For the Mermaid, I imagined the collector had fallen in love with a woman and commissioned a sculpture of her. Under one of the sculpture’s waves is a blue-ringed octopus, one of the most poisonous animals in the sea. There’s also a parrot fish, and crabs in her hair. I added in some contemporary references, such as [Japanese visual artist Takashi] Murakami’s Cowboy. The great thing about Treasures was you could reference all these contemporary things, but it was an ancient artwork, so you predated them. You could take anything from anywhere, and instead of stealing from them, they stole it from this ancient work, here! I wanted to play with ideas of authenticity.
I think the Mermaid represents the gullibility of the collector. He was gullible in his ideas, in his tastes. The whole idea that the collection disappeared without a trace, and all his treasures were lost, his dream was futile – it speaks to everyone’s successes and failures. Maybe the Mermaid sums that up more than the other works.
How about Hydra and Kali?
That’s a battle between the sexes, male and female, swords against serpents, but it was also about the ravages of time, the war of time as well. The snakes are based on a depiction of Hydra in a painting by Gustave Moreau. Kali is a bit mixed up; some parts come from the old Jason and the Argonauts movie, even though Kali is Hindu. There’s also some similarities with the Greek Hecate. That’s what’s great, being able to take inspiration from different cultures.
Do you think anyone believes that Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable is real?
I hope so. I do [laughs].
How do you feel about Treasures coming to the Greenwich Peninsula?
Oh, I’m really pleased. I started work on the sculptures before I had a place to show them. Then I eventually displayed them in Venice, and that was amazing, to have that association with the water. I think all the works are at home beside water; it’s so nice that that carries on.