The Lottery of the Sea (2006), Alan Sekula

the-lottery-of-the-seaSingle-channel video, color, sound
179 min., dimensions variable


The Lottery of the Sea takes its title from Adam Smith, who in his famous Inquiry into the Wealth of Nations (1776) compared the life of the seafarer to gambling. Thus notions of risk were introduced by Smith through an allegory of the sea’s dangers especially for those who did the hard work, and also for those who invested in ships and goods.

The film asks: is there a relationship between the most frightening and terrifying concept in economics, that of risk, and the category of the sublime in aesthetics?

It is an offbeat diary extending from the presumably “innocent” summer of 2001 through to the current “war on terror” by way of a meandering, essayistic voyage from seaport to seaport, waterfront to waterfront, and coast to coast.

What does it mean to be a maritime nation? To rule the waves? Or to harvest the sea?

An American submarine collides with a Japanese fisheries training ship. What does this suggest about the division of labor in the Pacific?

Panama decides whether to expand the width of its canal, over which it now exercises a certain qualified measure of sovereignty. How is it that a scuba diver would be most prepared to question this great flushing of the jungle watershed?

Galicia is presented with an unwanted gift of oil, with important questions following about the monomania of governments able only to conceptualize danger in one dimension.

Barcelona turns anew to its seafront, producing a pseudo-public sphere and new real estate value to the north and even greater maritime logistical efficiency to the south.

In between, we visit blizzards and demonstrations in New York, drifting prehistoric mastodons in Los Angeles, militant drummers and bemused African construction workers in Lisbon, millionaires or millionaire-impersonators in Amsterdam, and the stray dogs of Athens, all by way of thinking through seeing the sea, the market, and democracy.

— Alan Sekula