Uranium Glass Skull Bowls with Eva Walsh
Art and science are often seen as conflicting subjects. There is a common belief that arts degrees are less strenuous than science subjects, and have less contact time between students and lecturers. More often than not, science and technological advances push art, and the arts in general, forward. Frequently used art techniques are more scientifically influenced than many artists would like to admit. Similarly, nature is a massive inspiration for art, a commodity we all share that must be protected. Scientists contribute to this protection in that they are often seen as the keepers of knowledge about the natural world.
Everyone knows the famous painters; Monet, Picasso they’re old hats. New artists have a harder time reaching the general public nowadays; painting kings and queens as beautiful and slender as opposed to the ugly chubsters they really were, decorating churches with intricate fleur-de-lis and cherubs is becoming a less needed skill. Apparently we now want art to actually be true to life. Or imaginative. Or just plain crazy like Damien Hirst’s pickling of a sheep. Artists, like scientists it appears, become most famous after they die. Suddenly their work is amazing, worth a gazillion bucks. All the fame and fortune is not so useful when you're six feet under...
So in this new era, is art more about inspiring an ideological conflict in the viewer? Or is it about getting an opinion across in a new way rather than making money doing the mundane? Who should we be looking out for? Who is up and coming? Eva Walsh, that's who.
Having always loved art as a child, Walsh studied Fine Art in her home-town of Dublin from 1999 to 2003 where she developed an interest in working with glass. In 2007 she obtained a BA in Glass at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA). For her degree examination in 2010, she created the Luminous Shadow, with a cast of fallow deer antlers from the Taxidermy department in the National Museum in Granton, Edinburgh, as well as a cast of a sheep’s horn from the Natural History Collections of Edinburgh University. The installation consisted of five uranium glass antler bowls and five cast lead horns arranged in a circle in a darkened room and lit from below by ultraviolet light. For this, Eva was awarded with the Scottish Glass Society Prize ‘Best Glass Work in Edinburgh College of Art Degree Show’.
Although Eva Walsh studied at ECA, it wasn't until she returned from studying in Prague that she became known to Edinburgh's science community, holding an exhibition in the Ashworth zoology building at King’s Buildings, with her fluorescent glass wolf skull exhibit.
Whilst in Prague, Eva started working with animal remains, triggering her fascination with animal symbolism and how this relates to human nature. When I caught up with Eva, she assured me that there wasn’t a crazy experience with a skull that triggered the project. No, the idea of casting a wolf’s skull was not, she believes, inspired by any outer source but lodged in her unconscious. Eva had the idea in her head for some time before having the opportunity to follow through with it when given a brief to design a glass bowl. Furthermore, it is her belief that reading the psychological study, Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés unconsciously inspired her to cast a wolf’s jaw in glass. According to Walsh, this book offers an insight into reconnecting with intuitive female wisdom. The wolves symbolise instinct. Essentially the aim in creating this work is to ‘highlight’ human instinct, and the eerie green glow of the skull casts, once they are under ultraviolet light, serves only to add to this.
The bowls are cast out of uranium glass sourced in the Czech Republic where it is readily available. Uranium glass has had uranium, generally in the oxide diuranate form, added to the glass mix before melting. Under ultraviolet light the uranium glass glows bright green, but the normal colour of the glass is determined by the oxidation state and concentration of the uranium metal in the glass mix. However this colour can also be manipulated by the addition of other glass colourants, which are often metal impurities.
Once the decision had been made to take a direct cast of a wolf's skull, Walsh had to procure one and approached the curator of Osteology in the Natural History Museum of Prague. To make the skull cast into a bowl and comply with the brief set for her in the Lifeforce exhibition, she added a base to the jaw. The skull was thus transformed into a bowl, original both in design and material.
In the future, Walsh intends to make more use of skulls held by various institutions and continue to exhibit them in more interesting and appealing venues than conventional art galleries. She is planning to set up a studio in Ireland where she can continue with glasswork.
Special thanks must be made on behalf of Walsh to Mark Blaxter who organised the Lifeforce exhibition within which the skulls were shown.