Tuesday, 4 June 2013

the sea, the sea

Today was a beautiful day, and I spent it happily pulling weeds out of the gravel in the front garden, feeling faintly smug as people complained to the Classic FM request programme that they were stuck in the office when they'd much rather be outside.  However, there is only so much you can say about creeping sorrel and different kinds of weed grass, and I have already said much of it, at length.  Happy days in the garden can be like good holidays where nothing goes wrong, satisfying for the participants but lacking drama in the retelling.

Instead, I am going to grumble about an exhibition I haven't even been to.  I read about in on The Guardian website: Seeing Stars: the astonishing art of space photography.  Space photography is probably jolly interesting, so you might ask what's not to like, until I tell you the next part of the headline: a new display at London's National Maritime Museum.  Maritime Museum.  The clue's in the name.  There is not a great deal maritime in space.  Really none at all.  This follows on from their exhibition of the landscape photography of Anselm Adams, which I didn't go to either.  The article I read about that was illustrated with a fine photograph of a torrent tumbling down an American mountain, a perfectly good photo with bugger all to do with the sea.  Or ships.  Or Britain.

Early last year the Systems Administrator and I found ourselves sitting at a supper party next to someone who turned out to be a previous curator of the National Maritime Museum.  The SA lamented that the museum's superb collection of ship models had been taken off display, so that there were now more to be seen in the Science Museum than the Maritime one.  The former curator explained that the problem was that the SA was a shippie.  Most people nowadays aren't that interested in ships, or the sea, so the museum has felt the need to move into more popular fields. Like space.  And American landscape photography.  And climate change.

The inaugural display next year at the new exhibition space at the British Museum, which I certainly plan to go to, is about Vikings, its star exhibit a gigantic Viking ship.  The new Mary Rose museum at Portsmouth has got mentions at both ends of the Radio 4 news schedule, featuring on the Today Programme and PM.  Nobody, except the National Maritime Museum, appears to believe that the people of the UK are no longer interested in maritime stories, or cannot be made to be interested if the story is well told.

Just off the top of my head here are a few ideas.  Team GB did rather well in the Olympics sailing events last year, so how about an exhibition on the world of international racing.  I'm sure they could rig up some interactive exhibits for the children to climb about on.  Pieces of wreckage from the Japanese tsunami have been washing up in North America, while the fate of a container load of plastic bath toys lost in a storm has been researched and written up in Moby Duck: the true story of 28,000 bath toys lost at sea.  There is plenty to explain to the public about ocean currents, complete with gruesome and comic examples, and they could even bung in a bit of moralising about the interconnectedness of continents and speculation about the role of ocean currents in climate change while they were at it.  International conservation organisations have been waging a heroic campaign to persuade fisherman to change their working practices so as not to drown albatrosses in their lines, with some success.  There is piracy off the coast of Somalia.  Redundant ships are being tied up to rot: I saw a superb video installation about that somewhere, while breakers yards in developing world countries fail to provide their workers, including children, with proper safety equipment.  CO2 dissolving in the world's oceans is making them more acidic, threatening the future of  marine organisms whose calcium based shells are starting to dissolve.  Tiny plastic granules that are the end product of waste plastic degrading over time in the sea are being ingested by maritime creatures, which are in turn eaten by bigger ones, and eventually by us, all with unknown biological consequences.  There is an enormous island of floating plastic in the Pacific. New technologies are being developed and the appearance of the UK's coastal waters altered as wind farms spring up.

Then there's history, of course.  The British seem to like history, or at least the British Museum packs them in to learn about Shakespeare's London, the story of the pilgrimage to Mecca, and mankind's relationship through the centuries with the horse.  Unless you believe that your average UK museum visitor wakes up in the morning with a natural, unslaked curiosity about the Hajj but an innate antipathy to the sea.  Britain's position as an island, and the role this has played in our foreign wars and our defences, from the Norman invasion to the Falklands, would be enough to occupy any museum for the next couple of decades.  As a change they could also look at fishing, coastal trading, the East India company, the slave trade, whaling, voyages of exploration, the rise and fall of the seaside resort, coastal defences, maritime art.  Piers.  The sea in literature.  The history and work of the RNLI.  The struggle to build the first lighthouses, and the last lighthouse keeper following automation and GPS for ships.  Lightships.  The history and work of Trinity House. Smuggling.  Wrecking.  Mermaids.  Sea caves.

Honestly, there's plenty to say about the sea.  We are an island nation.  It would be nice to see the maritime world being given its museum back.

No comments:

Post a Comment