The Cast Whale Project by CAST Contributor, Gil Schachar
Gil Shachar is an incredibly skilled sculptor who specializes in casting from life. His subjects are usually objects or people, but in 2009, he awoke from a dream with a vision of a himself having cast a whale.
He documented the dream with some drawings but then set them aside figuring that the practical concerns would make the piece impossible. However, he couldn't shake his interest in trying to make this work happen.
Every year, thousands of whales and dolphins are stranded on coastlines around the wolrd. In most cases, rescue efforts are pointless. The reasons for the phenomenon of stranding, which has been documented since the Middle Ages, remain unclear despite extensive research.
However, care for whales and dolphins is a hot topic with marine biologists all over the world. These intelligent and sentient beings are emotional, they communicate, and they are important inhabitants of the oceans. Raising awareness and forming a connection with these incredible creatures is doing a great service to the earth.
In 2013, even after four years, Shachar was still thinking about the cast whale. After researching places and conditions, Shachar decided that South Africa would be the best place to try to accomplish this massive undertaking.
In 2014, he applied for and was awarded a grant from the state of North Rhine Westphalia, where he lives and works in Germany. Using his grant money, he traveled to Capetown, South Africa for a period of three months during whale breeding season.
There, he worked through the complicated permitting process so if the stars aligned and he was able to proceed, he'd be allowed to have access to beaches to do the work. Working on the beach, driving vehicles on the beach, and use of the access roads is strictly prohibited in South Africa, so getting these permits was key.
While he was in South Africa, he also met Lachlan Matthews, a nature conservationist who works with the Department of Environmental Affairs and with a number of museums. They will be working together to realize the project when the moment is right.
Matthews is estimating that they'll need a team of 5 to 6 people to do the work when the time comes, but they will have 15 to 20 skilled moldmakers (artists, sculptors, people who work in the film industry) on call to ensure that they'll have adequate help since this is a time-sensitive project. The team is based in Lambert's Bay, a few hundred kilometers north of Capetown.
There are many layers of complication to achieve their goal:
- They need a beached whale. Matthews estimates that two to six big whales wash up each year over 600 km of coastline.
- The whale must be completely on the beach, not partially in the water.
- They have to stay in touch with the coastal station commanders, who find and deal with beached whales.
- They have to assess photos and conditions to decide if it's a viable scenario.
- The weather, tides, and sea conditions must be right. It can't be too cold or windy, and the sea must be relatively calm.
- Materials need to be at the ready because the work has to start immediately before the whale begins to deteriorate.
- They need to be in touch with the farmers whose land contains the access roads to the beach.
- The team must be on call and ready to go immediately.
When all of these conditions are met, Matthews and his team in South Africa will begin work immediately. Shachar will join them as soon as possible, but due to the nature of beached whales, work must begin right away.
Shachar plans to make the mold out of polyester resin and fiberglass in sections that can be transported off site to make the final casting. The final sculpture will most likely be done in resin, but there's time to make that decision - there's no urgency in the final casting like there is in the moldmaking.
This massive undertaking is so exciting to us because it's another example of casting capturing the ephemeral. Coming face-to-face with a whale is something very few people ever do and this gets to the "why" of the project.
When asked why he wants to embark on this complicated project, Shachar says that he just has the strong feeling that someone needs to do this. (Incidentally, this is very similar to the reason we wrote CAST... somebody had to do it, and we finally realized it was going to be us. It's a peculiar feeling to be compelled to take on a massive project for this reason and we applaud Gil for this act of bravery!)
Shachar goes on to talk about encountering this creature that we all know about, have read about, have seen pictures of, and is a part of myths and stories, but we don't get to encounter them, especially up close. He then says, no real interpretation is necessary - it will simply be an amazing experience.
The Cast Whale Project is obviously a massive undertaking, and like all art, cannot exist without patronage. Shachar has started a Kickstarter fundraising effort with a range of rewards for various levels of giving.
We hope you'll support this worthwhile project. Check out Gil's Kickstarter campaign for details! There's a wonderful video that includes interviews with Lachlan Matthews and it's narrated by Gil. You can also see him take a mold of someone's head for a future lifecast. It's a really nice video - definitely worth the watch.
The final cast whale will be displayed in South Africa and then throughout Europe.
For more information, follow The Cast Whale Project on Facebook.