Text by Angela Darby
Of the many urban myths surrounding the Titanic’s legacy one predominant legend describes how Protestant dock workers in Belfast chalked the letters NPH (“No Pope Here”) on the ship’s bow thus dooming its maiden voyage. Another tale includes a curse of destruction from an Ancient Egyptian mummy named Amen-Ra whose body was on board in the hold. With the Titanic centenary celebrations predictably focusing on the standard facts the curator of Titanic Toast Peter Richards, Director of The GT Gallery, challenged invited artists Sara Greavu and Phil Hession to “explore alternative narratives and the question of how we remember.”
Sara Greavu addresses the tradition of myth-making through the power of the spoken word. In a collaborative production with Abby Oliveire from Derry based collective Poetry Chicks the viewer is presented with a large format video projection entitled Apocalips Lil and the Night to Remember. Traditionally in African-American communities to perform a Toast is to energetically narrate the tale of an heroic event and this oral artform has been considered the precursor to Rap. Referencing an original Toast, Shine and the Titanic, Oliveire is pictured narrating the stirring tale of a boiler stocker on board the Titanic and how his warnings of the disaster were disregarded due to his lowly social position. At one point the video image disappears (perhaps intentionally or due a technical fault) leaving the viewer in an eerily darkened space listening to the poignant resonance of Oliveire’s recitation. In an adjoining gallery Greavu presents three stunning collages that re-imagine what would have become of the Titanic if its maiden voyage had been uneventful. As many liners were commandeered by the navy during World War I and World War II Greavu has rendered the Titanic in bright geometric forms of orange, red and yellow hues. This battleship camouflage or dazzle was used by the military to confuse the enemy with its busy geometric composition making it hard to decipher the bow from the stern. At the adjacent wall Greavu has repeated the dazzle camouflage but on a larger scale creating an intense visual experience. In this room in particular we are reminded of The Titanic’s battle with the sea, the harsh frozen elements, it’s sinking, the survivors and the fatalities.
Taking a documentary approach, Phil Hession’s video installation Sing Along, If You Can attempts to analyse certain aspects of the Titanic’s original purpose. The artist spent eight days on board a trans-Atlantic cruise liner and by physically experiencing this form of transport Hession places himself within the context of the passengers. By keeping a visual diary of his time on board we experience the journey from the artist’s perspective. The recorded conversations that ensued with the cabin crew and fellow travellers range from discussions on safety, evacuation procedures and the reasons one chooses to participate in a voyage of this nature in the first place. Hessian skilfully captures the inherent oddness when strangers are placed in close proximity by chance.
Both artists have employed thought provoking and engaging methods to approach this overexposed subject and in doing so they manage to reinvigorate elements of the Titanic’s legacy.
Sara Greavu & Phil Hession: Titanic Toast, The Golden Thread Gallery, 84 – 94 Great Patrick Street, Belfast, BT1 2LU. www.goldenthreadgallery.co.uk
Phil Hession Sing Along, If You Can
Courtesy the artist