3 November – 1 December 2013 | 17 November – 15 December 2014
The Scrimshaw Project began with the idea of learning the ancient and waning art form of incising imagery into whale teeth.1 The journey to learn the skills and stories of those still connected to this practice involved working with scrimshanders, divers, marine biologists, the families of whalers and the residents of the coastal town of Albany, home of the last commercial whaling station in Australia. The oral history gained from the community provided the artists with a narrative starting point for two new works. The first is a series of scrimshawed teeth, produced by Nazzari, illustrating the imaginary afterlife of a whale through supernatural visitations, phantom body parts and trance-like forces. This spectral motif is echoed in the artists’ second work, Cetaphobia, a short film exploring a supernatural encounter with a whale.
Set in the coastal town of Albany, Cetaphobia is a ghost story that traces the haunting and ultimate misfortune of a married couple troubled by a whale spirit. The obscure and ambiguous spirit is an unsettling remnant of the port city’s once viable whaling industry. Its presence is awakened after the wife, who is a scrimshander, starts inscribing the only remaining evidence of its life: a tooth. This action unleashes a dark and cetaceous force that possesses the scrimshander and her husband and draws them back to the site of the Cheynes II, the sunken wreck of the whale chaser, where they are eventually overcome by a disconcerting and unknowable horror.
Erin Coates & Anna Nazzari, Cetaphobia, 2015, film still, single channel HD video with stereo sound. Image courtesy and © the artists; Anna Nazzari, The Burial Grounds, 2014, scrimshaw on sperm whale tooth, 14 x 9 x 2.5 cm. Image courtesy and © the artist; Anna Nazzari, The Phantom Leg, 2015, scrimshaw on sperm whale tooth, 16 x 8.5 x 2.9 cm. Image courtesy and © the artist; Anna Nazzari, Milk, 2015, scrimshaw on sperm whale tooth, 16.5 x 5.5 x 3 cm. Image courtesy and © the artist; Anna Nazzari, The Séance, 2014, scrimshaw on sperm whale tooth, 19 x 7 x 3 cm. Image courtesy and © the artist; Erin Coates & Anna Nazzari, The Scrimshaw Project, 2014-15, installation view, spaced 2: future recall, Western Australian Museum Perth. Photo: Robert Frith – Acorn Photography.