Wednesday, 28 January 2015

International Celebration of Contemporary Sculpture

I was delighted to be part of the annual International Celebration of Contemporary Sculpture by the Sculpture Network, hosted by Susan Williams at ArtSpace, Kettering, Northamptonshire, which opened on Sunday 25th January 2015.

The show had the theme "Size Matters?". I decided to show the miniature paper spires again, which I reconfigured for this show and titled them "Navigated Spires". I also had two collaborative works as Miles and Dacombe: an older piece "Half Beech" and a new experimental piece we made on site, "The Measure of Things".

The whole show seemed to hang together really well, making use of the indoor space, the gardens and the outside buildings, some slightly ruined and crumbling!

At 11am we made a live link to all the other venues around the world via a big screen, and raised a glass.

I really enjoyed the exhibits and meeting other artists. Susan is an excellent host and I love her work too. Home made food was provided by artist Kate Dyer, warming soups and delicious crumble. The atmosphere was friendly, energised, I met lots of new people and caught up with some old acquaintances. It was a great party!

Singing Ringing by Carole Miles
The Measure of Things (detail), Miles and Dacombe
Phiona Richards

David Booth

Warren Shaw

Graham Keddie

Navigated Spires, Jo Dacombe

Anna G

Susan Williams

Susan Williams (above) and Helen Frankland (below)

Graham Keddie

Friday, 23 January 2015

Bone Publicity

I have been working with the University's Press Office to develop a press release for the project, which will be out soon. So this week I had to be photographed in the Bone Lab for the publicity!

I don't particularly enjoy being photographed, but it was a pleasant opportunity to show some of my work to a couple of people and get their reactions. I could only really bring drawings as the sculptures in my studio are still rather fragile and in progress, so they remain hidden for now!

I enjoyed spreading out the drawings on the tables and arranging bones around them. It got some discussion going about the aesthetics of the objects, and I talked about the different kinds of bones that had fascinated me and why.

I snapped this photo of Debbie Miles-Williams who is the Outreach Officer for the School of Archaeology. Debbie is helping me to set up workshops with local schools and groups to engage with my project. Showing her some of the work was a good way to think about how I might run a workshop and which items got discussion going.

Debbie is also an archaeological illustrator so she is very visually aware. I was extremely grateful to her for making sure that the publicity photos showed my artwork well and not just me!

If you are a school or group and would be interested in me coming to deliver one of my free workshops, Debbie would love to hear from you. You can contact her at

Monday, 12 January 2015


As I look at the bones, sometimes they seem to contain the spirit of the animal. Sometimes this is in their actual physicality; the cattle bones are sturdy, chunky and robust, whereas the bones of a deer are smooth, elegant and fine. Sometimes it's in the type of bone and what it’s used for, such as in the talon of an eagle, its sharp, assertive point embodying the fierceness of the creature itself.

I can understand why ancient peoples used bones as amulets or charms. “Amulets made from various skeletal elements reflect the so-called pars pro toto principle where the whole animal is represented by a part,” writes Alice Choyke[1] regarding bone amulets found in prehistoric sites. Particular parts of the animal seemed to be especially used as amulets, often parts of the head and feet. Choyke writes about Mary Douglas’s theory, how strong social bonds in early societies were intertwined with ritual, and ritual and belief were encapsulated in particular animal body parts. Animals are symbolic or metaphorical, and therefore their bones can contain their special meaning too. Pars pro toto.

This really chimes with the idea of saints’ relics. Medieval Christians believed the bones of a Saint had the same powers of the Saint and just by touching the bone that power could be felt. We can think about these animal bones in the same way, containing the lasting spirit of the animal that is now long gone.

I find myself staring at the eagle talons on my desk with a quiet reverence.

[1] The Bone is the Beast: Animal Amulets and Ornaments in Power and Magic, Alice Choyke, in Anthropological Approached to Zooarchaeology, Ed D. Campana et al:  Oxbowe, 2010

Monday, 5 January 2015


I’ve been sketching some of the bones as a way of getting to know them.

When you learn to draw the human figure, the classical way is to start by drawing the inner structure of the figure, the skeleton, then to dress it with the muscles and finally to draw the skin as if stretched across the inner shapes.

I still use this approach for life drawing though in a quicker, sketchier way: starting by roughing in the angles of the spine and the volumes of the rib cage and pelvis, then joining the limbs. This way, once you draw the outer layer of the body on top you can make sure everything looks structurally right, avoiding the mistakes of limbs looking like they’re not truly attached or the body looking like it’s not weighted right.

The strange thing I’ve found about drawing bones is that I have to approach them in a similar way. You can see my construction lines in the drawings, how I'm trying to work out how it all connects. I’m only drawing the interior of a body now, but the bones have their own interiors, directional twists and connected volumes. You can see how the bone has grown into its shape. The stresses of force that have applied to the bone in the moving body of the animal gives the bone its shape and you can read into it how it moves and links to other joints.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Bone picking

I began the project by reading around the subject and considering what it is about the bones of animals that interests me.

In my reading, I came across a number of interesting articles and books about archaeology and art, materiality and how we perceive objects. All very interesting, but one thing struck me – in all my reading, animal bones were always considered in the same vein as other archaeological artefacts; bones appeared in lists of finds amongst things like pottery, tools or items of jewellery, without any acknowledgement of their difference.

For me, bones are different. They are not artefacts in that they have not been crafted by humans (although some are used to make other artefacts such as tools or adornments, but are modified for this). Animal bones have had a former life, possibly untouched by humans for all or some part of it. The animal itself had agency. It had its own biography. It had relations and an origin.

Interestingly, the field of archaeology is, in the USA, considered a branch of anthropology. Archaeology is the study of human lives through the discovery and interpretation of remains. Thus animal bones have come to be seen through the lense of the study of human culture, and have been thought of and written about as just another kind of object in the human story. But there is animal story there. What happens if we look at the story from the point of view of the animal?

I’ve been rummaging through the boxes in the collection at the University, sifting my way through like a bone picker looking for something useful,  intrigued by the curious interior shapes of all sorts of creatures.

I have decided to keep away from skulls for now. Skulls are already quite a fetishised object and perhaps too evocative; they appear too frequently in scenes of superstitious devilry or as gothic emblems or heavy metal t-shirts. For now I prefer the more abstract shaped bones, the ones that I’m not sure which part of a body they might be from, the ones that make me marvel at how they evolved and how alien some of the species of this planet are to me.

I will start by just getting to know them.

Monday, 1 December 2014

In Residence in the Bone Lab

Contents of a drawer in the Bone Lab
It's now official, I am Artist in Residence in the Animal Bone Laboratory in the School of Archaeology at the University of Leicester!

The project considers archaeological animal bones as relics, as objects whose perceived value change over time. I'm calling the project the "Reliquary Project".

I spend my time looking through bones in the collections in the bone lab and making work in my workshop. I've been learning from Dr Richard Thomas who is the zooarchaeology expert, as well as having fascinating conversations with the other researchers who pop into the lab.

The project will unfold over the next year and will include a blog to follow its progress here, workshops with schools and colleges and an exhibition.

It's taken a lot of work to get this project up and running, and I just want to thank Richard, Debbie, Clare and all the staff at the University who have made me feel welcome and supported (and I really love having a card for the University library!).

The project is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

Monday, 20 October 2014