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Biomedical Research Units

Art from the gut: the scientifically inspired work of Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva comes to Nottingham

The Djanogly Gallery in Nottingham is host to the first major solo exhibition in the UK of Macedonian-born artist Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva. The exhibition features reconfigurations of two of the artist’s seminal installations, Haruspex and Fragility, alongside new work produced during her year-long collaboration with UK medical research departments including the NIHR Nottingham Digestive Diseases Biomedical Research Unit.

Fragility

Working across sculpture, installation, video, photography and architectural intervention, her materials range from the ephemeral to the precious. Frequently using perishable materials, Hadzi-Vasileva transforms these seemingly unpromising materials into beautiful objects and ambitious environments that consider the historic, geographic and cultural contexts in which they are placed.
Haruspex (2015) has its UK premier at the Djanogly Gallery.

The work, which was commissioned for the Vatican Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale (2015), responds to the scriptural text, ‘In the Beginning… the Word became flesh’. True of her recent work, Haruspex is constructed from waste products from the meat industry. At the centre of the installation is a chalice-like form made from a cow’s stomach. In constructing the work from animal flesh, the artist draws attention to the corporeality of the incarnation – when the word (God) was made flesh.
Inhabiting the first two gallery spaces is a restaging of the site-specific work Fragility (2015), which was first installed at Fabrica, a converted Regency church in Brighton.

“I want it to challenge the way I think.” Dr Giles Major, Nottingham Digestive Diseases Biomedical Research Unit

The work explores the phenomenon of near-death experiences, focusing upon the light seen and discussed by those effected. Hadzi-Vasileva employs the gallery architecture to route light through animal membrane – juxtaposing experience and materiality. Fragility, like much of Hadzi-Vasileva’s work over the past decade, re-appropriates animal viscera. In this instance the artist uses pigs’ caul fat, transforming it from a perishable waste product into a sublimely beautiful material via a chemical process akin to embalming. Here it is revealed as a delicate and vulnerable material – just like life itself.

Supported by an arts grant from the Wellcome Trust, Hadzi-Vasileva’s collaboration with digestive disease specialists at the University College Hospital (London), University of East Anglia (Norwich) and University of Nottingham, has informed a series of new sculptural and sound works. Honing in on studies around regenerative medicine, these new works, which borrow models and techniques from innovative technology witnessed in labs and specialist hospital units, mine the metaphorical possibilities of scientific research.

Dr Giles Major, clinical assistant professor at the Nottingham Digestive Diseases Biomedical Research Unit, worked with the artist during her several research trips to Nottingham. “Having an artist involved is about helping to think about the problems we’re working on in a different way,” he says. “We hit it off; we thought she could help us and she thought we could help her.” Hadzi-Vasileva’s sculptures are the result of two years of interviewing patients, witnessing endoscopies and studying MRI scans of the digestive tract.

There is an accompanying display of images from MRI scans and other devices of the digestive system displayed on the walls in the Angear Space behind the Gallery Shop. There is also a TV monitor playing two videos; i) How Elpida was inspired to create the Making Beauty exhibit; and ii) 5 members of the Nottingham Digestive Diseases BRU’s Patient Advisory Group talk openly and frankly about living with a digestive condition and about their participation in our research. During the exhibition members of the NDDCBRU staff will be present, when possible, to field questions, promote research & Patient and Public Involvement.

Making Beauty: Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva is at Djanogly gallery, Nottingham Lakeside Arts, from 20 August–30 October 2016

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