ARTWORK + > Other of Pearl

Sperm Whale Instrument (Part I)
Sperm Whale Instrument (Part I)
Handblown opaline glass representing the spermaceti organ, junk, blowhole and phonic lips, patinated steel, New York seawater, antique whale oils (originally used in clocks, watches, sewing machines, automobile transmissions, bicycles, typewriters, cosmet

This sculptural instrument is modeled on the internal anatomy of the head of a sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus). In living whales, these organs enable echolocation and allow sperm whales to speak to each other over long distances, using a complex composition of fats, waxes, and collagen ‘lenses’ to bounce and amplify sound.

A precursor to the fossil fuel industry, the whaling industry brutally hunted sperm whales and sold these body fluids at a premium. The very substances which allowed whales to communicate illuminated the tables of the wealthy and lubricated clocks, firearms, and other machinery at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.

Here, the artist presents a selection of these antique whale oils within handblown glass lens-vials, symbolically returning them to the whales. This archive aims to bear material witness to the origin story of the climate crisis as it originated in our hunger for material wealth—wealth built on the backs, and from the bodies, of nonhumans.

Photo Credit: Jeremy Gender for Powerhouse Arts