Last year's exhibition Longitude Punk’d at the Royal Observatory Greenwich was a beautifully quirky example of how archival and creative practices can complement each other. Royal Museums Greenwich commissioned nine British Steampunk artists to create works inspired by the technical inventions that were presented to the Board of Longitude between 1714 and 1828.
The Board of Longitude Archive, housed in Cambridge University Library, contains full records, correspondence, reports and submitted designs for navigational inventions. The Board of Longitude was concerned with solving the problem of determining longitude out at sea. But, as Cambridge University Library have a handy video explaining the basic principles of the Board of Longitude, I will let you watch for yourself:
Longitude Punk’d explored the less practical solutions to the longitude problem found in the Archives. It celebrated wacky inventors, star-gazing scientists and extremely elegant explorers, delving into a world where sci-fi collides with 18th-century innovation. For the exhibition, the Royal Observatory Greenwich created an environment where fact and fiction were blurred at first glance, with many of the artefacts looking as if they'd been made in the 18th century. Some were indeed genuine historic objects for which Steampunk artist Dr Geof rewrote labels from his unique perspective. Other items were made especially for the exhibition, but the artists sought to make them appear centuries old. Among the items on display were opulent and ornate garments inspired by the night sky as well as outlandish contraptions claiming to solve the longitude problem.