Saturday, 31 January 2015


"We should avoid the notion that human action and intention can always transcend materiality, and recognise how the materiality of things can disrupt and deflect human intentions. Objects can, unwittingly, carry forth their own projects." 1
In other words, the materiality of objects affect us when we perceive them.

I've been thinking about the material that is bone, and also about how we place different values on different materials. How material objects are not just signifiers of what they represent, but their materiality actually embodies the symbolic.

Gilt bone.  Polymer clay, gold leaf. 2015
I have been making things that look like bones but are made of material other than bone. How does this change how we perceive them?

I found another interesting piece of writing on the subject in artist John Newling's book An Essential Disorientation, where he considers how the religious ark or reliquary may contain a scrap of bone fragment or a dusty piece of rag, but the ark itself would be lavishly decorated with "precious" materials. It is the contrast between the two materials, the relic itself and the container as the signifier of its contents, that makes the difference:
"...the contrast between them is part of our cognition...Gold and bones combine to create a sacred memorial that questions materials as metaphors of value." 2

1 The art of decay and the transformation of substance, Joshua Pollard, in Substance, Memory, Display, Ed. Colin Renfrew et al: McDonald Institute for Archaelogical Research, 2004
2 An Essential Disorientation, John Newling: SARP, 2007

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.