Angela Cockayne

The Whale as Muse

The Ark Embrace





An ‘Ol’ wooden ship‘ on her final voyage, now awaits restoration on the Lizard Peninsular, Cornwall England.

Latitude: 50.183106N  Longitude: 5.246911W

The Ark Embrace is a tabula rasa, through a consilience of international public action it will become a wunderkammer of anthropogenic legacy.

An interdisciplinary digital project embracing human achievement across the both the arts and sciences. This curated vessel of nominations will house both things and thoughts worth keeping- celebrating, a someone, something; art, music, text, an invention, an endangered species or simply an idea for the future.

This cabinet of curiosity subverts our gaze, a public action rather than utopic vision- socially, politically and ethically, should the balance with the natural world and environment no longer sustain us.

As the New York Times declines to publish the opinions of climate-change deniers and ecocides, may be time to ditch the doom rhetoric and reflect on things for safe keeping

            climate change is happening
            ice caps are melting
            and sea levels will inevitably rise

The world will not end but scientists now believe the sixth mass extinction may have already begun through over harvesting, habitat destruction, pollution, and unsustainable use of natural resources. We are at a pivotal point in history, nature will address the balance if we continue to consume unsustainably in a finite system and simultaneously destroy our environment in the process. Our fallibility appears to be an inability to think and act long term in a global context.

                                            Perhaps its time to Embrace the future

 The project aims to encourage public engagement with a cross disciplinary dialogue exploring art, natural science, myth and ecology, to celebrate the bridging of wonderment, intuition, reflection, and metaphorical ambiguities with evidence, experiment and exploration through the theme of Wunderkammer aboard the Ark Embrace.

 Now in the 21st century, a generation born digital, our aim is to investigate and explore a dialogue between art, science and ecology through collaborative partnership; a reunification of cultural disciplines to confront the skeptical and represent the undeniable evidence of our ecological trajectory through wonderment and engaging visual narratives.

 This digital cabinet of curiosity, microcosm or memory theatre will be a vehicle for solace, contemplation, wonder and knowledge transfer through a creative dialogue in an age of critical thought, post-media and negotiated meaning. This juxtaposition of ideas, objects and narratives will be a unique collection, finding analogies and parallels for global cultural exchange. If science gives us fact and evidence to solve questions, art creates curiosity; space for ambiguity, new narratives and more questions.

 This interdisciplinary project aims to generate, produce and curate new work for a new generation and consciousness. Work which transmutes the curious gaze, which establishes a dialogue on a scientific-artistic expedition that explores anthropogenic ecocide.

 Exploring the links between art and nature in context of a contemporary global consciousness using technology of an international digital platform our hope is to provide a conduit that acknowledges our environmental responsibility through curiosity and wonderment and a subversive gaze.


                    What would you nominate to preserve to place on board?


‘He swam the seas before the continents broke water; he swam over the site  of the Tuileries, and Windsor Castle, and the Kremlin.  In Noah’s flood  he despised Noah’s Ark; and if ever the world is to be again flooded,  like the Netherlands, to kill off its rats, then the eternal whale will  survive, and rearing upon the topmost crest of the equatorial flood,  spout his frothed defiance to the skies’  ch 105 Moby-Dick Herman Melville

Embrace The future (sea levels will rise)

40 per cent of the earth’s ice-free land mass is now intensively farmed to produce food;
                               only 12 per cent of its rivers run freely to the seas.
                                   Nearly one billion people go hungry every day;
                                               1.5 billion are overweight or obese.

                            Each year, more than 300,000 sea birds die on fishing lines
                                           & 100 million sharks are definned.
               Every square kilometre of sea contains 18,500 pieces of floating plastic.

                     Only 1 per cent of the world’s urban population are breathing air clean
                                                   enough to meet EU standards.

As the New York Times declines to publish the opinions of climate-change deniers and ecocides,..

                         it may be time to ditch the doom rhetoric to save the world

                                              climate change is happening
                                                   ice caps are melting
                                          and sea levels will inevitably rise

                                           Embrace the future.
     From the curators of the Moby Dick Big Read with 4 million downloads to date

                                                  The Ark Embrace

                                                  invites you to reflect and
                                                              the future


                                   A Literary, Scientific, and Artistic

                                                  You are warmly invited to

                                                Something, Someone, an Idea

                                                  to Preserve for the future 
                                                   aboard the ARK Embrace

                Art, myth, natural history, ecology and philosophy combine
                                                        to celebrate
 the bridging of  wonderment, intuition, reflection, and metaphorical ambiguities
             with evidence, experimentation and anthropogenic achievement.

                 Gaze @ 21 Century Wunderkammer for a new generation born digital 

                                                      re Discover
                                       our greatest achievements

                                Our true intent is all for your delight


at bizarre objects, great concepts – the obscure, the whimsical, and the

                           wonderful – which defy categorical boundaries

56 | NEW STATESMAN | 27 JUNE – 3 JULY 2014

Gods in bottles and concrete crocodiles

Our folk art tells the story of Britain’s feral past


By Philip Hoare

Strewn across New England’s green fields and hills are dozens of sites that once housed utopian communes. From the Shak­er villages of Sabbath day Lake in Maine and Canterbury in New Hampshire to Bronson Alcott’s militant vegan Fruitlands in Massa­ chusetts, these experiments in 18th­ and 19th­century communist living produced an extraordinary aesthetic, embodied in the clean ­lined utilitarianism of Shaker fur­niture and the Fruitlanders’ brown linen smocks. Visiting these sites recently, I be­ came sharply aware of the inherent value placed on such cultural eruptions of Ameri­cana. Shaker artefacts, for instance, are sub­jects of serious study (and exorbitant sales) and quilt­ making is revered. Compare that to the pejorative manner in which folk art is regarded in Britain, conjuring up yoghurt­ weavers singing with their hands over their ears and men dancing with handkerchiefs.

New England’s reverence for its folk art came to mind as I toured Tate Britain’s new exhibition. It made me aware that I’m not sure what “folk art” is. I’m still not

enlightened. The Tate show is described as “the first major historical exhibition” of its kind in the UK, and that it fails to live up to expectations (but does so brilliantly) only proves its subject’s fluid and inconclu­sive nature. Does “folk art” mean anything creative made by a person lacking sophis­tication and a formal education, the prod­uct of artisans, rather than artists? Where does folk art end and outsider art begin? As the assistant curator Ruth Kenny notes in her excellent catalogue essay, quoting Jane Kallir, “folk art is, in fact, everything that everybody always thought was not art be­ fore the modernist revolution at the turn of the century”.

There’s a degree of hierarchy, if not snob­bery, being addressed here – one that is only underlined by the high­culture setting of the Tate, where visitors are greeted by video monitors replaying Kenneth Clark’s greatest hits from Civilisation. If a similar show were to address modern folk art, its most telling display would be a selection of tattoos culled from the upper arms, necks and lower backs

of the population. Contemporary art only adds to the confusion. Grayson Perry’s pots and his 2006 curated show “The Charms of Lincolnshire”; Tracey Emin’s quilts; Linder Sterling’s re­creation of Shaker rituals; Si­ mon Costin’s Museum of British Folklore; Tania Kovats’s travelling caravan, the Muse­ um of the White Horse; Angela Cockayne’s scrimshaw and trades­ union ­inflected blueprints; the graphic artist Jonny Han­nah’s forthcoming Greetings from Dark- town book and, pre­eminently, Jeremy Del­ler’s installations and films, all deal in one way or another in this vernacular. Is it possi­ ble to look at this material without the arch, knowing filter of post ­postmodernism?

Take the wonderful “naive” painting of Admiral Lord Exmouth from his Hedgecumb Park, created circa 1815 and on display in the first room at the Tate. It shows a flattened, cartoon­like hero of the Napoleonic war, pushed up against a lyric landscape popu­lated by equally cartoonish stags. His fea­ tures are a squashed simulacrum, a childish impression of an “important man”. We see such a rendering in post­ Picasso terms, a way of bridging the gap between reality and art’s two dimensions. But the audience for this work would have introduced no such barrier: it would have been direct, to the point, and immediately understood.

The same is true of almost all the paint­ ings in the exhibition. They point up the modern proliferation of created images – it is no coincidence that most of the work in the show dates from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Indeed, the power

they have for us now derives from our modern lives being so immensely overlad­en with imagery. We see a new image every few seconds. A pre­industrial Briton would have seen only iconography in churches, and perhaps posters and broadsheets. “Fine art” would have been far from their com­munal sight. Folk art, then, comes to us as an evocation of apparent innocence. Hence its relevance – or fashionability – in an age that is busy dumping the analogue. But that sense of nostalgia also has a reaction­ary air. It is, as E P Thompson said of the late 18th­century popular explosion of Method­ ism, “a component of the psychic processes of counter­revolution”.

It’s also a reminder of what we have lost, as the relatively small scale of the show be­ trays. Other critics have noted that a similar exhibition in New York, Boston or Wash­ington would be full to bursting with Shak­er furniture, scrimshaw and decoy ducks – as well as the work of indigenous peoples. A visit to the splendid American Museum in Bath only underlines the point (as does the fact that John F Kennedy was buried with a carved sperm whale’s tooth in his coffin). Of course, some might say that this inequal­ity is due to the old west having far more “serious” art to draw upon in the first place.

Yet in some ways the Tate show is actu­ally displaying the work of the British in­digenous, unconsciously reflecting a new sense of nationalism in an industrial­ impe­rial era, an assertion of a pre­-multicultural age. Hence the “blackamoor” ship’s figure­ heads in one room, and the photographs of “blacked­up” characters in festivals of mummers from Padstow to Sheffield (as also seen in the beautifully restored films of the recent BFI compilation Here’s Health to the Barley Mow). As with the Burry Man of South Queensferry celebrated in that collection – a human figure stuck over with burrs and resembling a Scottish golem – there’s a ritual quality to much folk art that contradicts its apparently literalness. This is religion – or at least faith – uncommodi­fied or directed from above, but expressed almost intuitively.


One of the most striking displays con­sists of four “God­ in ­a­ bottle” pieces, filled with weird, talismanic shapes of bone and wood – which may or may not be Christian in origin. The catalogue suggests they were made by Irish Catholics. I imagine such transients, doubly exiled by nationality and faith in their new country, living in shanties by the railway lines they dug, creating these eerie microcosms. The bottles suggest, too, their creators’ transported fellows, who were sent as convicts to Van Diemen’s Land (often from Millbank Prison, whose site the Tate now occupies), and who, during the voyage out, had themselves tattooed with a symbolic crescent moon and seven stars – another arcane emblem of folk art whose meaning has been lost to us.

Such arcane or illicit images elide with the popular cloth and print collages created in the same period, the 1830s, by George Smart, a Kentish tailor who sold his repli­ cated images to Tunbridge Wells tourists. Smart is a star of the Tate show, with hisblack ­felt­ covered, dummy­board silhou­ettes of cats, dogs and crows, and scenes such as The Earth Stopper, which shows a traveller by night confronted by a strange devilish figure (the joke being that it is merely a blackened sweep).

This stuff is beyond classification; that is part of its appeal. It is Britain’s feral past, the sort of thing that Augustus Pitt Rivers sought to encompass in his own subfusc collection, with its drawers ­full of holey stones hung as talismans around livestock to stop the predations of witches and pixies. Its significance is almost deliberately ob­scure, in equal proportion to the attempts of collectors and curators to explain it.

It is no coincidence that folk art was reap­ praised in the early 20th century as modern artists turned to such potent, anthropologi­cal sources. That aesthetic came to a head in the 1930s and 1940s in the neo­Romantic movement, in the 1951 Festival of Britain’s celebration of “the people’s culture”, and in the films of Powell and Pressburger, threat­ ended by war and drawn to a fantastical evo­ cation of an Edenic England.

It is also cross­ species. Folk art draws deeply on pre­industrial relationships with animals, portrayed as anthropomorphic spirits or domesticated stock. The painted signs at the Tate display proud pigeons and fat pigs, alongside centaur roundabout fig­ures and Jack Punter’s concrete crocodiles, created for his 1950s Hampshire garden folly, following in the tradition of the “shell gardens” of suburban south coast resorts.

It’s a sensibility that chimes with the con­ temporary artist­ curator’s fascination with the cabinet of curiosities or Wunderkam- mer. But whereas those proto-­museums held mostly objects of natural origins, here we have a wonder­cabinet of trades and constructions telling human stories. Gi­ ant shoes acting as cobblers’ displays and papier ­mâché meat from butchers’ shops vie with archive photographs of temporary triumphal arches constructed of dozens of chairs placed one on top of the other.

It is in this last room of photographs that the real context of folk art comes to life. Crude paintings hung in a gallery white space gain an emotional depth when one sees them in a photograph of an injured First World War soldier exhibiting his artwork propped up on a pavement, a cloth cap at his knees half ­filled with coins. It’s a pathetic, powerful image. But there is no cloth cap at the Tate exhibition’s exit; only a box for used audio aids, and a note asking visitors to write down their comments. l
“British Folk Art” is at Tate Britain,
London SW1, until 31 August
Philip Hoare’s latest book is “The Sea Inside” (Fourth Estate, £9.99)



56 | NEW STATESMAN | 27 JUNE – 3 JULY 2014

27 JUNE – 3 JULY 2014 | NEW STATESMAN | 57



exp 6*

Expedition follow at




                                                     A Literary, Scientific, and Artistic






Specimens & Curiosities


Expedition diaries

Art, myth, bestiaries, natural history, ecology, combine to celebrate thebridging of wonderment, intuition, reflection, and metaphorical ambiguities with evidence, experiment and exploration


@ 21 Century Wunderkammer

for a new generation born digital


New Species, Liminal Creatures, Curiosities, & the Bizarre

Our true intent is all for your delight



at miraculous objects – the obscure, the whimsical, and the wonderful – which defy categorical boundaries.





Finds transmitted via Anthropocene Satellite signal poor
GPS Position: 5°19’2″W, 50°5’6″N

No boats in the Harbour first time in living history.
Sadness amongst the indigenous population.
Fish prices soar.






Wunderkammer by Philip Hoare

Museum and gallery curators reopen the cabinet of curiosities concept
Stuffed pelicans, bell-jarred oddities and unicorn horns: the wunderkammer – or ‘cabinet of curiosities’ – is a macabre, colonial throwback. So why is it back in vogue?

Philip Hoare

Monday Guardian 13 January 2014 18.33 GMT

You can barely walk into a museum these days without being confronted by an eerie-eyed raven or a monkey’s shrunken head. From Margate to Nottingham, from Hackney to Bradford, exhibition spaces are filling up with a macabre menagerie of dead things – from bones and beasts to stuffed birds. Indeed, next week the Milton Keynes Gallery will join the trend, opening a modern “cabinet of curiosities” that will set paintings by Gainsborough, Millais, Warhol and David Bowie next to taxidermied pelicans, medieval maps, and even an Aston Martin DB4, much like the one driven by James Bond in the 1960s.

Some might blame this wilfully digressive trend on over-active curatorial imaginations and the legacy of Damien Hirst’s death-obsessed exploitation of natural-history specimens. Others might point to rising star Polly Morgan’s reinvention of taxidermy as a fine art. But such eclectic tastes are in fact nothing new. From the Renaissance to the 18th century, the cabinet of curiosities celebrated the act of collection for its own sake, in an almost haphazard accumulation of natural-history specimens and other bizarre objects. Crocodiles were hung from rafters, skulls (animal and human) vied for shelf space with toads supposedly found alive in rocks – and then there were the “mermaids”, composed of monkey torsos sewn to fish tails. These items invariably came from far-flung, semi-mythic places: from the ultima thule of the Arctic to the mysterious reaches of the far east; from profound oceans to impenetrable jungles where any kind of monster might lurk.

Among the most famous cabinets was the one assembled by the 17th-century Danish physician Ole Worm, which included everything from dangling polar bears to birds of paradise – but also ethnographic items illustrating the variety of human races. Worm’s intention was as aesthetic as it was instructive, reflecting a catholic, Renaissance sensibility. Only with the advent of strictly demarcated disciplines – science in one corner, art in another – would the cabinet come to be outmoded in the 19th century; although it had its last hurrah, perhaps, in the extraordinary Pitt Rivers collection in Oxford.

Cabinets of curiosities were a strange bridge between atavistic myth and dawning scientific reality. As such, their revival speaks to our own vexed relationship with the natural world, at a time when we seem bent on destroying it – partly as a result, some might say, of the schism between science and art. However, few of the contemporary artists attempting to emulate the exotic appeal of the wunderkammer (wonder cabinet) could compete with what is happening in continental Europe, where curators have some of the most famous works of art in the world to play with.

The sprawling halls of the Prado in Madrid are usually filled with heaving tour groups being led by the nose from one lustrous masterpiece to another. Today, they have been stopped in their tracks. Standing in front of Rubens’s Rape of Europa is a full-sized, majestic, stuffed bull. The beast’s horns point dangerously towards the painting, ready to impale the turbulent body of Europa as if she were a matador. Yet, surreal as it is, there’s something rather apt about the intrusion of this glassy-eyed animal. The Prado was originally created as a natural-history museum to house specimens brought as tributes to the Spanish royal family from around their empire. It was, in effect, a giant cabinet of curiosities.

Which is what it has become again. Three hundred years on, Natural Histories, a monumental exhibition by the Madrid-born contemporary artist Miguel Angel Blanco, echoes that spirit while taking it to another level. “My intention was not to invade the museum,” says Blanco of his project, three years in the making. Rather, he sought to provoke an “alchemical process”.

And so, as well as the in-your-face bull, a dolphin skeleton now hangs from the dome of the museum’s sculpture court, casting its looming shadow over a massive marble Venus and her dolphin. “It’s jumping like a leviathan,” says Blanco, “as it prepares to swallow the goddess.” Elsewhere, a golden eagle soars through vaulted arches. A portrait of Charles II of Spain, who believed himself bewitched and had himself exorcised, is faced by a mysterious round Aztec mirror carved from pitch-black obsidian, as if to reflect the evil spirits within the possessed emperor.

Another installation – featuring a lusty 17th-century oil of Orpheus charming the animals in the forest, with his kit off for some unaccountable reason – riffs on the myth of the unicorn. A narwhal tusk, almost three metres long, sits next to the painting. Such tusks, the erupted teeth of Arctic whales, were once touted around Europe as relics of unicorns. They were worth 20 times their weight in gold: the one owned by Elizabeth I could have bought her a new castle.

A cabinet of curiosities was part-witches’ cave, part-apothecary’s chamber and part-science lab. Thus, one of the Prado set-pieces incorporates Goya’s The Witches’ Sabbath: a fabulously gothic depiction of a gathering of witches attended by Satan in the form of a goat. Blanco has responded to Goya’s work by assembling a vitrine containing the ingredients for the hideous crones’ potions: bat skeleton, preserved snakes and toads, all labelled with their scientific names.
A Prado installation in front of the Antón Meng workshop’s His Majesty’s Anteater A Prado installation in front of the Antón Meng workshop’s His Majesty’s Anteater. Photograph: Pedro Martinez De Albornoz

The modern trend for the cabinet shows little sign of slowing down. Curiosity and the Art of Knowing – a brilliant show curated by Brian Dillon that has just left the Castle Museum in Norwich bound for Amsterdam – has as its star exhibit the overstuffed carcass of a walrus. Aquatopia, a watery-themed show currently at Tate St Ives, mixes priceless Turners and contemporary sea-themed film pieces with carved sperm whale teeth and 19th-century diving helmets.

Meanwhile, at Corsham Court in Somerset, artist Angela Cockayne recently restored an original cabinet of curiosities she found hidden in the building’s Elizabethan cellars: a dusty trove of bird skulls, shells and butterfly wings. As a result, Cockayne curated the wonderfully allusive Provenance, with works by Mat Collishaw, Gavin Turk and Tessa Farmer. Farmer’s miniature winged humans, attacking wasps under glass domes like something from a microscopic horror movie, are a particularly effective evocation of the spirit of the wunderkammer.

Literature, too, has picked up the challenge – from Amy Leach’s Things That Are, drawing on animals, plants and constellations alike, to Caspar Henderson’s Book of Barely Imagined Beings, a fantastical but scientifically rooted compendium, subtitled A 21st Century Bestiary. The awful contemporary relevance of the theme is inescapable: busily exterminating species as we are, our modern cabinets are being rapidly denuded. The very idea of collection is generally tantamount to appropriation – in the Prado’s case, fine art paid for by gold and silver stolen from Spain’s Central and South American empire.

The side effects of modern capitalism, now plundering the planet like some kleptocratic emperor of old, are even more far-reaching: from the 4,000-year-old coral spires destroyed by deep-sea trawling to proposals to drill for oil in the Arctic, not to mention suggestions that the newly discovered volcanic vents in oceanic trenches (the last vestiges of virgin territory on Earth, where life itself might have started) are about to be mined for rare metals.. Some estimates put the rate of species loss at 100,000 a year and rising. In this light, a contemporary cabinet would contain specimens that will have gone extinct within our own lifetimes. Collecting as preservation or predation? Art, as ever, only asks the question.

Of all the modern artist-curator-collectors, one stands out for the eccentricity and extremity of his habit. Viktor Wynd is the grandson of the novelist Patrick O’Brian (who himself wrote a biography of perhaps the greatest collector of the 18th century, Sir Joseph Banks). His Little Shop of Horrors in Hackney, London, presents an up-to-date collection of curiosities. Visitors are greeted by more taxidermied beasts, from crows to hyenas; the faint-hearted are advised not to proceed downstairs, into Wynd’s dim and dungeon-like cellar, which contains two-headed babies and antique pornography. (There’s a long tradition of such shock exhibits – guests arriving at the home of the celebrated 18th-century anatomist and collector John Hunter were greeted by the preserved erect penis of a hanged man in his hallway.)

Wynd is about to publish Viktor Wynd’s Cabinet of Curiosities, a glossy tome celebrating his obsession with collecting. He is currently trekking in the cloud forests of West Papua, hunting for carnivorous plants. “What can I say?” he replies to my email asking for details. “My house and my shop are cabinets of curiosity designed to fill my every waking moment with distraction from the boredom and misery of my life and keep me filled with wonder.” And with that, Wynd adjusts his gaiters, and sets off in search of new specimens for his ever-expanding cabinet. Its contents may well be the last of their kind.

• Philip Hoare’s The Sea Inside is published by Fourth Estate (


Moby Dick Big Read Wins Award
Team includes: Curators Philip Hoare, Angela Cockayne
Producer Sarah Chapman, Consultant Professor Anthony Caleshu, Administrator Katie Shorten.

The astonishing Moby-Dick Big Read grew out of the Peninsula Arts Whale Festival (2009), and Philip Hoare becoming author-in-residence of the Marine Institute. Together with Sarah Chapman, Director of Peninsula Arts and Angie Cockayne, Bath Spa University, they commenced on a project to re-present Herman Melville’s 19th Century novel for a 21st Century audience. Professor Anthony Caleshu, of the English and Creative Writing subject team, was a consultant on the project.

This project, an example of commitment to producing and supporting innovative projects that focus on presenting new modes of interpretation, it attracted celebrities from stage, screen, science, politics, literature and art including: Tilda Swinton, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Stephen Fry and Sir David Attenborough. Each read a chapter, alongside readings from members of the public, which were then released daily on a digital platform created by iDAT (School of Art & Media). Moreover, each chapter was accompanied by the daily release of an artwork from a range of internationally significant and emerging artists.

Audience participation: 2.5 million listeners Sept 2013 (still getting 4-5k listens a day). Now over 3 million downloads

Reviews include: New York Times, Guardian, Independent, Telegraph, Observer, La Monde, Radio 4, NPR (US National radio).

Global reach: 42 countries (Peaks in New York, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Toronto, Berlin, Sydney, Vienna, Mumbai, Paris, London, Plymouth).

External Partnerships: Deep Blue Sound, Plymouth City Council, Whale and Dolphin Conversation Society, Bath Spa University.

Now touring to Nottingham Contemporary (July-September 2013) and Tate St Ives (October-January 2014)

Special commendation should be made to Katie Shorten whose administrative support was integral to the success.


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