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Time-lapse documentation of Framed Sea Cow by Juha Pekka Matias Laakkonen's as part of his exhibition Buoyancy.

At Gasworks, Laakkonen presented a durational performance where he recreated the skeleton of giant sea cow, killed on 12 July 1742 in the Bering Sea. To guide him in this colossal task, the artist relied solely on a written account of this creature’s bones, taken from the zoological notes of the German explorer Georg Wilhelm Steller, who first described the species.

Shortly after his ‘discovery’, the sea cow’s entire population was wiped out by sailors and fur traders. Weighing up to ten tones, this gigantic relative of today’s manatees disappeared by 1768, when the last recorded sea cow was hunted, thus making it the first historical extinction of a marine mammal at human hands.

Laakkonen’s major new commission, Framed Sea Cow, is a time-consuming effort to bring this extinct creature back into existence. Over several weeks, the artist was based in the gallery hand-crafting a large-scale wooden replica of the beast’s skeleton as audiences wandered in and out of the space.

Working without preparatory drawings, the artist relied on a basic set of hand tools and his own understanding of the imprecise notes left by Steller in the 18th century, where the sea cow’s skull is described as being “like that of a horse”. The only given parameters informing Laakkonen’s work were the skeleton’s total length and width, determined by the gallery’s dimensions. Everything else was uncertain. 

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Supported by

The exhibition is commissioned and produced by Gasworks with generous support from the Finnish Institute of the UK and Ireland and Corvi-Mora.

Gasworks commissions are supported by Catherine Petitgas and Gasworks Exhibitions Supporters.