If the Bounty had reached Pitcairn Island, but the open boat with the drifting Captain and his remaining crew had been consumed by the ocean, the Bounty would have appeared as another anonymous naval loss. One of the countless unspecific tragedies, which were experienced by a dangerous profession. Perhaps rumours may have circulated years later as other wandering vessels encountered the descendants of the mutineers. Romantic stories may have been based on these accounts. It is unlikely that Bligh would have been remembered as anything more than an accomplished seaman with an interest in botany. Fletcher Christian may not have been known of at all. Bligh ensured his ambiguous place in history and that of his nemesis, through a single feat: his survival. Set adrift in Bounty's open launch, he and the rump of his crew failed to die of exposure, dehydration, starvation or drowning. All but one survived conflict with islanders or each other and amazingly they were not noticeably afflicted by madness. Through careful calculations and the generosity of the mutineers (in providing Bligh with all the necessary instruments of navigation), Bligh and his crew navigated 5,800 km through the South Pacific to safety. Bligh ultimately returned to England to face Court Martial for the loss of a vessel, to be exonerated and to publish his memoirs of the mutiny and his epic journey. Bligh continued through a respectable naval career to retirement, becoming one of the most celebrated navigators and one of the most vilified historical figures in British History. For those of us who have never been to sea and who will never truly experience the fear of being lost or isolated, we can only fantasise as to the poignant terror of gazing into the apparent horizon of the South Pacific. Scratching simple calculations into a sodden notebook and sharing diminishing quantities of food amongst an increasingly wretched group of companions. Fearful and ignorant of the human inhabitants of islands on the horizon, the squalor of the boat would vary from claustrophobic incarceration to paranoid sanctuary. Bligh's log book documents an unfamiliar discipline and consistency. The heightened emotions of contemporary fictional struggles are not represented here. He does not vocalise his fear or his anxiety. We can assume that he had such confidence in his own navigational ability that he felt no concern, but more realistically we can reflect that even at this state of exhaustion, isolation and degeneration after 40 days at sea, Bligh was considering the importance of his dignity. Whether real or perceived, melancholia, depression or frustration had no place in the official record. Contemporary navigation still uses the same units of measurement and much of the same knowledge that Bligh had been informed by. The data conversion tables have been supplanted by computers and the sextant is now overshadowed by precision, compasses, chronometers and GPS. Radar and radio will mean that the psychological isolation felt by Bligh and his crew could rarely be experienced again. For the generation that witnessed the proliferation of mobile telephones it is possible for us to lament the loss of isolation. It is no longer possible for lovers to lose each other in a crowd. The poignancy of missed opportunities and the serendipity of chance encounters is more often replaced with less dignified incremental instructions via text message The ocean is the ultimate navigational challenge. The open sea, free from reference points, familiar land masses or other travellers, offers a vast desert of uncertainty and isolation. The same stars look down on mariners now as 250 years ago but augmented with digital information and analogue communications the electronic maps of the oceans bristle with information. Virtual markers populate the ocean floor with plotted depths, underwater mountain ranges, submerged reefs, tidal currents and volcanic activity. Traversing oceans has, like much of contemporary experience, become mediated through technology and virtual imagery. Perhaps the reason for the resonance of Bligh's epic voyage is that although the city and culture that he inhabited has changed beyond all recognition, the oceans remain the component part of the planet least visibly affected by human development. Shipping lanes may be infinitely busier but the enormity of the ocean means that mans presence can still not be felt beyond its perimeter. Our inability to cultivate or settle the oceans has left them as the last wilderness. The mesmerising idea of a 360 degree view devoid of human presence or influence remains plausible and timeless. The magnetic desire for poetic isolation remains intertwined with our innate fear of mortality. Latitude is an attempt to reference this experience. Using simulation technology developed by KongsBerg AS, Norway and with advice and support of the Maritime Simulation Unit at South Tyneside College, Latitude is a attempt to regenerate the view from the Bligh's open boat as it traversed the 5,800km to safety. The data recorded by Bligh in his notebook combined with oceanographic information and a vessel modelled on the original elevation drawings, are combined to render with physical accuracy the motion and view of the occupants of Bligh's launch. Generated in real-time the imagery is not pre-recorded but created mathematically through the coordinates, weather, and other information available. In a sense this is a reverse engineered log-book allowing the audience to translate the notes and figures recorded in Bligh's journal into sensory experience.
- Dimensions: 200cm x 450cm (h x w)
- Artforms: Installation