In his sculptural series The Archaeology of Art, Marc Quinn creates monumental forms from seashells. The conch for Spiral of the Galaxy is based on one in the British Natural History Museum collection. For Quinn’s work, the conch was scanned in three dimensions, then a mold was created and cast into bronze. The resulting figure is familiar in its proportion and surfaces, but strange because it no longer invites intimate handling. Its altered material and scale transform it into a solid, architectural form that occupies public space and affects the urban ecosystem.
Quinn first came to public attention in the early 1990s through his affiliation with the Young British Artists (YBAs). Among his earliest and best-known works is Self (1991), a cast of his head made from ten pints of Quinn’s frozen blood, an amount equal to the volume in his body. In a 2013 interview, the artist said that the YBA movement had been about “bringing real life into art.” In both Self and Spiral of the Galaxy, Quinn’s urge is holistic and metaphysical, a desire to translate the substance of life into image.
Spiral of the Galaxy is easily understood as a direct relative of the small shell it models. However, by dramatically altering the shell’s material, scale, and surroundings, the work acquires a mythical aspect, quivering between the real and the fantastical. Quinn has called seashells “the most perfect pre-existing sculptural ‘readymades’ in our natural world.” Thus, he refers not only to the graceful intricacy of their forms but also to the wonder of their natural production.
The sliding scales along which a society measures fragility and strength, ephemerality and endurance, even life and death, are central concerns of Quinn’s art. Throughout his career, he has explored the unstable margins of life and the meanings we find in them: the vital interconnectedness of all life forms across time; the desire to still a passing moment or to live forever; and the prospect of living in harmony with nature and other people.
Location: Health Learning Building Courtyard