Archives for category: Zoological

owl and burn for wordpress blog
since I last blogged. Picture this: I was working in the underground bunker which houses the University’s collections of organic matter (wet and dry rooms) when my father was admitted to hospital. He was given only a short time to live. We rallied round for a couple of months and then he died, at home. A short while later there was an event celebrating his life, a life filled with art and architecture, music and natural history.

His death came less than a year after my grandmother’s, a wood engraver, designer and gardener.

I haven’t been back to the underground stores. I haven’t been able to face all the dead matter. Now when I consider those collections I think of things people haven’t managed to let go of. The University has its reasons, obviously, for hanging onto them. Multiple reasons probably.

I’m trying to process what’s happened to my dad (and my gran) and my family as a whole.  I drew him as he lay ill in bed. (He agreed to it but that was so unlike him that I now feel I stole something he wouldn’t have wanted to give had he been more ‘himself’.) I seized his shirts when they were offered. The shirts, the drawing, the writing, keeping the notes I made of meetings with the local nurses, touching and re-touching his stuff: it’s all my way of holding on to something that’s gone. I’m not going to pickle it – an idea – but I have been trying to re-create with it, a bit like in the Liverpool World Museum where the stuffed lion and zebra are poised mid-chase by the watering hole. That is a re-arranging of one reality (stuffed dead animals) to create a new one. The new one is false but looks like life. We can relate more easily to it as a result.

The work I’m making now is varied. With Lol at John Moores University, I’ve burned the drawings of my father into heavy papers, combining them with a drawing of a baby owl he would have loved. (Thank you Jay at The Owl Sanctuary, Shropshire.) I cannot bring myself to frame these even, although they would be safer framed. I find them too painful to look at.

Concurrently I’ve been re-making using one grandmother’s buttons and china left by the other. These things will take on new life recorded in photo-intaglio etchings. They will look like archive material because etching has that aesthetic somehow. Since the beginning of this project I have ‘felt’ the gap between the decorative and the ‘other’ collections at the Victoria. In my life as in the lives of my father and grandmother the decorative and the natural world have always been closely linked. I’m hoping these etchings will resonate in the overlap between the two areas of study.

Without finishing either the jacket piece or the garden labels piece (see last entry) I’m back making watercolours of the specimens in jars in the wet zoological store at the University. One thing stood out: necessary to have a moment of panic and a degree of wrestling with the image if it’s going to ‘bear fruit’ . 

 Here are a couple of takes on the ‘no label’ specimen of a couple of entries back. The one on the left is drawn with a glue gun. I’m doing more of these.

Also looked at the wonderful sailor’s knot of an octopus below – only 15cm high. Jacket and garden label pieces will just have to ferment until the way forward becomes clear.

This week: ask Leonie Robinson to identify this specimen; do glue drawings over vein type screen prints; wax and plaster models of ‘no label’.  If I put it down here then it has to happen doesn’t it?

Had a visit from Professor Terry Russell just before Christmas. We talked about the lack of colour in the stores, also children, teaching and science, dissection, drawing, vacuums, liquids, printmaking, research questions and how to write them up, sealed micro ecosystems. Prof Russell heads up the Centre for Research in Primary Science and Technology based at the University. We met at the print studios at the Bluecoat. I’m hoping his input will continue.

I’ve been thinking about labelling. My gran produced a beautiful garden plan. I have screen printed it onto both sides of these plastic plant tags. As a flat sheet, they remind me of postcards. Separated they make me think of germinating seeds. Will continue to fiddle until something happens.

Also playing with red and blue veins / tributaries / fractures / root systems. Have printed a number of these to be backgrounds for drawings (on paper). Also screen printed this onto the lining of a beautiful white jacket: reverse side. Have partly detached from the jacket and turned inside out. It reminds me of a flayed arm in the Heritage Collection and an engraving by William Cowper I saw in an exhibition (The Quick and the Dead) at the Hayward in the 1990’s.

Just back from the stores and still trying to warm through.

Another thought-provoking visit. Spent most of it in the ‘wet’ room (11º c) amongst the specimen jars. Drew, placing the drawings in glass as I went. Another small intervention, a distraction really. The real organisms and animals ‘in vitro’ split into two visually: either they look to be ‘in utero’ (the vertebrates) or they look marine i.e. somehow natural in liquid.

Still struggling to direct my thinking. Here are drawings of an unlabelled marine creature, which took me off towards classification, notation, the need to organise, to stucture, to draw order out of chaos. Also drew cynthia papillosa, which led me to the World Register of Marine Species online. It turns out that this can be almost tangerine coloured when alive. Lack of colour in both wet and dry stores is significant.

The ‘wet’ collection doesn’t get out much. Without strict temperature control evaporation is a threat, changing the strength of the formalin-water mix. Formaldehyde is believed to be carcinogenic and an alternative liquid used in these containers – alcohol – is a fire risk. Thus re-location is hazardous. Am thinking ‘what would happen to the ink drawing if immersed in formalin mix… could I make replicas of this specimen in wax?’ etc..

Cold inside and out today, or at least it feels it. Drew and thought in the windowless stores all morning. Leonie was there, also two biology students. Went back to the human skulls and stains. Made a list of stains to research. Thought this double injection specimen would make a fantastic screen print. May have a go at making it later this week.

Drew from the skulls without producing anything of note. Lots of ideas though: how to create something similar to bone i.e. full of holes, what would I put into the cranal cavity if I were to remodel the skull in tissue nest for my own purposes? Will make a few models and upload.

Created a small intervention in the dental area of the main store room using an x-ray light box from the collection and a drawing of mine. This was something I tried to put together in August but I didn’t have the right light box. The drips are egg white. Will leave this where it is until my next visit – see if there is any response…