Hew Locke on his major new intervention, The Tourists, at HMS Belfast and his exhibition on naval power at the IWM
"I did a painting myself of HMS Belfast in 2012. I felt it was something that people walk past every day but don't really look at it, or think about its history.
My painting touched on the Korean War and the current North-South Korean tensions, as well as childhood memories reading American Korean cold-war comics. The IWM curator saw this painting at Hales Gallery and got in touch.
Researching the history of the ship, I saw that it visited the Caribbean in the 1962, stopping at Trinidad on its final voyage.
I was also intrigued on a visit by the striking mannequins on board the ship, demonstrating how sailors lived and worked in the various cabins and spaces, such as the dentist, DJ, bakers and others.
I have imagined a fantasy narrative where the sailors are preparing to take part in the Trinidad Carnival, and I am using costume, masking and props to create an installation which will touch on issues of history and mortality. Not just about the lives and the purpose of the crew, but also about their effects on people and places they interact with.
The title The Tourists is ironic – this is not a cruise ship and they are not tourists. Why have they arrived at the islands? By invitation? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
Ships such as these have been sent by different countries to parts of the globe where there is conflict or change, as a symbol of power – both physical power and diplomatic power.
It is muscle flexing. It is flying the flag. This was true from the time of the Age of Discovery to the Gulf Wars and beyond.
It is linked to my installation at HMS Belfast – it has a naval flavour. Apart from the painting of HMS Belfast, and a sculptural piece of a battleship, I also will be showing work touching on the role of sea power in trade and commerce.
My work just fits naturally with this venue and within its collection, which I hope it comments on. The new work I am making for the show has just grown naturally out of my on-going artistic practice.
For the HMS Belfast, I want people to think more deeply about its history, but creating a fresh take on the whole thing, using a fantasy to explore facts and also to prompt questions about the purpose of vessels like these – the necessity of these machines, and the consequences of their activities
I want them to notice the ship again. Like many London monuments, it has become so familiar to residents, that many no longer really notice it or think about it. Monuments can be so visible that they are invisible.
This is a two-part show – visiting one of my shows will be complemented by visiting the other. Ideally I would also like my show at IWM to be viewed after looking around other areas of the museum.
One of the values of museums is that by looking at information about the past, it helps us to think, or ask pertinent and new questions about our present and our future – both as individuals and as a community.
Conflict is a major part of all our histories, so of course artists will tackle it. Each individual artist may have very different reasons for making work around conflict.
One artist may glorify it and the next artist may do the opposite. It’s not just artists who are fascinated – most people are, as demonstrated by the popularity of war films, books and games. Artists are no different.
It is a different way of looking at it, alongside writing, film, TV etc. It can look where the camera is not pointing. I am an artist, not a writer or film-maker, and so these are the tools I have to explore this area.
I've visited several times over the years. I've always been interested in working with them, so it great that it is happening now.
I find the museum an interesting and complex place, thoughtful and not jingoistic. In my work I have an ongoing interest in militaria, and in current and historical visual representations of power. So we are a perfect fit.”
- You can see The Tourists by Hew Locke at HMS Belfast, London from March 26 - September 7 2015. Visit IWM Contemporary: Hew Locke at IWM London until May 4.
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