Alexis Rago

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Quick Facts
Birth year
Lives in
Works in
A converted chapel
Representing galleries
National Centre for Craft and Design, UK
ceramics conceptual, sculpture

As an artist who started their career having studied biology, I am primarily interested in expressing

biological ideas that affect how we view and conduct ourselves in the world. My culturally

mixed background has perhaps informed a specific interest in origins. Biological origins are at

the root of who we are and are ultimately embedded in a very deep past which is far beyond

our everyday experience. The sense of the infinite and boundless has been apprehended by

religions throughout history with the help of images to focus human attention on the divine. I

use this idea to explore the vastness of our biological ancestry, focusing on aspects of the distant

fossil record and developmental concepts.

I see clay as the most primitive of materials from which plastic forms are made and subjected to

an alchemical process of petrification. I treat this as a metaphor for the creation of fossils that

makes earth both durable and extremely fragile, reflecting our dependence on surviving fragments

of evidence to shape our narrative, and the nature of life itself. In essence I am taking

simple shapes and elaborating more complex morphologies, imagining the structures as relevant

to an organism and its survival, whether this be its energy capture, passage of fluids through its

body, sex or some other relationship between parts. While I am doing this I refer to previous

pieces, evolving and developing new forms, related but also divergent as I look to create congruent

diversity. The work has now reached a point where I am also looking at using new materials

such as cement and plastics to broaden my practice and widen contextual possibilities.

Many artists respond to or comment on scientific ideas from outside the fields using technology

and scientific methods to illustrate or represent a particular issue. I feel particularly well placed

to express ideas from within the area of biology as an artist, with an understanding of the subject

from within. This gives me a unique viewpoint from where I can respond to ideas as if by

second nature. The latent presence of humanity in my work is informed by the aesthetics of

Indian and African culture as well as pre-enlightenment European art; Goethe’s ideas of early

biology and archetypes; the drawings of Ernst Haeckel; and of course the palaeontological record

itself. Recently I came across works by the botanist Agnes Arber (1879-1960). After retiring

she dedicated herself to writing about the natural philosophy of the scientific method and

biology in such a way that crossed boundaries, perhaps unaware of the full implications in areas

such as the visual arts. I shall be giving a talk to accompany an exhibtion on this area and how it

is influencing my work at the Linnean Society of London 16 June 2011.

I have taken my rational belief in evolution and divested it of scientific rigour in a simulacrum of

the religious process. The sculptures are as votive offerings, fetishes obstinately marked and

measured with devotion. When I work with the clay I draw and write in three dimensions. I

move from notions of a very distant origin with its huge implications to a more recent, intimate

human past, seeing an imaginary alter-world through the window of archeology and ethnology.

This journey gives me a sense of our own transience, it is as though I am looking back from a

future where we are only faint imprints on an earth that has continued to conspire against entropy

and chaos, maintaining life in some other form. This is what compels me to replace what

could be overt human iconography with a presence of latent humanity.

My work contributes to the ongoing debate on our origins highlighting the fact that scientific

ideas, beautiful in themselves, are inextricably linked to social, political, ethical and religious concerns.

I believe that my purpose is to bear witness to our own existence as a wonderful and

singular possibility in the vastness of the universe by showing our very abscence in it in the light

of life.

Alexis Rago