Parallel practices is a project that has been running art residencies since its initiation in 2014 and aims to demonstrate the mutual benefits and value of collaboration between medical and/or scientific academics and makers. The project forms one part of the Crafts Council's Innovation strand and is supported by the university's Culture team.
The 2014 pilot project consisted of four collaborations, each lasting four months and involving a team of at least one maker and one medical and scientific academic. These pairings stimulated learning and innovation through a focus on the body, materials and processes.
One of the four partnerships was between textile maker Tamsin van Essen and Richard Wingate, Head of Anatomy at King’s. The project, titled The anatomy of transformations, worked across the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) and the Department of Anatomy in the Faculty of Natural & Mathematical Sciences (NMS), exploring anatomy through a series of new directions. Tamsin, who worked in collaboration with faculty staff in a ceramic studio and used clay to interpret and mimic the same physical and material processes and transformations as anatomy.
Tamsin's residency explored how anatomy can be understood as a series of transformations, focusing on the different layers of material, developmental and dimensional processes involved. The project questioned how anatomy might be viewed as an act rather than a topic of study, through interpreting the transformative acts of preservation, digitisation, dissection, reassembly and display. In conjunction with this research, Tamsin examined the mechanics and aesthetics of physical transformations involved in ceramics, and considered what these could convey metaphorically and physically through texture, surface, structure and form.
Tamsin worked in-situ in the Museum of Life Sciences to build relationships with the students and staff as a way to become accepted as part of the everyday fabric of these workspaces and to contribute new and creative outlets for the department to participate in. There were also ceramic bone-making workshops open to the public as part of the residency, as well as public handling sessions and Museum open days.
During the residency, Tamsin divided her time between the Museum and the research labs, including the dissecting room and Life Sciences annex, as a way to be physically present in the spaces occupied by anatomists, conservationists, researchers and students. As well as collaborating with Richard, Tamsin spent time working in the lab with Professor Malcolm Logan and his team, looking at limb development at the very early stages of anatomy. In particular, she undertook some complicated staining and labelling procedures to look at muscle patterning and bone mineralisation. She also spent time in other areas associated with anatomy including the histology collections and looking at evolutionary development and comparative anatomy with Professor Anthony Graham.
In the Museum, Tamsin worked amongst the conservation team and their associates, who were preserving specimens, reassembling skeletons, and recategorising the collections. Working in residence, she became embedded as an everyday part of the Museum. The project outputs included a series of experimental ceramic pieces, material trials, models and tactile interactive objects, with Tamsin's ever evolving and increasingly busy desk space acting as a record of this activity, a mini-lab within the Museum, and an exhibit in itself. It also acted as a link between the different strands of anatomy within the department, and a focal point for discussions.
Towards the end of the residency, Tamsin ran ceramic bone-making workshops for anatomy students and organised three Open House events called Revealing the anatomy of a museum.
Tamsin van Essen is a British ceramicist, living and working in London. She is a graduate of Central Saint Martins and the Royal College of Art. Her work is primarily concept driven, exploring notions of beauty and impermanence through examining scientific, medical and social historic themes. She is interested in aesthetic ambiguity, particularly the fragile boundary between attraction and repulsion, and how these seemingly contradictory sensations can exist simultaneously. Material experimentation is a strong characteristic of her work, probing the technical qualities of ceramics and the limits of its behaviour.
She has exhibited extensively throughout the world, including at Sotheby’s, the Saatchi Gallery, 10 Downing Street, Palais des Beaux-Arts Bruxelles, the Nobel Museum and other prestigious international locations. Her work features in the permanent collections of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the Montreal Museum of Fine Art, the Fonds National d'Art Contemporain in Paris, the Wellcome Collection and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Museum in London.
A film about Tamsin's project:
Parallel practices pilot programme: