23 August 2015

Contemporary Queensland Artists at GOMA Q: Spotlight on Sam Cranstoun

Words: Saskia Edwards
Images: Jonathan Rae

Lord Louis Mountbatten - the cousin of the Queen - was responsible for funding an affordable braille typewriter, developing a particular shade of pink and was a supporter of a military ship made from ice and wood pulp. 

Then, in 1979, he was assassinated by the IRA. They blew up a fishing boat he and was aboard off the coast of the Irish town Mullaghmore.

Sam Cranstoun remembers this quizzical and benevolent royal in his works at GOMA Q. 

“I came across this figure Mountbatten who was connected to the British royal family, but also connected to the Russian royal family.

“All of these little stories kept presenting themselves and they were just increasingly fascinating.

Perhaps Mountbatten was also motivated to think up these schemes by a desire to prove his relevance as a royal. It was an era where the divine rights of the monarchy were being questioned. Hence it’s possible that Mountbatten was attempting to justify his position through, somewhat misguided, ingenuity.

“He really was clearly striving to do good things. They were incredibly earnest.

“A lot of them were quite ridiculous and outlandish, but they were all really based in fascination with innovation, but also by having a military edge.”

Sam’s exploration of the Mountbatten narrative manifested itself in three ways. Firstly, a flag dipped in Mountbatten pink - a mauve hue he thought would be an effective camouflaging colour for the military (but was probably a bit too fabulous). Secondly, a canvas punched with braille. It reads “remember in spite of everything he was a great man”.

“There was a biographer that was writing the official Mountbatten biography and he did exhaustive research through his archives and work with him directly.

“And apparently Mount Batten had quite a flair for exaggerating his role in history.

“This biographer, his whole life was made exceedingly difficult by the fact that we would hear the story and find out the story from Mountbatten and then would have to perform more research to actually determine if that was actually true or not that was an incredibly frustrating for him.

“To the point where he actually made a plaque that was his own personal mantra that said, ‘remember in spite of everything he was a great man’.”

And finally, a film. Sam travelled to Mullaghmore, the site of Mountbatten’s murder, to trace his final days and examine the scar the event left on the town.

“It’s fair enough and it’s justifiable and understandable that they [the IRA] wanted their own country and that they wanted to take it back for themselves.

“But then the way they went about doing it was so morally bankrupt it was so wrong, the way that they would kill innocent people just to bring attention to their cause.”

“I was interested in how my relationship with the story would actually change by visiting Mullahgmore.

“One of the things that I thought would be an interesting activity while I was there was to actually go out in a boat and see the waters that he would have seen everyday and seen while he was killed.”

The video is quite soft and placid - it follows the rolling landscape of Mullaghmore - that is often interrupted by the monolithic Classiebawn Castle. And there always seems to be a faint serene wind. But it’s like the town has a thin film of serenity enveloping a much greater turmoil.

Sam contacted a charter boat company about taking a trip around the idyllic peninsula. They couldn’t take him, but the operator actually knew Mountbatten. In fact, she maintained his boat for a decade and was familiar with him. Sam spoke to her over two days about the assassination, Mountbatten and how the event has shaped the town. It was, quite obviously, an emotionally charged issue for her - with her regularly breaking down during the interview.

“I was very aware that clearly this isn’t something that has just disappeared and it wasn’t just going to disappear – it was a story that was forever linked to the town.

“I knew it was something that preoccupied her quite a lot, but I didn’t expect her to be quite as emotional as she was.”

Sam’s series was quite sombre. But simultaneously quite meditative. It shows, through a very specific window, how one person can become the epicentre of so many peripheral issues (modern royalty, the War of Independence, the military). And it shows how the waves of one person’s life have carved permanent grooves in many people’s minds. 

Here's some of the other works by contemporary Queensland artists on show at GOMA Q.

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