Deborah Gardner recently collaborated with the scientist Dr Catrin Rutland (Veterinary School of Medicine, University of Nottingham) in a Creative Reactions virtual exhibition.
The exhibition, titled ‘Evolutionary Tree’, is the ‘art meets science’ branch of the national science fair Pint of Science. Evolutionary Tree is a sculptural response to Dr Catlin Rutland’s discovery of the first os cordis bone in a chimpanzee’s heart.
Evolutionary Tree senses the tree-like structure within the micro CT scanning of the newly discovered bone and the resulting sculpture allows an internal scaffold to spread out branch-like. The tree of life is a universally understood model to explore the evolution of life and relationships based upon similarities and differences; it seems apt that the os cordis discovered for the first time in a chimpanzee’s heart reminds us that these similarities and differences among biological species are open to reappraisal.
These works are made from a response to a sense of place. Certain sculptures, such as the ‘Hidden Depths’ sculptures, respond to the regeneration site of Burslem Port Canal in Stoke. The chinaware sourced from potteries, which once thrived in the immediate area are submerged in clear resin, much like the narrow boats, which once brought material to supply the pottery industry were deliberately submerged in the waters when a decline in demand descended on the area. ‘Laid to Rest’ made for a site at West Norwood Cemetry, London and ‘Reverie’ made for a former church yard at Lincolnshire explore the close relation between sleep, death, and sculpture. The ‘Hive’ works and Library shelf works at Conway Hall, London explore structures and images of vibrant assemblies, which may relate to the radical social history of the institution and the bee hive culture active on the roof of the building. The landscape works made for a co curated exhibition at Huddersfield Art Gallery as responses to sculptures from the Arts Council collection and the legacy of the textile industrial history on the landscape in West Yorkshire and how this industry’s architecture shaped the land. The landscape in the domestic space plays with ideas of imaginary journeying and a collision of the interior and exterior within the space of the home, inviting notions of the uncanny and a dreamscape.
These works explore ideas of hives, clusters and networks, where there is a sense of propagation and multiplicity to the form and the resultant sculptures seem at an ongoing stage of mutation, change and expansion. Works are inspired by and reference such things as beehives, cellular clusters, flower seed beds, cacti and nets.
These ‘hand’ works were made during a project with Better Start Bradford, betterstartbradford.org.uk, which was funded by a Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support small grant through the University of Leeds. Community workshop activity promoted discussion on the ways we map our environment and bodies and, in line with Better Start Bradford aims, how this causes us to understand our health, identity, community and belonging on a local and universal scale. This is aimed to prompt further discussion and reflection on ideas of communication, networking systems and wellbeing through an exploration of drawing, printing, collage and mapping. One of the sculptural aims was to consider the hand and palm as a reflection of humanity and individuality and this included introducing families to alginate hand casting, where they can see the immediate lines and forms of hands in the moulds during the time of the workshop.
These clusters and small assemblages are inspired by such things as meteorites, textured and lunar surfaces, rocks and solid aggregates of various materials, including cement, wax, plaster, jesmonite, and textiles. They often explore the possibilities in form when various matter collides or the power of shrouding, concealment in cast hollow forms.
The site of the bed has often been explored in Gardner’s sculptures. In some, the bed becomes a reference to refugee flight, landscape, the domestic space and the uncanny. Often the work explores the interrelation of sleep, reverie, death and sculpture with indentations or bulges, which suggest the absent body. Works have been exhibited in former churchyards, galleries, museum grounds and woodland.