Transmutation (2020), A collaborative project with graphic designer Jemima Whitaker. 3D model, cyanotype prints and book

Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins’ Dinosaur monuments in the heart of South East London provide the starting point for this project. These strange yet lifelike sculptures were the first exposure for an increasingly curious public to the existential ideas of extinction, deep-time geological processes and the wonder of dinosaurs and other huge extinct animals, known only from fossils. The ‘Dinosaurs’ were built in Crystal Palace Park in 1854 as it was being developed to surround a re-built and expanded version of the Great Exhibition of 1851. The aim was to give the everyday visitor a ‘visual education, or ‘edu-tainment’, feeling the scientific messages rather than being told. While our reconstructions of these animals are quite different today, they were the cutting edge of the new science of palaeontology at the time. The Palace burnt down in 1936 leaving the Dinosaurs, geological landscapes and a few other solitary monuments in its wake.

 

A conservator recently did a major photogrammetry study on the standing Iguanodon monument, scanning the sculpture for cracks, and documenting their destructive progression, and the decline of the sculpture. India Carpenter’s 3D model is freely available online. The model on display here is the result of a repetitive process of 3D scanning and printing, slowly morphing the dinosaur into a more ambiguous object. The erroneous process acted similar to sedimentation, reburying the object, giving back some of its autonomy.

 

The accompanying prints contain the two-dimensional textures that would be mapped onto the initial three-dimensional scan. They are, in a sense, the skin of the Iguanodon, captured as an imprint fossil. Here they are reproduced via the Cyanotype printing process- highly prominent in the mid-19th century and often used to record both biological specimens and architectural blueprints. UV light, fundamental to the formation of bones and consequently fossils, is also used to expose the image and catalyse the chemical reaction. Thus, the prints reflect both the Victorian period technology and the geological process of fossilisation. 

 

The book is similar to an archaeological study, recording fragments of material related to an object. However, the material is scattered, fragmented and temporally dislocated. This counterposes linear understandings of time and specifically the idea of progress prominent in the Victorian era- utilised in aid of justifying and expanding colonialism. The book refuses a logical and taxonomic method, instead aiming to highlight a confluence of factors and influences on the object. Technological errors, sedimentation, erosion, vandalism, evolution, mutation, extinction all suffuse into one another.   

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