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

The Golem Returns

Last Friday, my ceramic study of The Golem, took its next BIG steps.

Bin There, Done That

Having moulded the human-scale skeletal body parts during my month-long residency with Collective Matter in Bermondsey last October, I then smoke fired the work in a series of bin-firings over the following months.

The Big Reveal at London Craft Week 2019

The wonderful Collective Matter are now giving me the opportunity to exhibit this work at the Potting Shed, their collaborative space at Contemporary Sculpture Fulmer near Slough. The piece will be on show to visitors during London Craft Week on 8th May at CSF. I will also be running a workshop that day, co-creating with visitors a reclining clay Golem. This will culminate in us ‘planting’ the figure in the sculpture park’s woods, and sewing the raw clay golem with woodland wild flower seeds – clay is just as much a growing as sculpting medium, after all! To book tickets for this tour and workshop, which includes travel arrangements to and from the venue, nibbles and a glass of something sparkly, click here.

A Hanging Matter

Meanwhile, last week, my husband David and I, joined George Marsh, the sculpture park’s wonderful director, to hang my Golemic shadow puppet. Here are some pictures of how we got on. It was intense work, connecting and cinching wires so that the human scale marionette limbs could move. We deliberately put its arms and legs in tension so that the figure appears mid-stride, in suspended animation.

What will free the golem from this suspended animation? Who knows but we must be careful what we wish for ….

People’s Votive

 

The last two years have been difficult. I have been hard hit by the result of the Brexit Referendum and Trump’s election to the White House. Trying to find ways to channel my political frustrations and concerns into the clay.

This week I am again taking part in an Associated Clay Workers Union (ACWU) group exhibition at Southwark Cathedral in the Lancelot Link, this time on the theme of Votive. The act of offering votives into water is used in many cultures and throughout history from early Neolithic times. Hopeful ritual acts to engender change in the future, votives are often given in dedication or as a consequence of a vow. They are a ritual performance undertaken in uncertain times and in thanks for subsequent relief.

Responding to this theme, it seemed like an ideal opportunity create a piece to express my prayers for a People’s Vote on the final Brexit Deal, including an option to stay within the EU. Inspired by a Roman chalice I saw a few years ago in the Louvre, and thinking about Janus, the Roman god of transitions who is represented on the gates of Rome with two heads facing in opposite directions, I chose to make a double portrait of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. On one level two sides of the same Brexit coin.

Janus Chalice
Roman Janus Chalice

I reworked the chalice archetype by creating a ballot box out of their heads rather than a sacrificial vessel. Both Corbyn and May appear to me to be inextricably linked in the current political trajectory towards what appears will be a No Deal Brexit. From my perspective both politicians have been two-faced Remainers. Both campaigned for Remain, but have been been responsible for a shocking shift towards a hard Brexit. Corbyn’s lack of leadership and opposition on Brexit has been deafening. To me he appears to be aiding and abetting the UK’s exit from the EU, a betrayal to his Islington Constituents, of which I am one, and Londoners who voted over-welmingly for Remain and to young people, stalwart Remainers who he proports to represent.

 

I have deliberately chosen to not fire Votive for a Vote on the Final Brexit Deal. The intension is to take the work to its natural conclusion and ‘gift’ it to the Thames at the end of the show, as a ritual offering, in the hope that my prayers come true.

 

The exhibition is being staged within the annual Totally Thames Festival programme, and after the show has come down on Sunday 30th September, at Midday – which is low tide, my fellow ACWU makers and I will be offering the unfired work to the Thames. It will take place on the Thames foreshore, Queen’s Walk, Bankside, in front of The Globe Theatre. The unfired clay sculptures will be placed on the shingles, and allowed to be sacrificially washed away and returned to mud by the capital’s tidal waters.

Come down if you can, to both the exhibition and the Gifting, and spread the word about the #Peoplesvote. It’s not a done deal. We demand the right to a vote on the final Brexit Deal, including an option to remain in the EU if we do not like the terms of the deal, or no deal. If you want to take action now, click here to sign the People’s Vote petition.