Henry’s sculpture, Stem Cell, won first prize in the national ISA Art competition. Ekene Soludo and Luba Dzhioeva learn more about the inspiration and creative processes behind the piece, which is photographed below:
We were intrigued to find out about the idea and inspiration behind Henry’s unusual submission to the ISA National Art Competition. Henry’s sculpture featuring hundreds of straws carefully positioned in front of a light source is was innovative and ambitious. To begn with, Henry tells us that he was “interested in umwelt, as theorised by Jakob von Uexkull and Thomas Sebeok, and the extension of one’s personal environment by the visual communication of others. This interest took me on an unexpected journey that led me from artists as disparate as Tillmans, Zexter, Davies and Yi Chul Hee to Hooke’s observation of stratification at a cellular level. Entranced by the distractingly simple but inherently beautiful tubular structure of plants, capable of converting light into chemical energy that supports all life, I longed to represent these structures in spectral colour… to capture that light… and transport it to feed our minds and souls, stimulating pleasure in our brains, just as sugar”.
The term umwelt means ‘environment’ or ‘surroundings’ in German and describes the biological foundations that lie at the very epicentre of the study of both communication and signification and in the human (and non-human) animal. In other words, the path taken by nature to go from the organic world to the world of signalling and communication. Henry chose the cross-section of a stem to convert his idea into a work of art showing various transport tissues present in a plant.
The sculpture is very structurally complex, and Henry told us that there were some challenges he faced: “Unfortunately the first steel stem casing arrived with unfinished razor-sharp edges and could not be used. When I explained to the manufacturer that it was for a sculpture and needed to have rolled edges to prevent injury, they sent a tube only 10cm in diameter instead of 100cm! Third time lucky I received my stem casing the night before the exam”.
The careful precision and organisation of the structure cannot go unnoticed and very closely resembles the beauty that we find in nature. A combination of hard work and creativity earned Henry some well-deserved recognition and the first place in the competition. Henry said he was: “absolutely thrilled, and ever grateful to Greg and the Art department who have supported my wildest ideas!”
Ekene Soludo and Luba Dzhioeva