Wednesday 22nd of March
On a recent visit to the gallery, I found the McManus conservation team busy cleaning the ‘Tay Whale’, a skeleton of a Humpback whale located in the ‘Making of Modern Dundee’ exhibition. The ritual spring clean is an opportunity for the museum to clean and re-examine its displays. The conservators Becky and Carly undertook the intricate task upon a scaffold, equipped with a specialist vacuum cleaner and soft brushes. To prevent damage, they first gently brushed the dust from the many bones and then vacuumed the surface.
I was not surprised to find the museum cleaning a day after the spring equinox (the 21st of March). Yet, I began to wonder, why do we spring clean? Traditionally, spring is a time to open all the windows, to do a thorough clean, but it is also a time to celebrate rebirth and new beginnings. The conservator’s act of cleaning helps to preserve the bones of a long-dead creature, maintaining its legacy beyond death.
The whale story is immortalized by its preservation, allowing the story to be re-told. Visitors will question why this unfortunate whale a creature that lived in the sea, ended up in a gallery? It swam up the Tay in 1883, evaded capture, eventually died and was towed ashore at Stonehaven.  John Woods bought it at an auction and donated the skeleton to the museum. The famous Dundee poet McGonagall wrote a poem about the whale’s experience. On the strength of the Tay Whale poem and other verses, he was acclaimed to be “the worst poet in the English language”. Here is an example of the first verse.
’TWAS in the month of December, and in the year 1883,
That a monster whale came to Dundee,
Resolved for a few days to sport and play,
And devour the small fishes in the silvery Tay.
The whale lives on in object and tale. I believe each spring clean represents the preservation of the life force, still present in a dead inanimate object.  When we clean “we are negotiating with our mortality” . In death, we return to dust and in time we are forgotten. The action of cleaning the bones, fundamentally allows the conservators to attempt to control the rate of the ‘Tay Whales’ demise.
 Godfrey, P.C. (2012). Review. Available: http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2013/Sept13/Zuidam_McGonagall_CC72608.htm. Last accessed 22nd March 2017.
 Hunt, C. (2014). The Famous Tay Whale. Available: http://www.mcgonagall-online.org.uk/gems/the-famous-tay-whale. Last accessed 22nd March 2017.
 Putman, J (2009). Art and Artififact: The Museum as Medium. 2nd ed. London: Thames & Hudson. P 38.
 Lowder, B. (2014). Rethinking Spring Cleaning.Available: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/culturebox/features/2014/rethinking_spring_cleaning/spring_cleaning_it_s_an_antiquated_ritual_but_it_s_never_been_more_important.html Last accessed 22nd March 2017.