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A whale of a summer

Visual arts professor captures N.L. blue whales in a new light at Royal Ontario Museum

A mini-special feature highlighting the research and support work Memorial’s faculty and staff members conduct during the summer months.

By Pamela Gill

The blue whales that washed up on the shores of Bonne Bay in 2014 will be immortalized in a series of works by Grenfell Campus visual arts faculty member Marc Losier.

Prof. Losier, who specializes in photography, installation and open practice, says he will apply a new body of artwork using a variety of photographic techniques to represent the story of the Bonne Bay blues. Some of the techniques he will be using include digital projector mapping and photo-montage with cyanotype prints made from large format film.

Partnering with the ROM

As part of the response to the whale deaths, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) travelled to Newfoundland and Labrador to help process the remains of the two whales that had beached and died on Newfoundland’s west coast.

One of the beached blue whales in Bonne Bay in 2014.
Photo: Submitted

The genesis of Prof. Losier’s photography project stems from his frequent inspiration from humans’ relationship to collections and archives, he says.

“In this case I was intrigued by the long and storied history of whaling in Newfoundland and Labrador for industrial purposes and how the ROM’s work for their collections in Bonne Bay demonstrates the evolution of whales as a cultural resource.”

Prof. Losier says in addition to telling the stories of the whales, his exhibit will speak on a broader basis about ocean economies and tourism, as well as environmental precarity.

Institutional co-operation

During the summer of 2017 in Toronto, Prof. Losier met with Mark Engstrom, the ROM’s senior curator and deputy director of collections and research. Engstrom was instrumental in helping Prof. Losier gain access to the whales during the processing period for photography purposes and has been a huge supporter of the project.

“Mark speaks very fondly of the ROM’s experience in Bonne Bay, and has been very generous with me in speaking about the events there, but also more broadly about the current state of the oceans and the impact that climate change is having on them,” he said.

One of the two blue whale skeletons assembled and on display at the Royal Ontario Museum.
Photo: Submitted

Summer focus

This summer, Prof. Losier is photographing the whales in Trenton, Ont., where they are being housed in a facility owned by Research Casting International (RCI).

RCI specializes in the harvesting and processing of animal specimens for museological displays. They are also a storage facility for museums around the world. Prof. Losier says Peter May, founder of RCI, helped him immeasurably with access on site at the facility.

RCI offered Prof. Losier access to document and photograph their space and the whale skeletons being held there, as well as interview members of their team about their experience during the whale beachings.

He says they talked about the intense smell of the whales in Bonne Bay and how they had decomposed even more inside the shipping containers on their way to Trenton, their collaboration with members of the local Bonne Bay community in processing the whales and the technical aspects of the work they did in terms of casting, welding, moulds, transport, storage of the whale carcasses.

The bones of the ROM’s blue whale during processing in Trenton, Ont.
Photo: Submitted

“We also discussed the nature of the whales’ deaths — how warmer waters drove them into the northern part of the Gulf of St. Lawrence where they were either struck by cargo ships or drowned under sea ice in search of food in colder waters,” he said.

“The project’s working title is Narratives of Loss, which alludes to the ambiguity around the deaths of so many whales in recent years, and how various communities are approaching this loss.”

Once Prof. Losier has completed the process of developing the work and image editing, it will be displayed on his website, with the intent of exhibiting the entire project at a public gallery at a later date.

As for the blues, one will remain in the ROM’s collections; the other will be sent to Memorial’s St. John’s campus for future display.

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