Sam Williams: Deep in The Eye and The Belly (Part One)

23 Feb-8 Apr 2023
PV 22 Feb 2023, 6-8pm


San Mei Gallery presents a solo exhibition by London-based artist Sam Williams. This show features the first chapter of Deep in The Eye and The Belly (Part One), a new moving image work entwining stories of cetacean bodies with imagined oceanic futures in which these bodies become shelters for humans who have returned to the oceans in the wake of climate collapse.

Interlacing actual historical events and speculative narratives, Part One details stories of the deconstruction and reconstruction of whale bodies housed in museums in London and Gothenburg and hints at a crossing into a possible future where whale bodies become new worlds.

An unseen storyteller recounts the real-life tale of a young blue whale who beached on rocks not far from the city of Gothenburg in 1865. After being violently killed, the whale’s carcass was purchased and preserved for a dramatic museological display that saw it mounted with its jaw agape, allowing access inside the decorated body. Sometime in the 1930s a couple was found having sex inside the creature, and from then on, the museum decided to only open it up on special occasions, including mayoral speeches and elaborate meals for the wealthy.

The narrator recalls a conversation that takes place in an unmarked facility full of cetacean bodies in various stages of preservation and assembly: an inflated stomach is taken from a cupboard; a time capsule of ear wax and deconstructed whalebone arches. From these museum artefacts, the film threads together other cetacean-body stories: a spa in which people find cures in the bodies of dead whales, the whale stranded in the Thames, and the travelling carcasses of a trio of whales the whereabouts of which are now unknown.

Deep in The Eye and The Belly (Part One) leaves us on a watery crossing at an unknown time, a lone singer laments for the disappearance of the world’s last whale.

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Sam Williams: Deep in The Eye and The Belly (Part One) press release