Maritime Art Week – Simon Patterson’s "The Undersea World and Other Stories"

Since there are some cool contemporary maritime influenced art projects currently on exhibit across the globe, we’ve declared this Maritime Art Week. Here’s a peak at a another.

Simon Patterson is a British artist that is probably best known for his work The Great Bear, a London Underground map in which the names of the stations have been replaced with those of philosophers, film stars, assorted celebrities, artists and even saints. In 1996, Patterson was shortlisted for the Tate Britain’s prestigious Turner Prize.

Simon Patterson The Great Bear

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England has a program called New Visions – Contemporary Art at The National Maritime Museum in which “the Museum commissions British and international artists to explore themes that illustrate the significance of the sea, time and stars to an ever-changing audience.” Patterson currently has a show there entitled The Undersea World and Other Stories. From the museum’s website:

The Undersea World and Other Stories investigates Simon Patterson’s consistent explorations of the sea, stars and time – themes central to the collections and research at the National Maritime Museum (NMM). The Museum unpacks the material cultures that result from human attempts to find their place in the world, be it mapping the skies above, the ocean depths below, or seeking relationships across time and space. (more)

Simon Patterson Cousteau

Patterson takes inspiration from the famous French undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau who in the 1960’s and 1970’s hosted the very popular TV show The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. Hence the title of the exhibition.

The Undersea World and Other Stories presents an anthology of Patterson’s works alongside a new commission Cousteau in the Underworld which takes as its first layer mid-19th-century Admiralty charts of the eastern Mediterranean and Aegean where the sea is necessarily represented through its limits: soundings show the depth to its bottom; rocky outcrops and sandbanks mark where its surface is interrupted; details of landmasses, such as coastlines and buildings seen from seaward, its edges. Into these empirical documents Patterson folds Greek mythology – a belief system in which the adventures of gods and goddesses were used to interpret existence and conduct.

Not content with setting these two descriptive structures in mutual confrontation, Patterson further complicates the matter by drawing the figure of the French oceanaut Jacques-Yves Cousteau into his network. The pioneering scientist’s long-running television series The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, first screened in 1966, turned the TV set into a porthole through which world-wide audience could explore the deep, aided by the crew of his ship, Calypso. Naming is an act that concerns Patterson: Cousteau’s ship adopts that of a nymph from Greek mythology, which in translation means ‘I will conceal’, quite the opposite of Cousteau’s mission.

Here are some of Patterson’s earlier works.

Monkey Business 1993

Simon Patterson Monkey Business

Untitled (Sails) 1996

Simon Patterson Untitled (Sails)

From the Ikon exhibition guide for the show High Noon:

This work plays upon the viewer’s knowledge of two diverse subjects ­ sailing and literature. The names are those of famous authors  Sterne wrote ground-breaking novels, Bell was the pseudonym of Charlotte Brontë and Chandler wrote crime fiction. However, each name has an additional association related to sailing and shipping ­ the stern is the rear of the boat, the bell is used as
a traditional nautical signal and a ship’s chandler provides necessary supplies. The numbers become less obscure through the realisation that they relate to the authors’ birth and death dates. The information on the sails is presented as formal yacht identification markings ­ highlighting Patterson’s obsession with systems. The work evokes ideas of escape and travel, as the artist invites the viewer on a voyage into a fictional world created by the three writers.

Simon Patterson is a smart conceptual artist interested in ideas and language, not pretty pictures. Lucky for us, his works have been heavily influenced by maritime history, heritage and culture.

The Undersea World and Other Stories is on exhibit until October 26, 2008. General information about the National Maritime Museum, a must see for anyone interested in all things maritime.

TimesOnline (UK) Review (April 30, 2008 )

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Peter A. Mello

Husband, father, son. Lifelong mariner, student of leadership, photographer. Professional creative placemaker.

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