On the Possibility of Salvage

“On the Possibility of Salvage” explored themes of piracy through a motley collection of objects smuggled, seized, or recovered, with connections to illicit cargo and contraband. The front room was staged as a ‘library of loss’, or a custom’s storage room caught in medias res, presents paper mache replicas of objects, some on top of or in wooden boxes, as if just seized by the authorities.


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For this exhibition, Glynn weaves together themes of salvage and piracy, centering on a room-sized sculpture of a ship’s hull in partial wreckage. Alluding to trade and trafficking, the shipwreck allows Glynn to tease out the stories of a motley collection of objects smuggled, seized, or recovered, with connections to illicit cargo and contraband. The boat hull takes its form from a British smuggling cutter used to evade authorities during the height of 18th century Colonial trade. This body of work was made against the backdrop of a rise in piracy off the shores of Somalia, where ransoms take the form of abstract currency, rather than the physical stores of wealth seized in earlier times.

The gallery’s front room, staged as a ‘library of loss’, or a custom’s storage room caught in medias res, presents paper mache replicas of objects, some on top of or in wooden boxes, as if just seized by the authorities. The replicas range from Ming dynasty porcelain plates and ancient bronze busts to bullet-ridden oars, and stolen garments. In chronicling these stories of property as loot, Glynn invites us to reflect on the social and historical forces that objects, and often artworks, are caught in, but also on larger ideas of time, transitoriness and transgression.

The installation was be activated in a one-time performance, Reverse Siren Song, which recasts the passive image of sirens luring sailors to shipwreck with their music to that of active bodies propelled by desire for the ship. The performance featured four classically trained opera singers, Beverly Vanessa Hill, Melissa Gerstein, Heather Meyer, and Holly Nadal. They will travel to the gallery by foot and ferry from different points outside Manhattan while humming distinct segments of a siren song. As the vocalists approach the gallery, the fragments become integrated into one piece of music. The music is taken from Richard Wagner’s Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods), the final aria in Giuseppe Verdi’s La Forze del Destino, and several traditional maritime hymns. Lyrics were compiled from text fragments including Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem The Wreck, a contemporary ransom letter from a company of Somali pirates, and Daniel Defoe’s A General History of the Pyrates.

  • Vessels from the Buen Jesus y Nuestra Senora del Rosario (Wrecked and Recovered, Florida Keys), 2013
    11 pieces of paper mâché with acrylic in birch box with oiled casein paint
    28 x 28 x 30 inches
    Photo: Steven Probert
    The Buen Jesus y Nuestra Señora del Rosario was a Spanish galleon sank with seven other ships along the Bank of Madrid; this precipitous loss of wealth may have contributed to the collapse of the Spanish Empire. These vessels were recovered by a team lead by the for-profit salvage operation “Odyssey.”
  • Vessels from the Buen Jesus y Nuestra Senora del Rosario (Wrecked and Recovered, Florida Keys), 2013
    11 pieces of paper mâché with acrylic in birch box with oiled casein paint
    28 x 28 x 30 inches
    Photo: Steven Probert
  • Antikythera Mechanism (Wrecked and Recovered, Antikythera), 2013
    39 pieces of paper mâché with acrylic in birch box with oiled casein paint
    30 x 20 x 3 inches
    Photo: Steven Probert
    These fragments comprise an ancient astronomical calendar devised by the ancient Greeks between 100 and 150 BC.
    The Antikythera Mechanism was about the size of a shoebox, with dials on the outside and a complex assembly of bronze gear wheels within. By winding a knob on its side, the positions of the sun, Moon, Mercury and Venus could be determined for any chosen date. Newly revealed inscriptions also appear to confirm previous speculations that the device could also calculate the positions of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn—the other planets known at the time.
    Pieces of the ancient calculating machine were discovered by sponge divers exploring the remains of an ancient shipwreck off the tiny island of Antikythera in 1900. For decades, scientists have been trying to figure out how the device's 80 fragmented pieces [image] fit together and unlock its workings.
  • Antikythera Mechanism (Wrecked and Recovered, Antikythera), 2013
    Detail view
    39 pieces of paper mâché with acrylic in birch box with oiled casein paint
    30 x 20 x 3 inches
    Photo: Steven Probert
  • Julius Caesar’s Purple Robes (Seized and Released, Aegean Sea), 2013
    Paper mâché with acrylic in birch box with oiled casein paint
    Box: 41 x 21 x 12 inches
    Robe: 37 x 17 x 8 inches
    Photo: Steven Probert
    In 75 BC, the 25 year old Caesar was captured by Silicilian pirates, who identified him as royalty by his purple robes. When the pirates thought to demand a ransom of twenty talents of silver, he insisted they ask for fifty. After the ransom was paid, Caesar raised a fleet, pursued and captured the pirates, and imprisoned them. He had them crucified on his own authority, as he had promised while in captivity—a promise the pirates had taken as a joke.
  • Black Suit from a friend of Capt. Howard Davis (Stolen), 2013
    Paper mâché with acrylic in birch box with oiled casein paint
    Box: 60 x 41 x 12 inches
    Suit: 58 x 35 x 18 inches
    Photo: Steven Probert
    Upon landing on St. Thome, an island colonized by Portugal, a friend of Capt. Davis went ashore in hopes of trading a bag of second-hand clothes to the natives on this large and populous island. A crowd gathered to view the clothes, and one man approached to find out the price of a black suit. He tried the suit, and as the friend was about to commend the fit, he took off down the beach. The crowd, now numbering close to 500, tore into the bag of clothing and made off with the rest.
  • Governor’s Chair Destroyed by a Grenade (Looted, Capt. Howell Davis), 2013
    Paper mâché, wire mesh, and acrylic
    52 x 20 x 21 inches
    Photo: Steven Probert
    Pirate Captain Davis landed short of hands at the Portuguese colonial island of St. Jago, where he met the Governor upon going ashore. The governor suspected that Davis was in fact a pirate, in spite of his explanation, and Davis quickly departed. That night, he went ashore with a well-armed group of men, and finding the guard lacking, they sieged the Governor’s palace. Much of the furniture was destroyed by grenade.
  • Anchor from the King Solomon with Chain Cut by Pirates (Looted, Capt. Roberts), 2013
    Cardboard and paper mâché with acrylic and ink
    72 x 11 x 3 inches
    Photo: Steven Probert
    Upon boarding the ship King Solomon, one of the pirates, Walden, announced that it was pointless to heave up the anchor, instead, cutting the chain, as the pirates had resolved to burn the ship. After taking the goods they wanted – cordage, sales, and the like – the pirates wantonly threw the rest of the ship’s contents overboard without accounting for it.
  • Ancient Statue in Three Parts (Wrecked and Recovered, Bay of Naples), 2013
    3 pieces of paper mâché with acrylic
    56 x 26 x 24 inches
    Photo: Steven Probert
    This ancient statue was recovered from the Bay of Naples, just off the shore near the town of Baia. The figure is headless and without arms. The area around Baia was a thermal resort that was popular in Roman times and has several villas. One of them was confiscated by the Emperor Nero (37-68 AD) and turned into a summer residence and it was there that the statue was found.
  • Ming Porcelain (Wrecked, Looted, and Confiscated, South China Sea), 2013
    Detail view 122 pieces of paper mâché with ink on 4 forklift pallets
    120 x 48 x 9 inches installed
    Photo: Steven Probert
    These 122 porcelain objects were seized from two commercial fishing boats carrying out illegal salvage work from a shipwreck in the South China Sea. The discovery of this shipwreck is thought to provide more evidence about the Marin Silk Road, and help with the study of Chinese seafaring, ship building and ceramics making. Foreign smugglers were using advanced technology to steal China's seabed treasures, mostly porcelain from ancient shipwrecks, the China Daily said in April.
    Many relics were being shipped to the United States and other antique markets. Art collectors and dealers have been pursuing China's seabed heritage in earnest since early 2005, when about 15,000 pieces, mainly blue and white porcelain about 300 years old, were found in a shipwreck off the southeastern province of Fujian.
  • Ming Dynasty Bust from the Flor do Mar (Wrecked and Recovered, Straight of Malacca), 2013
    paper mâché with acrylic and ink in birch box with oiled casein paint
    19 x 13 x 1012 inches
    Photo: Steven Probert
    In 1503, almost five hundred years ago, Captain General Affonso de Albuquerque set sail from Lisbon with a fleet of twenty-two ships on a mission to secure the riches of the East Indies for Portugal. As his flagship, Albuquerque selected the Flor do Mar, a galleon of seven hundred tons. This famous ship served as his home for the next eight years as he conquered and plundered country after country. Starting his conquests at Mozambique on the southeast coast of Africa, Albuquerque and his fleet systematically worked their way up the continent, prevailing over and pillaging every place they anchored. Then they preyed on settlements along the Red Sea, striking India and working their way along the coasts of Siam and Burma, which also fell to the Portuguese swords. The conquerors amassed a staggering amount of treasure gold specie, porcelains, marvelously wrought gold and silver objects, jewelry, gems, ivory, spices, silks, and even beautiful girls. 
    Flor do Mar or Flor de la Mar (Flower of the Sea), was a Portuguese nau (carrack) of 400 tons, which over nine years participated in decisive events in the Indian Ocean until her sinking in November 1511. Nobleman Afonso de Albuquerque was returning from the conquest of Malacca, bringing with him a large treasure trove for the Portuguese king, when the ship was lost off the coast of Sumatra. Despite already being deemed unsafe, she served to support the conquest of Malacca, then the largest commercial center of East of Indias [clarification needed]. Given her large capacity, Afonso de Albuquerque wanted to give the court of King Manuel I a show of its treasures, and used it in the return voyage, to transport the vast treasure amassed in the conquest from the Kingdom of Siam (Thailand) to the king of Portugal. When the Flor do Mar came out of Malacca towards Goa and sailed along the north east Sumatran state of Pasé, in the Strait of Malacca, she was caught in a storm and wrecked on some shoals, causing numerous casualties. The ship did not survive the storm and sank during the night of 20 November 1511.
  • Porticello Bust I, Unknown Old Man (Wrecked and Recovered, Calabria), 2013
    Paper mâché with acrylic in birch box with oiled casein paint
    16 x 10 x 12 inches
    Photo: Steven Probert
    Only the Porticello wreck has yet been found from the 5th century B.C., when Greece was at her political, economic, and artistic acme.  The ship was so heavily plundered that marine archaeologists today have little idea of the cargo's lading (which might have told us the course of her last voyage), the proportion of the four amphora types to one another within the cargo, and their relationship to the remainder of the cargo.  Also missing are large portions of two life-sized bronze statues that were part of the cargo. Two heads of statues were found – this
    The most exciting object recovered from the wreck is the bronze bearded head. From black glaze bowls and lamps recovered from the stern of the ship, one can fix the time of the ship's sinking to the last quarter of the 5th century. The bronze head must, then, have been made no later than some time late in the 5th century, although some scholars, seeing the sculpture out of its archaeological context, would have placed it in the 4th century. With its prominent forehead, small, deep-set eyes, hooked nose, balding pate, mustache completely concealing the mouth, and massive beard, the head is unique among other monumental (that is, life-sized or larger) sculptural remains of the period, in which facial features are smooth and idealized, beards are short, and baldness is almost unknown. This comes as no surprise, for the most prolific ancient writers on Greek art, Pausanias and Pliny, tell us that in the 5th century the predominant medium of sculpture was bronze. And while several hundred marble and limestone sculptured buildings and individual statues have survived to the present day, there is only a handful of monumental bronzes. Because of the vigorous characterization of the Porticello head, it is believed to be a portrait. Although still in its infancy in the latter part of the 5th century, portraiture successfully reproduced both physical features and personality traits of the individuals represented. Typically, imaginary portraits of long dead literary figures such as Homer were produced at this time, and it is possible that the Porticello head is such an imaginary portrait.
  • Porticello Bust I, Unknown Old Man (Wrecked and Recovered, Calabria), 2013
    Paper mâché with acrylic in birch box with oiled casein paint
    16 x 10 x 12 inches
    Photo: Steven Probert
  • Porticello Bust I, Unknown Old Man (Wrecked and Recovered, Calabria), 2013
    Paper mâché with acrylic in birch box with oiled casein paint
    16 x 10 x 12 inches
    Photo: Steven Probert
  • Porticello Bust II, Unknown Hero (Wrecked, Looted, and Confiscated, Calabria), 2013
    Paper mâché with acrylic in birch box with oiled casein paint
    13 x 12 x 10 inches
    Photo: Steven Probert
    The Porticello wreck yielded one additional bust, this thought to be a bust of a hero. However, it was not linked to the Porticello wreck until thirty years later, as it was illegally removed from the site around the time of its discovery.
  • Porticello Bust II, Unknown Hero (Wrecked, Looted, and Confiscated, Calabria), 2013
    Paper mâché with acrylic in birch box with oiled casein paint
    13 x 12 x 10 inches
    Photo: Steven Probert
  • Porticello Bust II, Unknown Hero (Wrecked, Looted, and Confiscated, Calabria), 2013
    Paper mâché with acrylic in birch box with oiled casein paint
    13 x 12 x 10 inches
    Photo: Steven Probert
  • Battering Ram from the Punic War (Wrecked and Recovered, Egadi Islands), 2013
    Paper mâché and cardboard with acrylic and ink
    30 x 20 x 13 inches
    Photo: Steven Probert
    On March 10, 241 BC a huge naval battle took place off the coast of Sicily between the Romans and their archenemies the Carthaginians. It put an end to the First Punic War and was a major turning point in transitioning the Roman Republic on its militaristic path to becoming an Empire. The Battle of the Egadi Islands is the first ancient naval battle site ever discovered (in 2003), and it is littered with the relics of the Punic War. Bronze helmets, amphora, weapons and most importantly ancient bronze battle rams are being lifted from the seabed and preserved.
  • Smuggler’s Petticoat, 2013
    Paper mâché with wire and acrylic
    45 x 45 x 27 inches
    Photo: Steven Probert
    “Every now and then a fisherman's great boots were found to be stuffed with French lace, gloves, and jewelry, or a lady's petticoats to be quilted all through with silk stockings and lace. Here and there a nice-looking loaf of bread was found to have a curious kernel of lace and gloves; and a roll of sail cloth turned out to be a package of gay lute strings. In the dead of the night a large body of men would work for hours, noiselessly, in the soft sands, rolling tubs of spirits, and carrying bales of goods in the shadows of the rocks, and through tunnels and up chasms, under the very feet of the preventive patrol, and within sound of the talk of the sentries. “ *Miss Martineau in Charles Knight's "History of England during the Peace." (Early 19 th century description)
  • Smuggler’s Petticoat, 2013
    Paper mâché with wire and acrylic
    45 x 45 x 27 inches
    Photo: Steven Probert
  • Bullet­ Ridden Oar (Destroyed), 2013
    Paper mâché and cardboard with acrylic and ink
    72 x 11 x 3 inches
    Photo: Steven Probert
    In July l of 1720, Capt. Makra encountered a group of fourteen pirates whose ship had been lost off the coast of Juanna, and island not far from Madagascar. The pirates were part of a larger group rebuilding their ship, and Makra saw the opportunity “to destroy this nest of rogues” in the service of the Dutch East India Company. Along with Capt. Kirby, he engaged two pirate ships in battle, and saved his own ship by shooting out the oars of an approaching vessel. The battle continued, with many lives lost on both sides, and Makra finally fled to Kingstown “almost dead with fatigue and loss of blood” after being wounded by a shot to the head.
  • Sixteenth Century Pewter Tableware (Wrecked and Recovered, Dominican Republic), 2013
    22 pieces of paper mâché with acrylic in birch box with oiled casein paint
    2 boxes: 37 x 21 x 12 inches ; 22 x 14 x 10 inches
    Photo: Steven Probert
    The ‘Pewter Wreck’, discovered by the for-profit company Anchor Research & Salvage in 2011 off Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic, has yielded an assemblage of European pewter unmatched in scale and importance, from a wreck that is itself of historical significance. What has been found indicates a Spanish ship lost in the 1540s nearing the end of its outward voyage from Seville to the colonies in the New World. It is amongst the earliest European shipwrecks discovered in the Americas.
    It is believed the ship was transporting the incoming Spanish ambassador from Seville to his new colonial home on the island of Hispaniola, now the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Onboard was thousands of top quality dining sets bound for the tables of his luxurious mansion. But disaster struck when the ship sunk after hitting rocks on the easternmost tip of the island off Punta Cana. The cargo recovered to date consists mostly of a large number of pewter plates of rare types previously known only from early 16th century sites in Europe. Many of the plates bear the same mark found on pewter from the famous wreck of the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s flagship. Until now, recorded objects of this type and date, anywhere in the World, numbered in the tens, not the hundreds. The quantity of pewter now being discovered on the ‘Pewter Wreck’ – hundreds of pieces – and its condition, its age, and the mixture of styles and makers’ marks, is unique in the 120-year history of the study and collecting of pewter. The research has revealed previously unknown patterns in European trade, shining a light on little-understood economic links between Spain, Holland, and England.
  • Sixteenth Century Pewter Tableware (Wrecked and Recovered, Dominican Republic), 2013
    22 pieces of paper mâché with acrylic in birch box with oiled casein paint
    2 boxes: 37 x 21 x 12 inches ; 22 x 14 x 10 inches
    Photo: Steven Probert
  • Copper Alloy Vessel (Wrecked and Recovered, Dominican Republic), 2013
    Paper mâché and cardboard with acrylic and ink
    17 x 14 x 14 inches
    Photo: Steven Probert
    A unique copper alloy jug recovered from the “Pewter Wreck,” a 16 th century vessel which sunk near Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.
  • Vessel (Ravaged, Looted, & Burned), 2013
    Hardwood (Ash and Western Red Cedar) with bronze and steel hardware, rope
    86 x 246 x 73 inches
    Photo: Steven Probert
    The hull of the ship is based on an English smuggling cutter, a form which became popular at the end of the 18 th century as a means of evading . The hull sits low in the water, and its aerodynamic form allows the boat to travel at great speed in spite of its heavy cargo in order to evade the British naval forces attempting. Smuggling in Britain flourished for over a hundred years during this period as a direct result of tax policies which were prohibitive to international trade.
  • Vessel (Ravaged, Looted, & Burned), 2013
    Detail view
    Hardwood (Ash and Western Red Cedar) with bronze and steel hardware, rope
    86 x 246 x 73 inches
    Photo: Steven Probert
  • Vessel (Ravaged, Looted, & Burned), 2013
    Hardwood (Ash and Western Red Cedar) with bronze and steel hardware, rope
    86 x 246 x 73 inches
    Photo: Steven Probert
  • Vessel (Ravaged, Looted, & Burned), 2013
    Hardwood (Ash and Western Red Cedar) with bronze and steel hardware, rope
    86 x 246 x 73 inches
    Photo: Steven Probert
  • Vessel (Ravaged, Looted, & Burned), 2013
    Hardwood (Ash and Western Red Cedar) with bronze and steel hardware, rope
    86 x 246 x 73 inches
    Photo: Steven Probert
  • Vessel (Ravaged, Looted, & Burned), 2013
    Hardwood (Ash and Western Red Cedar) with bronze and steel hardware, rope
    86 x 246 x 73 inches
    Photo: Steven Probert