Bloom and Remember You Must Die
Artists and craftsmen have always been fascinated by bone, their work often exploring the dichotomy of nature and artifice: it is an investigation of life and being. There is more than enough evidence from our ancestors who carved swimming reindeer onto antlers, fashioned weapons and tools such as spear throwers, knives, awls, fish hooks and needles as well as creating decorated flutes, whistles, toys and pendants. However, contemporary society mainly associates bones with suffering, demise and as a gloomy substance, rather than as a tool of expression and voyaging.
Yet again, artists, craftspeople and scientists take a different stance working with this calcified material, making ink for body tattoos from ground animal bone, as well as soaps, candy, ceramics, oils and photographic processes.
Artist Emma Witter utilises intricate bone structures to create fragile, flower-patterned forms. To her, this organic material conveys beauty and spirituality, rather than mortality. These opposing facets inspire Witter to bring to the surface the relics of domestic animals. She acts as a bone collector who salvages her medium from restaurants, butchers and her own cooking waste along combing the river Thames for materials.
Interested in the history of this hard, whitish skeletal tissue and how it was used in the past, Witter states: ‘the material reveals much more and dictates the works’. She does not sketch her ideas onto paper, she works with her hands, engaging in small three-dimensional experiments, testing how the individual segments assemble and embrace each other. Her method is visceral, envisaging her finished effigies.
Her opaque miniature blossoms are made of countless carefully selected bone fragments orchestrated into delicate floral arrangements. They are attached to small stands, displayed in glass vessels or directly on the wall to appear like beautiful, surreal botanical models and modern-day memento mori.
The cleaning process is painstakingly slow. It involves boiling and scrubbing the bones clean before they are submerged in bleach and dried. Larger and more greasier specimens are placed in salt for several days in an attempt to extract any last oils, to achieve a dry texture and a clean white colour. Witter organises her findings systematically into size and anatomical shape, akin to a tool kit. She uses different instruments and glues to construct her intricate pieces before she carefully applies a layer of painters’ gel medium on their surface which acts as a sealant to prevent the glue and bones from becoming brittle.
Witter, who grew up in Hertfordshire UK, was immensely inspired by Henry Moore’s bone-derived sculptures and visited Moore’s maquette studio regularly. She has also been influenced by Eileen Agar’s approach to nature and transformation through found objects and unorthodox juxtapositions that challenge our macabre relationship with bone.
Information submitted by the maker and edited by the Future Materials Bank.
Animal bone, animal teeth, brass/copper wire, glue, acrylic
Words by Renée Pfister