Moving Darwin

My first solo show – Moving Darwin, is finally opening to the public Monday 26th July – 5th Sept at the Home of Charles Darwin.

It has been quite an journey. From the germ of an idea as a 3rd year student at Central Saint Martins making work for a hypothetical exhibition at Down House, the intensity of making a stop-frame clay animation and series of ceramic works in my final term, the delight when the museum’s curators embraced the idea and invited me to exhibit in 2020, its subsequent cancelation due to COVID, to English Heritage re-kindling the project this spring which presented a new opportunity. It is now installed and ready for the doors to open on Monday.

Excitingly, the work is bang up to date. I have sculpted new pieces to respond to the current pandemic which highlights just how relevant Charles Darwin’s theories about the expression of emotions still are today. Hands up if you are struggling to understand the emotions or ‘read the room’ when staring at zoom in gallery view? Or looking at a face half-obscured by a PPE mask and wondering if that person is sad or angry? Contemporary life is challenging what Darwin knew to be true – that the facial expression of emotions are normally universally understood as they are a core constituent of how we have evolved as a species. They are a pre-linguistic language, one of the reasons we are such a successful species on this planet because we can communicate quickly, silently, and with great sophistication. What happens if we can’t understand each other’s emotions in these current circumstances?

Emotional Field – Wedgwood-inspired emotional portraits

When I first got the invitation to exhibit at Down House, I decided I wanted to develop the work further and make a new version of Emotional Field focusing on a woman. On reflection my degree show installation was completely male dominated. The current Emma Darwin, great great granddaughter to Charles and Emma, and an expert on her family’s history, seemed the obvious choice to ask to sit for me for this update. Emma came to my house in autumn 2019, and I photographed her, taking ‘mug shots’ of her front, left and right views expressing and holding the six emotions that her forebear defined as universally understood whether you life in Pinner or Papua New Guinea: Happiness sadness, fear, surprise, anger and disgust. Since then I have sculpted numerous versions, but it was not until this spring and the prospect of the show was revived that I decided to sculpt these six emotions again, this time in Wedgwood inspired colours, with the added frisson of one Wedgwood Blue head wearing a porcelain white face mask. The Jasperware colours also allowed me to make a strong visual link between the Darwin and Wedgwood family dynasties.

Abstract Fear – an interpretation of what visceral fear feels like in the body.

Another piece I have remade for ‘Moving Darwin’ is Abstract Fear – I wanted to include a gestural piece that showed what the emotions feel like in our bodies. But the only placement possible, on a marble mantle piece against a cream wall, led me to rework the original piece in delicious black clay to add to its visceral sense of menace.

WhyTheFace? Viewing Cabin

Needless to say, my stop-frame clay animation is also on display at Down House. I worked with the wonderful set designer Colin Peters to make this demountable viewing cabin, to create an immersive experience while watching the film, complete with surround sound, and a periscopic side view of the original raw clay head of William Pryor that was used during the making of WhyTheFace?

I will be on site at Down House on the opening day Monday 26th July – running a series of drop in clay emoji workshops. Come along if you can. If not, Down House makes a wonderful summer’s day out of London. You can get there using just an Oyster card, if you don’t have car – via trains to Orpington or Bromley South, and then a bus to Downe Village. Apart from seeing my work, it is fascinating to visit Darwin’s study where he penned The Origin of Species and The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals, but also roam in his walled garden and green house where he studied plants, insect and animal varieties up close during his scientific research.

And finally if you would like to hear a really generous interview with me by BBC Radio Kent’s wonderful Dominic King the take a listen by clicking on the image below and scrolling to 1hr 12mins in, where I gabble on excitedly for 10 minutes.

Click on image to listen to interview – scrolling to 1hr 12mins in for start of the conversation

A Cri de Coeur

Angry as Hell?

Yesterday was Bastille Day, which got me to pondering – Why is it that the British people seem so bovine and placid in the face of the current political incompetence, corruption, lies and ideological bullying? I’m madder than hell! Are you?

A Call to Action

If your feelings mirror mine, please help me create my next project and put my rage into the clay, by sharing with me photographs of YOU expressing rage. Not smouldering anger but raging fury. The more pronounced the expression the better. Using these images as visual reference material, I am going to attempt to sculpt a 100-strong portrait of Rage. A seething mob made up of my community. I want to feel I am not alone, the empathy of human outrage, the common cause of collective action.

Here’s what to do:

  • Ask a friend or family member to take mugshot photos of you expressing rage from 4 different angles FRONT ON, LEFT SIDE, RIGHT SIDE and the BACK OF THE HEAD. 
  • You may have to brush off your method acting skills, but try and hold the same facial expression in all four directions.  (Obviously, you don’t have to hold it while photographing your back!)
  • To channel your feelings pick a few triggers from the possible motivations listed below.
  • Take the photos in High Definition (if possible) – if you have iPhone use HD mode, better still shoot them with a camera. Ideally I need images of at least 2Mb at 300 dpi. 
  • Take the images in front of a plain, light-coloured background so I can see as much of the shape of your head and hair as possible.
  • If your hair is longer than shoulder-length, please wear it up for the photos. 
  • Email or Wetransfer the images to me at Studio@jopearl.com with the subject line: I’m Enraged!

Left Side

Front View

Right Side

What’s my motivation Ms De Mille?

Take your pick of why you may be enraged: the arrogant incompetence of our government, avoidable COVID deaths, racism, ideological intransigence pushing the UK economy off a No Deal BREXIT cliff,  broken promises to key workers, inadequate action in the face of the climate crisis, voter suppression, political corruption – the list seems endless at the moment.

Email me your mugshots by 30th July for a chance to win this small ceramic cri de coeur I sculpted of me from the photos above.

Commissions Gratefully Received

During lockdown I was fortunate to be commissioned to make a series of emotional portraits of a young brother and sister, for their father’s 60th Birthday. See main picture below. It was a great way to focus my mind, and stop me dwelling on dark thoughts during the height of the pandemic. And frankly fun to sculpt this flock of emotions – Which got me thinking – how it would be to make a crowd / a mob / a riot of individual heads to create a large installation … hence this call for your help – Once more my friends unto the breach! And please do share this with people who you think might enjoy being involved. The more the merrier! Hooray!

WhyTheFace? at The Central St Martins Degree Show 19-23rd June

WhyTheFace? my graduating project is finished and ready to be seen. After 10 weeks of work, today is the final day of installing the Central St Martins Degree Show. The official Private View takes place on Tuesday 18th June, and it is open to the general public Wednesday – Saturday 19-21 June from 12-8pm and on Sunday 22 June 12-6pm. Please do pop into the show to see it. Or you can click on the Vimeo link below to see an excerpt from the stop frame clay animation, with a sequence expressing fear.

What’s it all about?

WhyTheFace? is a study of what emotions look like and feel like. A personal taxonomy inspired by Charles Darwin’s ground-breaking publication The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals in which he defined six emotions as fundamental to human evolution and universally understood, whether you live in Pinner or Papual New Guinea: Happiness, Sadness, Surprise, Fear, Anger and Disgust.

This exploration is both figurative and abstract. 

An animated stop-motion portrait of William Pryor, Darwin’s Great Great Grandson, is interspersed with abstracted versions of the same emotions. Some of these gestural interpretations have been fired and are placed in the installation. 

The portrait of Pryor, whose expression was changed over 200 times during the shooting of the film is left as raw clay, kept damp under a glass dome in suspended animation ready to be brought back to life. Condensation on the inside of the glass begs the question: Is he still breathing? 

A cluster of fired specimens on the shelf capture other examples of the six emotions. 

The work is a response to emerging scientific evidence that young toddlers are arriving in nursery with a delayed understanding of the facial expressions of emotions. This is linked to too much time spent on flat screen devices rather than in-the-flesh interactions with their care-givers.  

The installation’s specimen shelf includes a ceramic ‘brain’ representing Digital Dementia, where the right side of the brain associated with mood control and empathy is underdeveloped, in comparison with the left.

Viewers are invited to enter my world. Both as a maker-space where I have created this work, but also as conceptual field. 

The installation is designed to evoke a whispered message from Charles Darwin on the importance of empathy and understanding emotions. In today’s fast-paced, digitally obsessed world, the viewer is given permission to slow down and stare at the flesh of emotions. In this oneiric space they might catch a glimpse of themselves mirroring the expressions on display, emotional contagion – a shared experience of empathy.