Close-up: Tamsin van Essen
How do you infect a jar with cancer? Give it to an artist with sickness on her mind...
Sunday 10 May 2009
Everyone has a favourite old pot about the house, looking a little worse for a crack here and a chip there. But does it have a disease? A bout of acne? A serious case of cancer? Tamsin van Essen's series of jars do – or at least they appear to. But what's amazing about her Medical Heirlooms series of ailing ceramics is how weirdly beautiful they are: a delicate white veil floats above the raw pink of the jar Psoriasis (pictured); Osteoporosis, meanwhile, first mottles at the neck then crumbles away at the lip.
"I was looking at the way old medical specimens are displayed in places such as The Hunterian Museum, in these amazing, shiny glass jars – when you look closer there are these grim specimens, but they can be beautiful." From this, van Essen pondered the thought that diseases, like heirlooms, are passed down within families. Using her background in science publishing, she began to experiment with shapes based on old apothecary jars and how she might "infect" them. "I wanted to make clay go through a physiological process. For instance, syphilis gives you sores, then corrodes your bones, and I went for both by putting salt in the mix, which would act like a disease, moving within the clay."
A recent show at Sotheby's auction house was a success – yet not everyone realises quite what they're viewing: "My collection wasn't the usual sort of thing you'd find at Sotheby's, so visitors would be looking at a piece, then catch the title and be repulsed."
Van Essen, 33, is coy about what the future holds, but she has recently moved to Prague. "I'm surrounded by all these beautiful, historic buildings, and they have to have an influence on my next project."
Van Essen is showing in Collect, at the Saatchi Gallery, London SW3, Fri-Sun. See more of her art at independent.co.uk/art
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
Best underrated Christmas movies from Trading Places to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food