Whalebones, Blubber & Other Relics of First Oil; Show at the Duthie Gallery

April 4 – 29 2014

Duthie Gallery, Salt Spring Island

In the early 17th century when European explorers first came across Bowhead whales around Svalbard they were so thick in the bays that the ships could hardly maneuver around them. Now the eastern pod of the Bowhead whale; also known as the Right Whale, because it was the right whale to kill, is near extinction. Estimates say there may be as few as ten left. They are no longer seen anywhere near the islands of Svalbard. There is nothing unusual in this history. In fact the history of the slaughter of whales is much like the history of most western industry. It is a history of exploitation of the natural world until resources are either replaced or extinguished. Nevertheless when reading about the industry I was struck by an image of remnants of ancient whalebones that still litter the beaches of the islands where the processing of whales took place over three hundred years ago. I think one of the reasons the image was so strong for me is that it reminded me of the logs, from our logging industry, that litter our BC beaches. It triggered questions like how to depict extinction? How to visualize what isn’t there anymore? What about things from the past that seem no longer relevant but still linger like ghosts in the corners of our imaginations? These questions were the starting off point for this exhibition.