Olivier Millagou — Big Wednesday
Past: January 8 → February 26, 2011
James Cook (b. 1728, Marton, Middlesbrough — d.1779 Hawaii) was a British navigator who made several expeditions in the Pacific. The voyage that he took between 1776 and 1779 was his last. He commanded the HMS Resolution and explored firstly the Kerguelen Islands where he docked on Christmas day in 1776, then he made a stopover in New Zealand. Captain James Cook then headed north, but on the 19 January 1778, he finally changed course by some miles and never discovered the isles of Hawaii.
Today these islands still remain unknown, so there is no magnificent sunset, no vahine doing the hula, no garland of flowers, there has not been conflict between the Europeans and the island’s habitants, but above all, there has not been the discovery of surfing. This is the story that Olivier Millagou proposes to recount with the exhibition Big Wednesday and the works presented all speak of what Hawaii and its culture would have been if Captain Cook had in fact never discovered Hawaii.
For in the real story, Captain James Cook was 50 years old when he threw down his ship’s anchor in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii). His third expedition in the service of the English Royal Marines had commenced two years earlier and on the return route Cook dropped anchor in this bay of Kealakekua. So he discovered these islands and remarked that the inhabitants devoted themselves to the pleasure of waves. These Polynesians of the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) not only rode the swell in canoes but also on long boards, shaped from a tree trunk according to a complete ritual. Lying on them, these natives crossed the foam and with tremendous dexterity came back to shore standing up on their craft. They abandoned themselves to this confrontation with the ocean, to duels where the best would acquire a high ranking within the community.
Cook discovered this ‘He e’naiu’ (we can translate by: gliding on waves) the practise that has nourished the legends of the Polynesian Hawaiian society’s oral history for centuries. Some 150 years later this act would become the pleasure of individuals scattered throughout the world, but here is an integral element of the life and organisation of this insular community.
A life that Europe the conqueror, under the guise of exploration, counted on colonising.
Through an imaginary evocation, the exhibition will show everyday objects found on the beach — objects that were used to ride the waves, in an attempt to create surfing. Far from their original uses, certain fulfil their mission (more or less efficiently) and others not. A second series of works is made up of postcards of historical paintings or writings relating to Cook’s adventures and his battles with the inhabitants of Hawaii in which the artist has whited out the Europeans with correction fluid, erasing their presence. Necklaces made from stones with naturally made holes are a variation on the famous flower garlands used by Hawaiians in their traditional customs. The flower garlands evoke the ‘Aloha’ spirit, symbol of love and friendship, but also of welcome, explaining the value of this gift tourists often receive on their arrival in Hawaii.
Finally, the title of the exhibition Big Wednesday takes its title from the surfing film directed by John Milius in 1978 (he also wrote the screenplay for Apocalypse Now). The image is the original logo for the film done in black and white and stripped of images as if all the iconography of surfing had never existed following this alternate history. A day will come that is unlike any other…
And nothing will ever be the same.