Conch sound art to highlight colonial past

The artwork in Whitehaven was made by Turner Prize winner Susan Philipsz [Cumberland Council]

The sounds of Caribbean conch shells will be heard at a harbour in an art project intended to highlight Britain's colonial past.

A sound installation by Turner Prize winner Susan Philipsz was set up at Whitehaven Harbour in Cumbria on Friday.

The shells will be heard on the hour from 10:00 to 17:00 every day.

Ms Philipsz said: "The history of Whitehaven Harbour is closely linked to the tobacco fields in Virginia and the trade routes to and from the Caribbean, which were all developed on the backs of the slave trade."

The installation, which is permanent, will sound out from two horn speakers installed on the North and West lighthouses.

'Undiscovered coastline'

Ms Philipsz said the recording of two conch shells in the Caribbean can sound like "ship horns", as well as trade winds.

"The trade winds have been used by captains of ships to cross the world's oceans for centuries and enabled the colonial expansion into the Americas," she said.

Ms Philipsz said she also used Caribbean conches as they had once been used to call slaves to plantation fields in Virginia.

"To introduce the sounds of the conch at Whitehaven Harbour is to reflect on the wind and the sea," she said.

"[As well as] the rich history of shipbuilding and the darker history of the trade routes from Britain to the New World."

A Cumberland Council spokesperson said the artwork was part of a programme to shine a spotlight on "Cumbria’s largely undiscovered stretch of coastline".

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