Verdant Works Exhibition Display case and works

The Arctic Whaling Year

I’m just back from an amazing trip to Dundee for the installation and opening of my exhibition ‘The Arctic Whaling Year’ at the Verdant Works.  The exhibition has been over a year in the making, but much, much longer in gestation.   As I have been researching British Arctic Whaling I have pondered the idea of doing a series of work linked to the development of the British Whaling trade.  When Dundee Heritage Trust offered me the opportunity to have an exhibition in their Verdant Works Gallery with a lead-in time sufficient (just!) to make a new body of work for that space I took the opportunity to produce a cycle of works, stand-alone pieces that would also tell a story together.  Each work is inspired by a particular aspect of whaling, but is informed by my travel and research, so I can incorporate personal content.

British Arctic Whaling was a seasonal industry with ships leaving British Ports in the spring to head to northern arctic waters to catch whales, returning in the late summer before the ice retuned.  The cycle of work starts with ‘Victualling’, the process of getting the supplies needed for the voyage, using details of accounts from the University of Dundee Archive.  Then Calling At Shetland where the whale ships picked up more supplies and extra men. My Shetland Residency in July 2017 researching at Shetland Museum and Archive provided the text and my photograph of one of the museum buildings.

The development, through both economic necessity and innovation, of early spring sealing trips along with the fantastic collection of early photographs at the Dundee Art Galleries and Museums the inspired the triptych Sealing’ showing the ships and sailors on the ice.  Some of the rituals and superstitions of the whalers are used as the basis for the Cape Farewell including Neptune coming aboard to initiate the new sailors with a joke razor (from the one on display at Hull Maritime Museum).  The hazards and locations of arctic whaling are depicted in ‘Stoved!’, ‘The Whaling Grounds’ and BesetJute is inspired by the architectural features and story of the location of the exhibition – the Verdant Works jute mill in Dundee, where whale oil and water were used to soften the jute fibres prior to processing.  The final piece ‘Right Whales Historically Regarded’ uses the heart-breaking image of an unborn right whale foetus hanging under its mother, itself hanging over a range of the harpoons and other implements we have used to decimate Right Whale populations, including ship strikes and ghost tackle, causes that are currently driving the Northern Right whale towards extinction.

Verdant Works Exhibition Display case and works

Verdant Works Exhibition Display case and works

In addition to the 9 works, there is a display case containing a harpoon, kindly loaned by Dundee Collections Unit, whale baleen, from the Dundee Heritage Trust Collection, a set of 1927 Whaling Cigarette cards from my collection and two of my whaling related artists books (in concertina format so the books can be read in their entirety).  Some of the sample pieces I made in preparation for this exhibition have been collected onto two panels with labels describing some of the techniques used, available for visitors to touch and examine.

Verdant Works Exhibition Touch Panels

Verdant Works Exhibition Touch Panels

I think the exhibition achieves what I set out to do, to tell a story of British Arctic Whaling through a cycle of artworks, supported by information panels describing the aspects of the industry that inspired each panel and with real artefacts of the industry.  Although the exhibition was made for the space at the Verdant Works with new location specific works could enable the exhibition to travel to other venues to tell their stories of Historic British Arctic Whaling.