Hannah Burnett & Tucker Rae-Grant

Slop Chest (n): a store of clothing and personal requisites (such as tobacco) carried on merchant ships for issue to the crew usually as a charge against their wages.

In a setting where things rarely happen, the opening of the slop chest is an event. Crew members who are on duty when the lowest-ranking officer opens up the bonded store make sure that friends have their slop orders down. Those who have been running low on beer can replenish their supplies. Some buy a case of Beck’s, some a case of San Miguel. Toothpaste, deodorant, and soap are also available. Taking its cue from the necessity of the slop chest, this project explores what is necessary and what is desired to survive a nine-month contract on a container ship.

While we can catch glimpses of stacked shipping containers piled high in ports like Chicago, Philadelphia, or New York, most of us cannot, in our daily lives, gain insight into the trip made by those containers and their contents. As millions of tons of commodities are transported across the world, what material residue remains? What human traces does global trade leave in its wake? Hannah Burnett, an anthropologist, and artist Tucker Rae-Grant spent two weeks on a container vessel carrying 4,400 shipping containers, twenty-three crew members, and four passengers. Turning their gaze away from the monumental, they studied the everyday items that came along for the ride. “Slop Chest: Notes on Trade” draws on ethnographic and visual methods in order to open up the questions posed here.