Volunteer, Julie Corbett visited Mark Copeland's 21 Remarkable People, during this year's Freedom Festival.
During the Freedom Festival 2021, Tom Goulder (volunteer manager for the maritime project) invited me the to see Mark Copeland’s 21 Remarkable People. And several others of passing interest. It showed in the Maritime Museum reinvented as a ‘pop up gallery.’
Anyone familiar with the museum will know that the main public entrance is not step-free. It was still surprising (to me) that the information on my ticket made it clear that the performance included ‘negotiating steep slopes making it unsuitable for any person using a wheelchair.’ This issue around access is a feature with re-purposed buildings such as the Maritime Museum. This has meant that some people have not been able to enjoy this delightful building, the collections and any other activities happening within it.
Hull’s Maritime Museum housed in the old Dock Offices opened in 1871 as Hull’s Dock Offices. Since 1974 it has been home to Hull’s maritime museum. It is a Grade 2 listed building from whose windows you would have seen ships sail past between the town centre’s docks.
Work has begun to address the physical access issues and you can read more about them here. The work incudes installing new steps and access ramp at the front of the building.
As I took photographs to document the performance of the show, I noticed the multi-layered history of this magnificent Victorian building.
I love to see how upgrades and refinements have been gaffer taped, screwed, or fixed in through the years. It is an untidy timeline of charm. I can see a whole series of workers sucking through their teeth and remarking on the overall quality of the workmanship before they update, alter, or fix something.
Happily, the new improvements will be co-ordinated and whilst this may diminish a little of the DIY quaintness it will be better aesthetically. It will also be easier to maintain, and all the public-facing interior will again live up to the architecture of the grand exterior.
As I walked round the pop-up gallery you could see where frames or structures had previously been. An information board and the original museum objects still on the walls had incorporated into the show. I found this fascinating. Being able to glimpse the recent past in these ghost signs. It is a palimpsest. A canvas re-used, and over-written. A museum as recycling centre. Items once owned by others are re-purposed as historical things. These re-made curios, historical artefacts, and precious relics are stories that we add to by visiting the museum and talking about the experiences we have here.
The placements of items for the show worked so well. There was serendipity for those who knew the museum well for others it must have been that strange mix of playfulness. Mark Copeland’s show is a mix of family history and anecdote mixed in a concoction of fantasy and extravagance.
How many of the audience noticed that they were walking on the carpet in shape of the Right Whale skeleton. You can read and see photographs of its removal for conservation here. You can also see the access difficulties around the ground floor of the museum as it is now.
I particularly enjoyed trying to recall what had been in the display cabinets. In the cabinet below were three plaster casts, the heads of Captain John Parker, and two Inuit, Memiadluk and Uckaluk.
In 1897 Captain Parker brought these two young people aboard the whaler Truelove. He wanted to highlight the plight of the indigenous people of Greenland by doing a touring series of lectures in which these two people featured. In the Spring of 1849 Memiadluk and Uckaluk began their return journey home. On the voyage the ship stopped in Orkney, where Uckaluk contracted Measles and died shortly afterwards.
Whilst the museum is not open to the public you can walk down to the River Hull, to near the surge tidal barrier and located on top of the fendering on the west bank of the River Hull is a work by the sculptor Stefan Gec.
Here is the sculpture ‘Truelove’, metal casts of the plaster casts made of Memiadluk and Uckaluk.
Today it is difficult to imagine what these two young people thought about their experience as living exhibits. We do have these records of the visit and can reflect on how valuable tangible items from the past are and how we can see, learn, and talk about them.
Being both an audience to Mark Copeland’s 21 Remarkable People and visiting as a volunteer to document the museum before it is hand over to the contractors who are refurbishing the space was a disorientating experience. It was positive to see the ambition of the whole maritime project but sad to think the museum is very much my personal past now. I wonder how much I will blend my memories and stories when I re-visit the museum again.