How A “Rat-Infested Ghost Ship” Intersects With Our Collection: Adventures in Collections Research

18 Feb

As you may have guessed, the collections audit we’ve talked about previously has been an interesting experience. Sometimes, it can be fairly routine work: measure here, double-check for accuracy, update the record, and repeat. Sometimes, though, the craziest things can happen. Case in point: researching the subject of a particular sculpture, 2010.3.7.

"Self-portrait, my visit to the cruise ship Lybov Orlova" by Mattiusi Iyaituk (2009), Stone, antler. MIA 2010.3.7, acquired through the Sprott Acquisition Fund

“Self-portrait, my visit to the cruise ship Lyubov Orlova” by Mattiusi Iyaituk (2009), Stone, antler. MIA 2010.3.7, acquired through the Sprott Acquisition Fund

We have a piece in our collection titled “Self-portrait, my visit to the cruise ship Lyubov Orlova” by Mattiusi Iyaituk from 2009. I’ve always thought it was a very nice piece but had honestly never given the subject much more thought than “I’d like to ask Mattiusi about visiting the ship.” Cruises through the Arctic are fairly common; though a very personal piece, the event itself seemed fairly normal. The ship itself, however, turns out to have had a far more interesting life.

If you follow certain news outlets or really enjoy bizarre, sensational stories, you may have heard speculation about a ghost cruise ship full of cannibalistic rats threatening to crash into the UK late last month. I actually clicked on a link about the ship from Discovery News on my Twitter feed and was shocked to see the name of the ship: the Lyubov Orlova.

It turns out, the ship was seized in St. John’s, Newfoundland in 2010, the year we acquired the piece. The ship was then sold for scrap, but as it was being towed the line snapped and the boat floated away to sea. Early last year, Transport Canada managed to regain control of the ship but let it loose again when it threatened the safety of the tow boat. Everyone assumed the boat sunk somewhere in the North Atlantic until early this year, when a scrap hunter speculated to the Independent that the ship was still floating. In the ensuing media storm, experts came forward to say that in reality, it probably sunk. That didn’t stop someone from creating a fake Twitter account for the ship, which seems to have been sadly abandoned earlier this month just like the ship itself.

Whether or not the ship is still drifting across the Atlantic or is somewhere at the bottom of the ocean, it’s still an interesting part of the object’s file and certainly the only time I’ve ever been able to reference “cannibal rats” in a collections record. Luckily for us and our visitors, the sculpture is going to be installed on Thursday for everyone to admire.

Posted by: Alysa Procida, MIA’s Curator

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