Aerial View of Teignmouth Electron, Cayman Brac 16th of September 1998 2000
Photograph on paper
unconfirmed: 210 x 260 mm
on paper, print
Aerial View of Teignmouth Electron, Cayman Brac 16th of September 1998 features the decaying husk of a beached trimaran which was abandoned many years before by its owner and which has succumbed to the elements and rotted over time. The black and white photograph was taken from an aeroplane flying over the south side of the Caribbean island, Cayman Brac, where the Teignmouth Electron is slowly disintegrating. The vertiginous aerial view reconfigures the landscape. A long sliver of pale sand forms a dividing line between land and sea like a misplaced horizon, the foam of crashing waves mimicking clouds. The derelict trimaran appears small and vulnerable, as if cowed by the vast expanse of sea whose magnitude and power is emphasized by the bird's eye view.
This photograph is one of a number of works by Dean inspired by the tragic story of Donald Crowhurst's doomed attempt to circumnavigate the world in his boat, Teignmouth Electron, named after the town in Devon that funded its construction and from where he set sail. In 1968, Crowhurst entered The Sunday Times Golden Globe competition to be the first to sail solo and non-stop around the world. Having embarked on his journey in an untested and ill-prepared trimaran, with no sailing experience, Crowhurst radioed in his coordinates which suggested that he was in the lead. After some time, however, all radio contact ceased. Eight months after the race began, Crowhurst's boat was found abandoned a few hundred miles off the coast of England. Subsequent investigation revealed that Crowhurst had never left the Atlantic and had, in fact, falsified his coordinates. He had realized early on that his boat couldn't possibly survive the trip, and decided to fake his journey. His logbooks, film and tape recording reveal that he was increasingly distressed and confused, obsessing about Einstein's theories on relativity and his own views on God and the Universe. Finally, Crowhurst jumped overboard with his chronometer, the instrument used at sea to measure Greenwich Mean Time. The Teignmouth Electron was later auctioned off in Jamaica and eventually ended up abandoned on the coast of Cayman Brac. Its decrepit carcass now sits incongruously in the scrub of this 'paradise' island. For Tacita Dean, it feels like 'welcome neglect amidst the neat housing and air-conditioned world of the ideal holiday location' (quoted in Tacita Dean, 2000, p.36). Dean has also made three short films based on Donald Crowhurst's tragic story: Disappearance at Sea 1996 (Tate T07455), Disappearance at Sea II 1997 (Art Institute of Chicago) and Teignmouth Electron 2000 (Frith Street Gallery).
Dean's pilgrimage to the Teignmouth Electron's final resting place, recorded in writings, film and photographs, has an investigative edge, and this is echoed in many of her works. She has, for example, documented lengthy expeditions to the sites of long vanished works of art by the American artist Robert Smithson (1938-1973). In a 1994 work, titled Girl Stowaway, Dean explored the illicit journey from Australia to England of a Miss Jean Jeinnie aboard the Herzogin Cecilie in 1928. She has also investigated the ultimately tragic attempt of conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader (1942-1975) to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Throughout her career, Dean has been drawn to water and a number of her works deal with the power, both imaginative and physical, of the sea. In her work, the ocean can be seen to have prompted extravagantly romantic, utopian projects while also tragically thwarting them. It is frequently implicated in the incidents of human failing that Dean finds so fascinating. Her work is also resolutely understated. Aerial View of Teignmouth Electron, Cayman Brac 16th of September 1998 gives no sense of Crowhurst's terrible story. It simply presents the rotting boat as a relic, a clue to the past. We are encouraged to seek out the truth in a way that somehow echoes Dean's own investigative quest.
This photograph is one of twenty prints by different artists that comprise the Cubitt Portfolio (P78388-P78407), which exists in an edition of a hundred plus twenty artists' proofs. All the artists involved had either worked or shown at the Cubitt studios and gallery space in King's Cross over the previous ten years. This portfolio was made principally to raise funds for the fitting out of a new studio space, following the end of the old studio's lease.
Tacita Dean, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2001.
Kerry Brougher, Tacita Dean, exhibition pamphlet, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington 2001.
Tacita Dean: Selected Works - Ausgewählte Werke 1994-2000, exhibition catalogue, Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Basel 2000.