Whale conservation art project on South Georgia enters next phase | Polarjournal
The art project of Scottish artist Michael Visocchi (l) has taken the next step and together with Stewart Garden (r) from WSP, the company responsible for the installation of the “Spirit Tables”, the artist has revisited Grytviken for surveys and logistics details, under the eyes of fur seals. In the meantime, the SGHT has launched the sponsorship call for the steel rivets. Image: SGHT

South Georgia inspires thousands of visitors, whether tourists or researchers, not least thanks to the reappearance of various whale species around the sub-Antarctic island. But the animals still need protection, because the marine mammals are threatened on various levels, including by whaling. That’s why the South Georgia Heritage Trust wants the “Commensalis” art project to be a permanent marker in what was once the heart of industrial whaling. Those who wish can now support this financially and immortalize themselves on the island in the form of a steel rivet as the call for donations has officially started.

More than 17,000 steel rivets of various sizes will be displayed on six large tables and a seventh key table to represent whale populations and the impacts of whaling in the region on populations. Each steel rivet can be sponsored on the South Georgia Heritage Trust website and is acknowledged by certificate. This is stated by the SGHT in a press release on the occasion of the launch for the fundraising appeal. “By launching this campaign we hope to get people excited about Michael’s beautiful artwork and also the power of collective action to bring about change in our environment,” explains SGHT Chief Executive Director Alison Neil. ” We think sponsoring a rivet on the Spirit Tables embodies what this project is all about.”

“The majesty of the landscape and wildlife here continues to catch me off guard and it’s all helping me put the final touches to the concept for Commensalis.”

Michael Visocchi, “Commensalis” creator

Meanwhile, in Grytviken, Michael Visocchi and Stewart Gardner of WSP, the company responsible for transporting and installing the tables, are in the process of making necessary surveys and dealing with logistics issues with the authorities there. “I’m so very thrilled to be back on South Georgia. The sights and colours and sounds have never really left my mind since my first visit,” he says enthusiastically. “The majesty of the landscape and wildlife here continues to catch me off guard and it’s all helping me put the final touches to the concept for Commensalis.”

The steel rivets will have three different sizes and will be fixed on the total of seven tables. Interested sponsors can choose from the different sizes, and the amounts to be paid are fixed. This is because they represent different aspects in the biology of cetaceans. For example, the 33 British pounds for a small steel rivet represents the 33-minute songs of a humpback whale. The largest steel rivet can be sponsored for 199 British pounds and represents the weight of the largest blue whale ever measured, which had been processed on South Georgia. According to the SGHT, 10 percent of each contribution will go directly to whale research on whale populations in the region, which is currently focused on the effects of climate change, which is also greatly affecting South Georgia.

All steel rivets are then attached to the tables in specific arrangements, with one table for each cetacean species processed on South Georgia and the rivet arrangement representing a specific aspect of the cetacean species’ biology. These tables will then be placed on the former flens plain of Grytviken, labeled with species information, and a large hole in the table surface will represent the whales killed compared to the total population. On the seventh table, the whales killed are shown in their proportions as a so-called “Nightingale graph”. “This form of representation was developed by Florence Nightingale to be able to count the fallen soldiers of all sides during the Crimean War,” explains Michael Visocchi. His project was selected from over 150 other submissions in November 2020.

“Art is a really powerful way to get a complex message across and get people interested and involved in conservation.”

Alison Neil, CEO South Georgia Heritage Trust

Because his art installation is designed to remain on South Georgia for a long time, this gives sponsors the opportunity to leave a lasting imprint on the island, but one that stands for the environment and marine mammal conservation. “Art is a really powerful way to get a complex message across and get people interested and involved in conservation,” Alison Neil believes. For Grytviken, the installation will be another impressive contribution to how man can negatively influence nature on the one hand, and on the other hand also help a paradise to find its way back to its origins.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

Link to the sponsoring website of the SGHT

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