Dead Reckoning : William Bligh

Museum of Garden History, London

1 February - 1 April 2005


David Cotterrell

David Cotterrell Latitude 2005
panoramic video projection





A temporary exhibition mounted in conjunction with the 250th anniversary of the birth of Captain William Bligh, who is buried in the Museum of Garden History's grounds and was a local resident in North Lambeth, Dead Reckoning linked visual art practice, historical research and museological display with critical, investigative writing and curatorial practice.

Continuing Parabola and the Museum of Garden History's dedication to producing multi disciplinary displays, publications and contemporary art commissions, the exhibition aimed to explore both the fact and fantasy surrounding Bligh's life. Artist David Cotterrell constructed a 'simulation' of Bligh's historic 5,800km open boat journey taken in the HMS Bounty's lifeboat. Directly informed by the anecdotal and navigational notes taken from Bligh's log, Cotterrell's panoramic first-person view, not unlike a flight simulator, charts the shifting horizon witnessed by Bligh and his companions on their travels. This work formed the visual focal point of the exhibition. Displayed on a recently developed prismatic screen material that enables the viewer to see projections in full daylight, the installation allowed visitors to experience an immersive space merging with the several separate elements of the entirety of the exhibition.

Local Historian Jon Newman researched and developed a core text relating Bligh's unique story for this exhibition. This writing was developed for display alongside relevant archival images taken from collections at the Museum, the Minet Library, the RHS Lindley Library, the National Maritime Museum, London and the Mitchell Library, New South Wales, Australia. As well, some unusual artefacts complemented the projection, images and text. These included XVIIIc. nautical instruments from HQS Wellington, a rare English comic book detailing the Mutiny on the Bounty and an early edition of The Island by Lord Byron, the first romantic adaptation of the event, which added to the debate between historical fact and myth making.

Two small publications were produced to further enrich the exhibition. One fully documents the exhibition, including the entirety of Newman's text, images of ephemera and artefacts and documentation of Cotterrell's artwork. The second booklet was a re-print of a text owned by the Museum, Beloved, Respected and Lamented, by JE Chandler.

An Education and Outreach programme targeting local residents, schools and senior citizens helped to invigorate interest in the exhibition for local people. Working with Blackfriars Settlement and a number of local primary and secondary schools including the London Nautical School, Parabola and the Museum of Garden History saw this proposed display as a turning point for the Museum's Local Heritage programming. The first in a series of Local Heritage temporary exhibitions, this display inaugurated the Museum's permanent Local Heritage display.


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