The Scottish sculptor Michael Visocchi lives and works in an old schoolhouse in Angus (halfway between Edinburgh and Aberdeen), using a variety of materials, including wood, metal, thread and card, to make works that often address nature, landscape and the human trace on it. Born in 1977, he grew up in his parents’ shops and cafes. After a brief time apprenticed to a cabinet-maker, he began training as an architect, but found he preferred more hands-on making. He transferred to study sculpture, and graduated from Glasgow School of Art in 2001.
Visocchi’s latest commission will have a less accessible setting and an audience of penguins and seals in addition to any visiting humans. South Georgia, a British Overseas Territory in the middle of the southern Atlantic, is just north of the Antarctic Circle and one of the most isolated places on Earth. It lies two days by sea from the Falkland Islands and a similar distance from the Antarctic Peninsula – and a ship across the often rough waters is the only way to get there. Most of the island has never been set foot on, and there is no permanent settlement (just two government officers and their spouses, a few British Antarctic Survey scientists, and four museum staff in summer). Yet human activity here from the end of the 18th century to the mid-20th century almost led to the destruction of its spectacular wildlife. Hunting decimated the whale population and, before that, almost wiped out the fur seal (South Georgia is home to 95% of the world population), while the accidental introduction of rodents from the hunters’ ships nearly did the same for the birds in this globally important breeding zone. Extraordinarily, South Georgia is now a rare environmental good news story – an ecosystem in recovery. Whale populations are rising, fur seals are once more present in their thousands, and a £10m decade-long rodent eradication project – the largest in the world – has entirely rid South Georgia of rats. Birds are once again breeding in peace and their numbers burgeoning.
It is to celebrate this turnaround that the Dundee-based South Georgia Heritage Trust and the government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands decided to commission a monumental work of art for Grytviken, the old whaling station, the remains of which still stand rusting evocatively at the water’s edge. More than 150 artists from around the world applied for the commission, and a judging panel, which included Creative Scotland, chose Visocchi’s Commensalis: The Spirit Tables of South Georgia.
Credit: JULIET RIX, Studio International
Watch Video of the Artist Commission
Hear Michael talking about his work and find out more about the island and its wildlife.