18th – 22nd September 2019 Sarabande Foundation
Artist Emma Witter is breathing life back into bones in solo show at Sarabande Foundation

Artist Emma Witter will present a new series of work in Remember You Must Die, a solo show at the Sarabande Foundation from Wednesday 18th September to Sunday 22nd September, 2019. Featuring sculpture and special objects, derived mostly from bone, alongside photographic prints and a sitespecific installation, the works will pay gentle tribute to the symbolic and emotionally loaded material. The series focuses on the flower motif, from which Witter forms beautifully intricate studies constructed from tiny chicken feet bones.  

For the past three years Witter has explored the use of bone in varying forms, her meticulous process along with the stark bleached whiteness of the material results in objects that are hauntingly beautiful and surprisingly gentle. The artist began recycling bones from her own consumption and that of friends, going on to source from chefs, butchers and by combing the shores of the River Thames. Her process is labor intensive as she then boils, cleans, bleaches, dries, and then categorises the bones forming a lengthy and ritualistic part of her practice. 

Witter draws parallels with the art historical term memento mori, translating to ‘remember you must die’ which has been explored by artists through the ages and was particularly prevalent in 16th and 17th century Flemish art. It was common for artists from this period to use the skull as a recurring motif, often juxtaposed with flowers and/or fruit in its various stages of decay. Witter plays with this idea in her bone vase works where she uses pig shin bones as empty vessels which hold dying flowers, referencing Flemish painters who used the flower as a symbol for the fragility of life. 

Bones have long been shown as symbols of death as well as wealth, power longevity and protection, but Witter chooses to reference their uses in everyday life. Bone matter is an ingredient in everything from soaps, sweets, oil, photographic processes, ink for body tattoos, distilling wines and crushed into powder for
bone china. 

The artist has experimented with a number of these processes in her hope to change people’s perception of bones as purely a working material. Witter is currently an artist in residence at the prestigious Sarabande Foundation, founded by fashion legend Alexander McQueen in 2007 as a creative community supporting emerging artists. Both McQueen and Witter are linked through their shared interest in history and materials. 

The artist‘s previous residency at Mark Hix’s Tramshed in Shoreditch succeeded in raising consciousness of waste excess in the food industry. Here, she had a bountiful supply of bones from the kitchen which she was able to clean and prepare on site, before transforming the disused material into permanent objects of beauty. Witter’s obsessive practice puts emphasis on process and materials as she glorifies the functionality of the recycled matter. This new series of works will introduce copper elements into the bone for the first time, by doing so the artist hopes to draw parallels between the strength and high mineral value in both materials. 

By using copper in small support structures, stems, and delicate signatures, Witter will also be lining the interior of bone vessels with copper plating, where once was the mineral rich bone marrow, where blood cells were produced, a new sire for repair and regeneration. 

Emma Witter says: “I am intrinsically drawn to the inherent strength of bones, their lightness and their fragility. Through the ritual of sourcing, cleaning and categorizing, the bones inform me and speak to me of sculpture and reinvention – a modern day momento-mori that conveys beauty and spirituality rather than something morbid and associated with death.”