Darned if we know why, but ocean containers, the 20- and 40-foot boxes that for decades have facilitated international trade, seem to have caught the attention of artists, filmmakers, and musicians lately.
For instance, containers can be seen on the big screen in "Captain Phillips," the slightly fictionalized thriller about the 2009 hijacking of the containership Maersk Alabama. A container also plays a role in "All Is Lost," the Robert Redford drama about a solo sailor in the Indian Ocean. The film opens with Redford's boat hitting a submerged ocean container. It rips a hole in the sailboat's hull, setting off a series of life-and-death situations for the protagonist.
On a recent visit to Denver, we happened across three sculptures made of cut-up containers that had been connected to form multicolored towers. The series, called "Trade Deficit," is by artist Joseph Riche. Riche is not the only one to use containers as an artistic medium. As a blog post by the Australian container leasing company PremierBox shows, containers have been turned into public art around the world. Check out some examples.
Then there's the unique "concert hall" known as Container Man. Sculptor and performance artist Yin Peet of Taiwan and Viktor Lois, a "sound sculptor" from Hungary, filled a 40-foot container with mechanical musical instruments (made from such recycled items as a washing machine and a typewriter), kinetic sculptures, and a sound system. Artists and musicians can use the devices to create their own compositions.
And how about those mysterious "Google barges" in San Francisco and Portland, Maine? In November, the tech world was a-twitter with speculation about the purpose of the heavily guarded barges, stacked four-high with 40-foot containers and draped with tarps to avoid prying eyes. Google recently issued a statement saying that the barges would be used as "an interactive space where people can learn about new technology"—a movable exhibition hall of sorts.