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The Great Greenwich Whale

Event preview

THOUSANDS turned out to see the whale that swam up to Vauxhall Bridge in 2006 – now a real life-sized art installation of a 17m sperm whale will come to Royal Greenwich as part of GDIF2013 (Greenwich + Docklands International Festival), a nine day festival of outdoor performing arts (June 21 to June 29, 2013).

The whale, attended by a cast of scientists and rescue teams will be beached from 1pm to 5pm on Thursday, June 20 on the Thames at the Cutty Sark.

The whale will then be moved by crane to the lawns of the Royal Naval College for the weekend, where it will be part of Greenwich Fair, a weekend event of free outdoor performances and events at the opening of GDIF2013.

Londoners can see this vast creature and celebrate the wonder of whales, sea creatures and the sea without harm to a real whale. This magnificent installation comes from the Belgian artists Captain Boomer Collective in collaboration with Zephyr Wildlife Reconstruction.

The beaching captures our fascination and long relationship with the “otherness” of the sea. In the 18th Century, Greenwich was the centre of the London whaling industry. A base for whaling fleets, the street lamps and houses were lit by whale oil, the cables for whaling were made in Greenwich and whale oil was used in the local wool industry. In 2010, the skeleton of a 12m whale was uncovered after 200 years under the river mud at Greenwich.

Developed by GDIF in partnership with the Royal Borough of Greenwich and GLL, the event will be chronicled by libraries writer in residence, Lemn Sissay. Sissay was the official poet of the 2012 Olympics and in 2010 received an MBE from the Queen for Services to Literature. Working with local people, he will create a “backstory” to the beaching and the installation, drawing on Greenwich’s rich literary and historic association with whaling and giving it a contemporary edge. Lemn will be onsite in a mobile library van.

The event is in partnership with British Divers Marine Association who work in the Thames rescuing animals and preserving its environment. Alan Knight OBE, British Divers Marine Life Rescue, said:

“Over the last few year we have been seeing more and more Whales and Dolphins around the coast of the British Isles. The beaching of this model sperm whale at Greenwich is something that could happen. If this was happening for real we would do all in our power to avoid a whale of this type and size stranding by using a flotilla of boat to gently coax the whale out of the river”.

This event will epitomise the GDIF approach which, led by Artistic Director Bradley Hemmings, features fantastic arts events created with international and UK artists that entertain, provoke and amaze whilst telling a story – in this case the story of whales, conservation, Greenwich and The Thames.

For full Festival programme visit www.festival.org/.