range of topics from the economic impact of Eimskip shipping in Portland to how both locales are able to negotiate contemporary cultural aesthetics beyond the trappings of novelty and visual lineage."

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TideSmart Radio with Stevoe

Show 161: ICELANDx207
Interview by Steve Woods

TideSmart Radio with Stevoe
January 23, 2016


Have you ever seen the stacks of shipping containers at the end of Commercial Street in Portland and wonder where they came from? So did Maine artist Justin Levesque.
After arriving home from an Icelandic vacation, he recognized Eimskip’s Icelandic name and started thinking about why they were here. Levesque holds a BFA from USM where he specialized in the critical analysis of images and their impact on social norms and community expectations.
His ICELANDx207 project will ultimately focus on portraits of Icelanders in Maine, the revitalized shipping industry in Portland, Maine and a podcast of Levesque’s journey aboard Eimskip’s shipping vessel MV Selfoss from Portland to Reykjavik."

[LISTEN HERE]


Show 161: ICELANDx207 Artist Justin Levesque
Show Information Show: 161
Air Date: Saturday, 23 January 2016
Guest: Justin Levesque
Host: Steve Woods (Stevoe)
Studio Contributor: Debi Davis
Executive Producer: Emily Sullivan (Sully)

MaineToday: Inspired By Bjork, Portland Photographer Focuses On Iceland

A Glimpse Inside A Container Ship
by Bob Keyes

MaineToday
December 30, 2015


In studying the intersection of art and commerce, a Portland photographer spent time on an Eimskip vessel.
"Like a lot of people who live and work in Portland, Justin Levesque watches the container ships that come in and out of Portland Harbor.
Many of us take the ships for granted, barely thinking twice about them unless they tie up bridge traffic. Levesque’s curiosity isn’t fleeting. He wonders what life is like for the crews who work on the ships – where they’re from, what they do when they’re in Portland and what’s inside all those containers anyway?
He got a few of those answers after receiving permission from Eimskip, the Icelandic shipping company with headquarters in Portland, to spend time on a container ship and get to know the people who work on the waterfront. He traveled with an Eimskip crew from Portland to Iceland in the fall and documented his experience in photos and with a podcast that originated aboard the ship."

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WCSH6: Interview on 207 with Caroline Cornish

207
Interview by Caroline Cornish
Text by Krister B. Collins

WCSH6
November 16, 2016


"Justin Levesque is a photographer and podcaster from Portland who is documenting Maine's new connection to Iceland.
The company Eimskip is now shipping between Iceland and Portland's International Marine Terminal. Levesque won a grant through the Maine Arts Commission to ride to Iceland on one of the container ships and document the process.
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Levesque's interest in Iceland was piqued by the country's pop chanteuse/actress Bjork. And, yes, he did get to meet her."
"207 is a news magazine show produced by WCSH6 the NBC station in Portland Maine. 207 is hosted by Rob Caldwell and Caroline Cornish. Our goal is to bring you the best of Maine."

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Maine Emerging Photographers Under 30

Maine Emerging Photographers Under 30
PhoPa Gallery

Maine Media Workshops + College
November 7, 2016


PhoPa Gallery selects Justin Levesque as one of their five Maine Emerging Photographers Under 30 for his ICELANDx207 project and images!

Maine Emerging Photographers Under 30
PhoPa Gallery is pleased to announce our first juried show for emerging photographers. We are seeking a broad range of work, including both traditional and non-traditional approaches to photography. Open to emerging photographers, age 30 and under, currently living in Maine.
How do we define an "emerging" photographer? We are looking for photographers who are just beginning their careers to those with around five years of professional experience. Formal academic training is not necessary. We do not have a strict cut off in defining an “emerging” photographer, but will evaluate how consistently a photographer has been published, exhibited, and how many awards have been received within an approximate five-year timeframe. We are excited to see photographic series that have not been shown in another gallery and/or photographers who are not represented by any gallery. Final selections will be determined by the quality and cohesiveness of the photographic submissions received.
The show will be juried by PhoPa Gallery co-directors Bruce Brown and Jon Edwards.
Bruce Brown Maine native Bruce Brown began collecting art forty years ago. He served as curator at the Center for Maine Contemporary Arts in Rockport from August 1987 through 2006. He has curated more than 50 photography exhibitions including the most comprehensive history of Maine photography to date in 2000. This year Fryeburg Academy, the University of Maine Museum in Bangor and CMCA are exhibiting three different photography exhibitions from works in his collection.
Jon Edwards is a fine art/documentary photographer who practiced environmental and civil right law for over twenty-five years. Shortly after earning an MFA in Photography, he received an Aaron Siskind Foundation Individual Photographer Grant, was a finalist in the 2008 CDS’s First Book Prize, and was nominated for the Center’s Santa Fe Prize for Photography. He has exhibited internationally, and has photographs in the permanent collections of, among others, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Portland (ME) Museum of Arts and the Farnsworth Museum.