There’s something very symbolic about bones.
They represent our truest, barest self. They are our source of shape and stability. They are our protection, the frame of our body.
As the last earthly traces of the dead, bones represent mortality and permanence beyond death at the same time. They are, if you will, the evidence of life.
For most people, though, bones are directly connected with death. They are something morbid and macabre, almost imposed with a taboo.
London based Set Designer and Prop Stylist Emma Witter is reinventing this conception of bones by turning them into art – thereby breathing new life into them. She has made it her life’s work to form beautiful objects out of this symbolic and emotionally loaded material, often with the goal of drawing attention to human waste and excess.
Witter has been attracted to the bones’ strength but simultaneous lightness and fragility as a material for a long time. For the past three years, she has experimented with bones in varying forms, creating hauntingly beautiful art objects and forging a name for herself across the art scene.
For her creations, she predominantly uses animal bones, trying to highlight the material’s wide availability as an industrial byproduct.
At first, she began recycling bones from her own consumption and that of friends, but she soon started to go on the source from chefs and butchers as well. Every so often, she even combs the shores of the River Thames on the search for material.
The meticulous preparation of the bones is a lengthy and almost ritualistic part of her practice: she first boils them, before cleaning, bleaching, drying and finally categorizing them.
Witter’s sculptural works take many different forms, and they all seem to symbolize death, but also life, in one way or another. One example are the vessels she forms out of pig shin bones, holding dying flowers. The flowers appear to represent the fragility of life, reminding us that at some point, all life will end. The vessels made of bones add to this image, while at the same time symbolizing the stability and permanence.
The flower symbol is a recurring motif in Witter’s work. The gentle nature of the flowers seems to be a contrast, or even a contradiction, to the indestructibility of the bones, but it makes the work especially symbolic. Rather than something morbid, Witter conveys beauty and delicacy with her art, giving new meaning to bone as a material.
After working on different collaboration projects throughout the years, Witter will now be holding her first solo exhibition at Lee Alexander McQueen’s London Sarabande Foundation, where she is artist in residence. The exhibition will run from 18 until 22 September 2019.
Visitors of the display will see her latest body of work called “Remember You Must Die” which will feature beautifully formed objects derived from bone, alongside photographic prints and a site-specific installation.
As the title already suggests, the exhibition puts a focus on our mortality. But while this topic can summon up fear and hopelessness in some people, it also reminds us to live our life to the fullest at the same time.
Emma Witter is a truly special artist who is setting new standards for modern-day art by changing our conception of a very exceptional, emotionally charged material.
Check out her art at emmawitter.co.uk