Commercial whale hunting was officially banned by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1987. The IWC permits indigenous groups to hunt whales for food, but not to sell on.
Despite the ban, commercial whale hunting has nevertheless persisted under the guise of “scientific permits” and other legal loop holes.
Named after the tonnage of whale sold in Japan each year, 5560 serves as both evidence for, and protest against, the legal loopholes that allow for the commercial hunting and commodification of whales.
This project comes from a place of understanding that whale meat plays a vital role in the function of certain societies. In the case of the Japanese, whale meat was formerly a staple of public school lunches. Although the importance of whale as a source of lunch meat has since declined into insignificance, the moral ambiguity of its persistence in the Japanese school lunch program lies beyond the scope of this project.
Other communities, particularly indigenous communities, rely on whale hunting as a staple of their diet and lifestyle. The whale populations that these communities depend on have already been significantly depleted by commercial whaling efforts, and now are being further threatened by climate change and pollution. Those that depend on these whale populations have suffered further through restrictions applied universally by whale conservation efforts.
As commercial whaling efforts continue, these communities will further suffer the effects of a depleted source population and ever more restrictive anti-whaling measures. Without the legal means to fight these restrictions, these disadvantaged communities will be further punished for the actions of those commercial efforts.
Thus, the presence of this can, an uncanny reminder that whale meat continues to be sold as a commodity, serves as an abhorrent representation of the injustice caused by commercial whaling. The cylindrical shape and powerful red vibrance of the can evokes the image of “emergency button”, emphasizing the pressing urgency of the cause. The title, presentation and appearance of the project are all geared to invite intrigue and thus open a dialogue about the issues at hand.
In Conservation Science, the term flagship is used to describe charismatic species whose pedomorphic, extreme, or otherwise remarkable features allow them to serve as figureheads representing a conservational cause. Pandas, chimpanzees, whales, and slow lorises all serve as popular flagship species. While these flagship species can inspire large donations towards a cause, they serve the equally important role of bringing awareness to threats against their environment as a whole.
With this project I intend to study the efficacy of art as flagship for conservation awareness. With the art object, there is the potential to represent not only the cause of a single species, but larger, more conceptual conservational topics. The can of whale meat, simultaneously representing the cause of whale conservation and the larger, more nebulous
issue of commoditization as a concept, brings awareness to the problematic issues surrounding commoditization of the natural world as a whole.
Ultimately, I hope to utilize this project to explore the potential for art to be a vehicle for conservation awareness, the art object as a representation of a flagship species, and the use of art as a flagship to open a dialogue in otherwise opaque ideology.