By Jack Ashby, on 21 May 2014
Today an incredible exhibition of artworks based on digitally altered fish bone sculptures opens at the Grant Museum. Subnature features sculptures and prints by emerging artist Lan Lan (UCL Slade School of Fine Art), who through the manipulation of original fish bone sculptures creates contemporary phantom creatures.
Set amongst the Museum’s historic collections of skeletons, skulls and specimens in jars, the exhibition establishes a dialogue between natural history and its contemporary interventions – intertwining a Victorian collection with 21st Century digital techniques.
The fantastical works take the form of cosmic bodies and marine animals, with some installations imagining a fictional future where energy plants rely on the phantom creatures. There is a flickr album showcasing some of the works.
Over the years we at the Grant Museum have been working with more and more artists to reimagine and reinterpret our collection; taking a scientific zoological collection and representing it in wholly different, yet naturally complementary ways. Subnature is the latest of these and collaborations. Lan Lan is a first year sculpture undergraduate from the Slade School of Fine Art, but despite her age her work is incredibly accomplished. For me, the best thing about working in a university museum is that we are surrounded by thousands of minds full of ideas, that we can work with to generate exhibitions and events for our visitors. It’s very exciting that we can provide a unique platform for UCL students to engage with audiences in novel ways, and to develop their artistic practices alongside their academic work.
The origin of the works is fish bone. Lan bought a sea bass, cooked it, ate it, and made some sculptures out of the remaining bones. She then photographed and digitally coloured and altered the images until new creatures appeared out of them. To me, many of these creations (titled ALTED Hydrozoa) are extremely reminiscnent of the beautiful Blaschka glass models we have in the Museum of sea slugs, jelly fish and other marine creatures. Other creations look like galaxies – right at the other end of the natural spectrum.
Despite the fact that we are a Georgian collection in a Edwardian former library, these 21st Century interventions seem very much at home here. In one work, HoloStack X-Capture, Lan has created a holographic effect by printing images of her sculptures onto seven differently coloured acetates (to represent the computer colours CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, key (black); and RGB (red, green black)). These layers are then held in position, creating the 3D holographic effect by parts of an orang-utan skeleton – slotting them in between the vertebrae, or holding them in its hands.
In two of the larger installations in the exhibition, Lan explores the exploitation of both nature and representations of nature by consumerist technology. The Lava Project @ Olympic Highway imagines a fictional solar energy plant powered by her virtual creatures. Aftermath speculates whether the imaginary Lava Project will escalate into an event with devastating consequences; presented in this work is a scenario where extreme weather conditions activate the dark matter sealed within the creatures, corroding the ground to form craters and caves. These scenes of sublime landscapes in meltdown are depicted as close up views of polystyrene models covered in corrosive nail polish.
It has been fantastic to work on Subnature with Lan Lan, and to see how her creations, and the representation of our specimens within them, have evolved.
Subnature runs until 19th July, during Museum opening hours – Monday to Saturday 1-5pm. The press release can be downloaded here.
Jack Ashby is the Manager of the Grant Museum of Zoology.