When you think of waste products of the meat industry, it’s unlikely that you think of ‘art’. The meat industry isn’t glamorous, and the waste products even less so, but what Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva has installed at Nottingham Lakeside Arts using that very thing could only be called ‘ethereal’.
Born in former Yugoslavia during the communist era, Hadzi-Vasileva is now based in Brighton. She studied in Glasgow and London in the late 1990s, and has been exhibiting her installations ever since, including at the Venice Biennale in 2013. Her most recent installation, and her first major solo exhibition in the UK, is at the Djanogly Art Gallery, Nottingham Lakeside Arts, where Hadzi-Vasileva spent much of August setting up her work. She specialises in site-specific installations, adapting and changing her work depending on where it is being shown, taking into account the culture and history of the venue, as well as its physical dimensions.
“The majority of Elpida’s installation is made from animal by-products, mostly caul fat and organs, with the odd testicle thrown in for good measure”
For her show at the Djanogly Gallery, Elpida worked closely with the NIHR (National Institute of Health Research) Nottingham Digestive Diseases Biomedical Research Unit in order to learn more about the digestive system and the diseases that affect it. She is also interested in research into reconstructive surgery, and has even used some of the prototypes of the research to inspire and influence her new work. Responding to ideas about the distortion of body image in modern culture, Elpida “seeks to create objects and images that might help to challenge accepted notions of beauty.” However, it is the materials themselves that make this exhibition so interesting: the majority of Elpida’s installation is made from animal by-products, mostly caul fat and organs, with the odd testicle thrown in for good measure. All the animal products have been sourced from Defra-accredited abattoirs, but that doesn’t stop the exhibition raising some questions about the treatment of animals, and whether or not this exhibition is entirely ethical.
Ethics and morals aside, what Elpida has managed to do with the space inside the Djanogly Gallery is nothing short of astounding. Inside the relatively small space of Gallery 1 she has managed to replicate her 2015 piece Fragility. This artwork was originally exhibited in a deconstructed Regency church in Brighton, with astounding results as it creates a milky-white translucent vault that is almost reminiscent of the ‘heavenly light’ associated with near-death experiences. Moving into Galleries 2 and 3 the work continues, though employing more obviously ‘animal’ materials, like inverted cow stomachs, sheep intestines and sheep testicles. Gallery 2 features a re-installation of Haruspex, which was initially commissioned by the Vatican as an interpretation of the scriptural text “In the Beginning… The Word Became Flesh”. Gallery 3 is filled with entirely unique work, featuring some pieces of a more ‘traditional’ method – copper wire, wood and 3D printing.
“There’s a reason it took weeks for this exhibition to be installed, but the result was definitely worth the wait”
Initially her work seems simple, but closer inspection of almost every piece on display in this exhibition reflects the effort and time that has had to be put into creating them. Everything has to be preserved – again using natural products and traditional methods – then carefully manipulated into the forms on show. There’s a reason it took weeks for this exhibition to be installed, but the result was definitely worth the wait.
This exhibition is a great example of how art can be made from anything, and can still be beautiful. Elpida has taken a material that would normally be consigned to the incinerator and turned it into something that can hang in a gallery and still feel like it belongs there. Using such a material in an exhibition has been a little divisive in terms of how people perceive the materials being used – some think it is wrong to use animal products in this way, some see no issue – but you can’t deny that the result is intriguingly beautiful. A quote from a Buddhist vegetarian in the visitors’ book sums the exhibition up perfectly: “strange but truly beautiful.”
Images courtesy of Lakeside Arts
Making Beauty runs until Sunday 30th October, for more information see here.