A few weeks back I was able to visit Hull Maritime Museum. It is another Victorian gem, an exquisite building which was originally the dock offices. The grand building with all it's detailed brick work,speaks of the importance and wealth that once flourished in Hull. It was one of the main British whaling ports during the 19th century. Times move on and the fisheries are in decline. This year Hull becomes the city of culture and appears to be benefiting from much needed investment and regeneration.
The Museum houses a wide range of artefacts relating to its maritime history. Whaling forms a large part of the collections and I was pleased to see an original whaling log book on show.
Below are a selection of my responses to the visit and various works in progress.
When commencing a project involving whales, my starting point just had to be the classic text "Moby Dick" by Herman Melville. Part novel, part history of whaling, it's certainly not an easy read. However, there are some really poetic passages which spark numerous ideas and images. From initially thinking I wanted to work with a severe decline in the whale populations, the more I read, the more I became aware of the tremendous loss of life on both sides - whales and humans. My research has taken me on a long, interesting and unexpected journey exploring the complex relationship with the whaling industry.
The original whaling log books consisted of daily entries recording ships activities, sightings and weather conditions. These documents are of great value to climate scientists, who are able to compare weather patterns and confirm how conditions have changed. Carved whale stamps were used as a visual aid to record the animals seen, caught and the barrels of whale oil extracted. Furthermore, I was surprised to learn the captains wife would often accompany him on longer voyages. Occasionally more personal reflections can be found which describe the personal hardships and loneliness experienced.
I was particularly interested in the early years of whaling - the age of sail - and by those expeditions to the cold north. This series of log books is my response where I am attempted to combine the human story alongside the industry's more gruesome legacies. Taking visual inspiration from the old whaling log books, I have used first hand accounts and passages from "Moby Dick" to give an authenticity to the experiences. Hoping to capture the lost voices from this period of history.
Lost Voices - Ditty Box containing the Captains journal on the left, his wife's on the right.
Log book page