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Angus artist Michael Visocchi commissioned for sculpture commemorating conservation work

Michael Visocchi
Michael Visocchi

A Tayside artist has won an international competition to highlight conservation work on a sub-Antarctic island.

The Dundee-based South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT) has spent the last year searching for someone to reflect the environmental recovery of South Georgia, a UK overseas territory in the Southern Ocean.

The island is the former centre of the global whaling industry but its shift from exploitation to conservation is at the forefront of the new artwork by sculptor Michael Visocchi, from Kirriemuir.

Dundee’s links to the whaling industry date back centuries, as explorers embarked on Arctic expeditions in city-built ships.

Mr Visocchi’s concept piece, called ‘Commensalis – the Spirit Tables of South Georgia’, will be housed on the island at the Grytviken Whaling Station, drawing inspiration from a number of sources to tell the island’s powerful story.

Commensalis – the Spirit Tables of South Georgia

Mr Visocchi said: ‘This is an enormous honour and an extraordinary opportunity to engage creatively with such an important story in a truly remarkable place.

“It is going to be a real privilege to work alongside the many skilled and dedicated people who are so deeply invested in South Georgia and its wildlife.

“It is very rare for an artist to have the opportunity to respond to and work in such a genuinely special place and with such a deeply emotive subject matter. I have tried to weave a sense of hope into this work in an otherwise tragic and charged location in the whaling station.”

Michael Visocchi.

The SGHT has been working on the island in close partnership with the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI) since 2005.

Seabird numbers were devastated for two centuries as a result of the rodents brought to the island on sealing and whaling vessels but the trust’s habitat restoration project has reversed the damage and millions of birds reclaimed their ancestral home when South Georgia was declared rodent-free in May 2018 after the largest invasive species eradication in the world.

Alison Neil, chief executive of SGHT, said: “We were delighted with the responses from all over the world to the commission and it was heartening that so many artists were moved by the compelling story of South Georgia and wanted to be part of making a difference.

“The competition was tough but the entire judging panel was impressed by the level of research Michael had undertaken and were struck by how his concept so effectively captured the essence of the brief, which was to shine a light of hope onto what can often seem a bleak future for our environment.

“This is just the start of the journey for SGHT and Michael, who will have the opportunity to visit South Georgia and evolve his concept once he has physically seen the site at Grytviken.

“The era of whaling and sealing was a dark period in our planet’s history, but the tide is turning.

“We are thrilled that this artistic commission will sit at the heart of the work we are embarking, on as part of a cultural heritage programme to tell the world more about the human story on South Georgia.”

Mr Visocchi was due to visit South Georgia in the coming months, but this has been rescheduled to next Autumn.

His artwork will also be part of a developing outreach programme in the UK, which could see variations or replicas of the sculpture placed in a number of locations to educate more people about the story of South Georgia.

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