How to Build a Whale
In 1903 a team of museum curators and taxidermists from the Smithsonian Institution ventured to a whaling outpost off the coast of Newfoundland, in search of a cetacean specimen for the St. Louis World’s Fair. The following two years would mark record whaling seasons, amounting to approximately 2000 kills for harvest of whale oil and meat. The Cabot Steam Whaling Company alerted the natural history team to a beached whale at port Balena, adjacent to a commercial fishing boat.
Before the animal decomposed, the three men waded waist-deep into the bay and spent ten hours coating the skin in plaster and excelsior. They covered the cast in paper maché, pulled from the US Treasury’s excess money pulp. The osteological preparators dedicated an entire shed to the construction of a life-size whale cast before shipping the model to Missouri. Whale populations declined precipitously in 1905 because of overexploitation.
Following a ban of commercial whaling in 1935, the Smithsonian looked to cast a second whale for a marine wildlife exhibition in the early 1960s. This model would be a Frankenstein of sorts – built of fiberglass from two different specimens in the British Museum of Natural History and the South Georgia Island in Antarctica. Curator John Widener hoisted the component parts onto scaffolding and levitated the whale into the air. A few spectators noticed that the posture of the whale deviated from normal behavior, and the throat was over-expanded.
The Slam Skillet Cetacean Sweats chronicle an animal’s journey from sea to museum. Duotone images of the casting and reconstruction are overlaid with a diagram of beaked whales, in the vein of Guy Debord’s ‘Naked City’. The situationist artist mapped a psychogeographic diagram of Paris, cutting the plan into pieces to form emotional connections between neighborhoods. Debord’s drawing emerged from a wandering stroll through the city. Beaked whales use echolocation to form three dimensional images of their own ocean surroundings. The skull variation in this group is a means of visual display: the animals echolocate to identify other individuals by sex and species.
Limited edition of 25 pieces.
Plastisol print on Champion cotton/poly blend.