A love of interdisciplinary collaboration
To a greater or lesser extent the works documented here each owe a debt to conversations and insights gained from rich collaborative partnerships with engineers, medical researchers, surgeons and scientists. In some cases these interdisciplinary collaborations go much deeper and involve partners in the productions of the artworks. This is typified by my work with Gordon Selley, whose algorithmic trees were developed for The Landscape Room, Decoy and The ‘blot’ Series. Our partnership began with TechnoSphere, co-authored in the mid-1990’s. Watch this space as TechnoSphere is about to be relaunched…
(Trans)Plant was made in collaboration with the biologist and biomimetic engineer Professor Julian Vincent, an expert in the analysis of natural structures and their application to engineering. Hours spent in operating theatres and hospital canteens talking with, and observing, the cardio-thoracic surgeon, Francis Wells have changed my understanding of the human heart and reawakened my interest in Leonardo da Vinci.
My way of thinking, and of seeing the world, has expanded through chance encounters, collaborations and friendships with many such remarkable people. Ironically, some of the most important are not represented by this selection of works, but have nevertheless had a profound impact on me and my art work: the extraordinary mathematician, Mark d’Inverno, who continues to challenge my thinking, always with humour, and with whom I have learnt to see the creativity that can come from exploring conflicting worldviews; the visionary liver pathologist and stem cell researcher, Neil Theise who has patiently shared his research with me and changed forever my understanding of the body; and the inspirational materials scientist, Mark Miodownik who has shared his unique library of strange and uncanny materials with me on numerous occasions.
The apple does not fall far from the tree
I was born in Birmingham, UK. My father, David, had begun his career there as an apprentice at the Austin Motor works. He was fired for spending too much time working on his racing cars and for insubordination, evidenced by late night welding sessions in the factory workshop resulting in giant amalgamations of metal. A “Privateer” racing driver, he was well known amongst his circle of friends for his risk-taking, his parties and his (sometimes excessive) behaviour. He would take on seemingly impossible tasks and complete them, pushing himself and his machinery to the limits. He owned and managed a BMW garage for many years before his death, aged 43, in a helicopter crash. The design process and materials of my piece (Trans)Plant, made for Birmingham, reflects my father’s love of mechanics and his respect for innovative manufacturing. I have been told many times that a piece would be impossible to make: too technically difficult for its day, too expensive, too big. It hasn’t always been easy but I’ve made most of those works. Thanks for the bloody-mindedness Dad!
Of equal influence was my close relationship with another mechanically-minded man, Arthur Watkins, my maternal grandfather. He was a metallurgist who had a stroke while doing a yoga headstand and came to live with us when I was a child. He entertained me by making objects out of wire, tinkering with electricity, showing me how mercury behaved and discussing Buddhism, Confucius and Haile Selassie. Grampy was constantly inventing things. My fascination with plants and their shapes came from his descriptions of plant chemistry and my mother’s life-long passion for horticulture and garden design.
Women can do anything. Artists matter
My mother, Joan, placed me down for naps in the middle of yellow bushes and lavender as a baby, convinced that immersing me in colour and scent would enrich my world. Her keen interior-designer’s eye and constant remodelling of our homes, made discussions of proportion and negative space as natural as learning the alphabet. She has an encyclopedic knowledge of trees and a fiery passion for them. Her seemingly boundless energy, open-mindedness and curiosity continue to inspire me. All these are easily-traceable influences, but most significant are her convictions that women can do anything, and that artists matter.