Artist Claire Morgan explores Hull’s links with the sea in new installation

Look up when your next in Princes Quay and you’ll see a striking, large-scale artwork modelled on the Greenland Right Whale.  

The whale, otherwise known as the Bowhead Whale, is suspended in the central atrium of Hull’s Princes Quay shopping centre, as part of the UK City of Culture 2017’s Look Up programme of public art. 

Artist Claire Morgan has created the new artwork, named Elephant in the Room, which highlights Hull’s relationship with the sea and reflects on the environment and sustainability. Created over several days in full view of shoppers visiting Princes Quay, the artwork is now completed for all to see. 

From the beginning of its installation on 31 July, people passing through the shopping centre saw over 12,000 fragments of paper and 4,270 individual threads come together to create the form of a life-size whale. Elephant in the Room measures 16.5m x 5m x 3m, drawing on its sense of place whilst massively altering the public space. The visible labour involved directly touches on the notion of human ambition and endeavour. 

Claire Morgan’s installations have been seen all over the world. Exploring links from nature to industry to morality, she often draws together conflicting elements to explore how they interact. 

She was fascinated by the significance of the whaling industry in Hull. Our city was a major whaling port, with trade peaking around the 1820s, and accounting for around 40% of the British whaling industry at that time. 

In 1869, the last remaining whaling vessel sailing from Hull was wrecked on its journey home, after which the industry moved to Scotland. In the 1970s public attitudes towards whales and whaling began to change, and cheaper alternatives were also being found for whale products. In 1982, commercial whaling was halted. 

But while most countries now no longer kill whales through hunting, in recent times many whales have washed up dead on beaches in the UK and other European countries with stomachs full of plastic waste. Whaling may have been (almost) stopped for good, but our actions continue to have a devastating impact on marine life. 

Claire Morgan said, “Elephant in the Room is a direct, specific response to its location. It’s also a response to Hull’s past, particularly its maritime history, and how that history might fit into our contemporary world. “With my installations, I hope to create things that provoke thought, wonder and something of the impossible or the unknown.  

“I tend to draw a lot of different, often conflicting things together: nature and our difficult relationship with the rest of the living world, contemporary life, industry, popular culture, mortality, and how these things are intertwined.  

Elephant in the Room is a direct, specific response to its location. It’s also a response to Hull’s past, particularly its maritime history, and how that history might fit into our contemporary world.

Claire’s other recent site specific work includes Murmurations at 111 Buckingham Palace Road; Undercurrent and Coming Up For Air, Oncologisch Centrum Spaarne Ziekenhuis NL; Enchanted Parks, Saltwell Park, Gateshead; To Woo You, Town Hall Hotel, London; and Canopy The Big Chill Festival 2009. 

Sam Hunt, Executive Producer at Hull 2017, says: “Claire Morgan’s artwork Elephant in the Room offers a commentary on Hull’s maritime heritage and our consumerism. It will be fascinating to see how the public responds to it taking shape, as the artist completes the work, and the impact it has on what is a prominent landmark suspended over a historic site.” 

Sarah Smith, Marketing Manager at Princes Quay, says: “The City of Culture’s Look Up project has already had a huge impact on the city centre with thousands of additional visitors, so we hope that many more will come and visit the stunning installation within Princes Quay. Our unique central atrium will provide a striking space to suspend the 16 metre long sculpture which will hover above the heads of shoppers on the quayside level and there’ll be many more vantage points from around the centre. We’re thoroughly excited and privileged to be involved with the project and can’t wait to see it take shape.” 

Elephant In The Room by Claire Morgan runs until 15 October 2017 at Princes Quay Shopping Centre, Hull.