‘Nature as model, nature as measure, nature as mentor’ - Janine M. Benyus
Examining our relationship to the natural world, my work focuses on concepts of entanglement and abstraction. I build sculptures of fictitious hybrid anatomies, for example the integrated bone of a whale jaw and a praying mantis arm. These sculptural forms find their way into my paintings, creating scenes of interconnectivity. Mimicry in nature inspires abstract form; delving into the realms of emotion, intuition, and the subconscious - depicting where the tangible and intangible fuse. My work explores a sense of deep entanglement I feel towards organic life forms, both human and non-human. What lessons can the 'more than human' teach us about ourselves and what it means to be alive?
In the last few years my work has concentrated on the Whale and the Mantis. A Whale, with a lifespan nearing a century and the Mantis, living for just one year. Both contribute immeasurably to the ecosystems they inhabit, yet human activity jeopardises their existence. These two disparate species represent the paradoxes that exist within life: the whale embodies strength and endurance while the mantis exudes grace and lightness; the whale journeys vast distances whilst the mantis remains mainly motionless.
My fascination with animals, particularly insects was heightened when examining my own mantis. The mantis is a revered symbol of stillness across many cultures. She would shed her skin, the walls that house her, enabling renewal each time. I would study her skin under a microscope, her delicate velvet-like exterior contrasted with protective spikes. These spikes resonated with me; as a woman I sometimes feel we need spikes. Perhaps the mantis is also a symbol of protection and self-preservation: my work considers whether these spikes represent the inherent strength and resilience present within all females.
Other photography works focus on Beetles. Taurhina (Neptunides) polychrous fasciicollis (named “Neptunides” after the similarity of shape in the male’s head and Neptune's trident) adapts to its environment by mimicking its surrounding with the chromatic colour of its shell. Some scientists believe beetles developed metallic colours that resemble the appearance of raindrops on leaves to help them camouflage - warping, misshaping, distorting perspective to protect themselves. Do we mimic water like the beetle in our minds - we warp, misshape, camouflage also, distorting our own identities in order to protect ourselves.
My research in natural history draws me to bones as they connect us to the animal kingdom and our ancestral lineage. In their fossilised state, bones become storytellers of the past, allowing us to unravel the narratives of our human and non-human predecessors. Through the study of skeletal structures, we gain a visual representation of the direct mimicry found within living organisms, for example the shapes found in our rib cage can be found across many species with vertebrates. In my practice, I integrate new technologies, such as 3D printing and seven-axis robot arm, with traditional craftsmanship to create sculpture. For example, What Remains (2023), I used 3D scans of logs, rough cut them on a robot arm, and then carved them by hand. Details of the robot arm’s score remain visible, preserving the connection between artist and machine. The spalted wood, originally collected in Sheffield and dried for over 12 years, bears witness to the captivating stories of fungal colonisation. The fungi, extracting nutrients from the wood, leave distinctive and pattern within the material. The preservation of this pattern, combined with marks of the robotic arm and my own human touch, constitute the symbiosis between natural, mechanical, and human entities; a persisting interest within my work.