A still life artwork which includes various symbolic objects designed to remind the viewer of their mortality and of the worthlessness of worldly goods and pleasures
The term originally comes from the opening lines of the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible: ‘Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities, all is vanity.’
Vanitas are closely related to memento mori still lifes which are artworks that remind the viewer of the shortness and fragility of life (memento mori is a Latin phrase meaning ‘remember you must die’) and include symbols such as skulls and extinguished candles. However vanitas still-lifes also include other symbols such as musical instruments, wine and books to remind us explicitly of the vanity (in the sense of worthlessness) of worldly pleasures and goods.
It is always fabulous to read how someone (especially with notoriety) perceives your work. The recent referencing to 'Vanitas' a genre associated with the still life paintings of Flanders & Netherlandish art of the 16th & 17th century has given me the opportunity to view my work from a different perspective.
'Vanitas' meaning 'futility' or 'worthlessness' reminds us of the pointlessness of earthly goods and how the transience of life foresees the inevitability of death. These paintings focus on decay and the distinguishing of life through symbolic representation; the snuffed candle, the rotting fruit, a skull visualize and capture the inevitability of death and the deterioration of physical presence.
The process of ephemeral decay is initially what drives my practice. My work at present with individual sculptural ice pieces melt, break down, rot and deteriorate. They can at times be visually dark and sinister due to the nature of the organic materials used within them. Recent experimental ways of photographing within a dark space is also in a similar vein to the unsettling and mysterious Vanitas paintings of the16th & 17th century.
Within their frame the Vanitas paintings contain the grouping of rotting or a representation of, perished life, as a still life. The paintings show a moment in time of degeneration. The ice sculptures are also placed within a 'frame' through photography; recording a moment in their dissolve. By isolating these pieces of work within an indoor space away from their origin of the outdoor environment their organicness is emphasized. We are forced to look in more detail at 'moments in time' within these frames. The point of decay and disintegration are captured in order for us to reflect and take perspective of our own existence.
It is a curious and strange experience to work with an ephemeral piece so closely and in such detail; record its beauty and presence, have many images that prove its existence but for it to no longer exist!
Here one minute gone the next, out of sight out of mind, gone but not forgotten, transience, life's cycle, regeneration,
I know the ice sculptures were real because I physically engaged with them; I made them. I touched them and worked with the pieces as they melted and faded away.
January has found me busy with more practice research and creating more work and gaining further insight into my #iceform project. This project is far from over and each session of making and experimentation throws out new ways of harnessing elemental and material processes. The work is extremely photogenic and the #iceform aesthetics and visual appearance have started to make impact. Having sold prints of various pieces of work through exhibiting and my online presence I plan to generate more selective prints and have them to purchase on my website. (see my shop).
My work has been recognised by Doctor Catriona McAra, the curator of Leeds Arts University, and a selection of prints will be exhibited in the Board Room of the University during February www.leeds-art.ac.uk/news-events/events-exhibitions/carol-sowden-elemental-harnessing/ This is a real honour and I am especially pleased that some of the work will be hung in such an important space.
The weather has had a big influence on my work. The short dark days of winter has led me to photographing work in a dark space highlighting the forms with LED lighting. This has created some beautifully sensitive and provocative work.
The onslaught of the winter weather has also given me a small opportunity to photograph the iceforms in the snow. The window of opportunity is very short; as soon as it snows it has invariably disappeared over a few hours.
I have also become more interested in the timings of freezing, the shorter the time within a frozen environment the more fragile and delicate the work is. Visually frost marks and fissures create the most beautiful structures but remain for such a short period, they are fragile and delicate to hold and touch in my hands and I love the tension of physicality this presents to me. The challenge to place within an area for photographing and the need to photograph before the form melts focuses me. I work with speed so I am able to get shots taken before the piece melts!