Seldom Seen – Collection
Peil Island Visitor Centre
The cabinet, designed by architect Charlie MacKeith, explores the island’s historic and present day achievements – from Britain’s first ridgid airship, seaplane flight and submarine, to the mass observation movement and nobel prize-winning research with seabirds through to present day nuclear submarine production and the largest off-shore wind farm in the world.
These achievements are set within a context featuring National Nature Reserves, conservation areas and RAMSAR sites supporting many rare species of flora and fauna from yellow-horned poppies and seals to natterjack toads, porpoise and basking sharks, bee orchids and the six spot burnet moths which populate the islands of Barrow.
Jo Ray led on assembling the Seldom Seen Collection: a Cabinet of Curiosities. The cabinet features a number of assemblages created by our collaborative team of associates with and alongside items on loan or donated by islanders, the wider Barrow community and visitors to the islands of Barrow. The cabinet was exhibited in the Seldom Seen Exhibition at Art Gene, before being permanently installed in the Ship Inn, Piel Island, Barrow-in-Furness.
Poet & Taxidermist
The gannet was found on the beach at Sandscale by Stuart Bastik who asked me if I could prepare it as a specimen for the Piel Island project. I hadn’t done any taxidermy for a couple of years and was a bit apprehensive but as soon as I saw her I wanted to do it. Before I started I decided to do a practice piece on a seagull I’d found near Asda and kept in my freezer. The bird wasn’t in very good condition when I found it but I managed and really enjoyed it. I began posing it on different exhibits collected for the cabinet, one of which was an orange hard hat found on a beach. I really liked the lovely curve of its backward arching body when I laid it over the hard-hat it reminded me of the winged helmets of mythology. Jo and I tried it on the black welder’s mask and suddenly we had a very Barrovian version of the winged helmets of myth and popular culture.
I began working on the gannet and found myself referring to it as Morag; there are a number of gannet colonies around Scotland so it seemed reasonable to think she may have come from there. The process of taking her apart was slow, interesting and surprising. The inside of her skin turned out to be a gorgeous golden mesh, her skull was incredibly strong and solid and her gullet was a broad and brilliantly constructed flexing corrugated tube. For me a creature is as beautiful when it’s dead as it is in life, more so in some ways, so I have no interest in making my specimens appear to be alive. I wanted Morag to pose rather like some celestial being because she has such magnificent wings and to bow her fantastic head as if she were bestowing something on the people who see her, which I think she is.
Images on this page all show various tableaux exploring the character and history of the islands of Barrow within the cabinet,
shown here whilst exhibited in the Seldom Seen Exhibition at Art Gene,
before being permanently installed in the Ship Inn, Piel Island, Barrow-in-Furness.