The Boat is an ongoing project based at the Old Low Light heritage and cultural centre on North Shields Fish Quay on the River Tyne. I helped to design the exhibition unit, which consists of a large cabinet of curiosities, display screens and plinths and audio-visual facilities, and I have been curating a program of installations by five different artists which will run until September 2017.
I put together the inaugural exhibition (see Tidelines) and I am now working on the final exhibition called Sub-Marine to close the program. You can find out more about the project and the artist’s responses at The Boat website.
As I have discovered whilst carrying out research for the Boat Curves exhibition at the Customs House Gallery in South Shields, submarines were built on the Tyne during World War One and Two, and there was an important submarine base at Blyth, a little further up the Northumberland coast. My exhibition will highlight this forgotten history and also touch upon more recent deep sea exploration.
I have been visiting the Royal Navy Submarine Museum on the south coast at Gosport to follow up one or two leads and to spend time filming and photographing the interior of HMS Alliance. The boat is the only surviving Second World War British submarine, built in 1945 but not launched until 1947, she was converted for Cold War use in 1958. Alliance remained in service until 1974 after which she was put on display at the museum. Following extensive conservation and renovation the sub has only recently been reopened to the public.
I was given exclusive access to the submarine and spent a fascinating couple of hours exploring the intricacies of this incredible machine. Space is very restricted and it is difficult to comprehend how a crew of seventy men could operate in such an environment. The mechanics is baffling in its complexity, a hard, raw, oppressive fact of steel, brass and cable, but the human presence is all pervading and very moving. People lived, fought and died in these metal pipes, no bigger than the inside of a London tube carriage, sunk in fathom depths of a lethal, alien environment. This human story is sensitively told through the careful placement of personal objects and artefacts throughout the boat – crumpled bedding, discarded hats, half-eaten dinners, Old Spice deodorant, Titbits pinups.
I intend to use this material in the production of a number of pieces for the exhibition.