Pilot Whale Takes Flight at Stanage

© Charlotte King

"Can you help me hang a whale from Stanage?", asked Dave. "Of course", I replied, "I love hanging whales and I can't think of anywhere better than Stanage to hang one." A couple of weeks later a group of around 10 of us, armed with ladders, birch tree tripods and loads of old ropes, were assembled at Stanage to hang Dave Clay's whale from Flying Buttress.

Pilot Whale at Stanage while Alan James takes on Goodbye Toulouse.  © Charlotte King
Pilot Whale at Stanage while Alan James takes on Goodbye Toulouse.

The specimen is a long-finned pilot whale that Dave had found on South Uist in 2018. It was recently dead and very smelly, so he took it home and buried it in his garden for two years in order for it to properly decompose. Although the most important sections of the skeleton were present, there were some parts missing and Dave made up 56 small bones of the left pectoral fin with wood filler and fibreglass. The teeth were missing, as were many of the smaller bones, so it took time to fashion artificial ones and slowly piece the skeleton together using stainless steel rebar and wire.

While putting the skeleton together, Dave had the idea to do some installations. "There was no particular message or agenda other than simply hoping that people would stop and wonder," he says. "Without stating it, I did hope that it may suggest 'resurrection' and some thoughts of our own mortality as well as educate a little about the biology of whales and how, like all living things, we are connected at various points in the history of life through shared common ancestors."

Pilot Whale at Stanage.  © Charlotte King
Pilot Whale at Stanage.

I asked Dave to write something about the whale.

For a large part of 2020, it seemed as if life was suspended. Quiet blanketed the country, COVID-19 wreaked death and imprisoned the living.

Why the whale, stripped of muscle and sinews, floating on God's outcrop.

'Take care as you pad up the slab'. Sand morphed into this, 350 million years ago whilst our ancestors floated above. An armada of distant relatives solved life's problems and evolved into myriad forms.

Some with pentadactyl limbs, useful to haul from pool to pool and much later, in others, to grip and hold the lip….'Is that cam good?'

The umbilical cord brings comfort and links generations.

Over the roof now, open-jawed elation, a shared history. Something special.

The whale is gone, something of the past, a message of reckoning perhaps, or a symbol of resurrection.

Somewhere, during the life-time of Stanage, we shared an ancestor.

A reminder of our mortality and how exciting it is to be alive.

- Dave Clay

This was the third of five installations Dave has done. The first was a complex one from Blonk Street Bridge over the River Don. Then followed one in Endcliffe Park before the trip up to Stanage. A couple more followed in Meersbrook Park and Weston Park.

"During this COVID-19 crisis, all sorts of thoughts have been going through people's minds. The installations had no political agenda or particular meaning but hopefully they made people pause and reflect and simply share in something fabulous," Dave says.

The Making Of Video...

Thanks to Dominic Green for the video.

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2 Dec, 2020

Brilliant! Would have loved to have seen this 'in the flesh' so to speak

2 Dec, 2020

Bloody topropers ...

2 Dec, 2020

I know it's art, but I'm still not sure what the porpoise of this was.

When we set it up we were worried about social distancing but it was soon pointed out that the rules were different for Whales.

I'll get my coat.


2 Dec, 2020

Next on his tick-list is Right Unconquerable, as there's a move at the top of that with his name on it.

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