Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva At Brighton And Hove's Fabrica

By Anna Jefferson | 30 July 2002
originally commissioned by Berwick Gymnasium Art Gallery the installation is a response to the decline of the fishing industry.

Left: originally commissioned by Berwick Gymnasium Art Gallery the installation is a response to the decline of the fishing industry. All pictures © 24 Hour Museum

Anna Jefferson found her sea legs and took a close-up look at Fabrica's installation.

You don't have to be seaworthy to catch a glimpse of Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva's installation, made entirely of fish skins and bones, currently showing at Fabrica in Brighton until September 1.

The installation is created from over one thousand salmon skins skilfully sewn together into a large circular shape and carefully suspended with fishing wire from the ceiling of the old church.

"The use of unmediated, natural everyday materials (trees, fir cones, watercress, butter, fish skins), materials which we take for granted, attempts to raise consciousness of it's balance and fragility, where light, darkness and moisture combine to regenerate and re-evolve," said Macedonian-born Hadzi-Vasileva.

the bare bones of the 'altar screen'.

Right: the bare bones of the 'altar screen'. © 24 Hour Museum

The exhibition, entitled 'epidermis', was originally commissioned by Berwick Gymnasium Art Gallery as a response to the decline of its local fishing industry, and has been re-framed and re-titled 're/sort' to highlight the connections with Brighton's own fishing past and present.

Fabrica Gallery was formally known as the Holy Trinity Chapel and Hadzi-Vasileva dexterously mimics the religious surroundings by constructing an intricate 'altar screen' of fish bones, re-creating biblical text from a recently painted mural in the chancel area of the building.

On entering the space it is apparent how sensitive the artist has been towards the contours of the building. The height of the tall church is emphasised through hundreds of lengths of geometrically arranged fishing wire holding the sculpture up. Shafts of light cascade through the upper floor windows down the wire, illuminating the salmon skins.

'Unto him that over cometh I will give to eat the hidden manna and a new name'

Left: 'Unto him that over cometh I will give to eat the hidden manna and a new name' © 24 Hour Museum

"Underlying all of my practice is an interest in exposing spaces which we normally do not encounter. This concern with space, including light, darkness, colour, texture and smell has produced a series of works that explore their symbolic nature and intimacy while also attempting to delineate the integral nature of their relationship," explained Hadzi-Vasileva.

Depending on how the observer's eyes are focused, the installation provides bounteous alternatives for viewing. The actual salmon structure, with all the skins' intricacies and imperfections looks as if it's floating, until your eyes are defocused to see the plethora of wires, creating a work of art in themselves.

The project took months of stomach-churning preparation, with Elpida scraping the insides out of each fish and pulling the flesh off the bones before even attempting to bind them together to create her work. Due to careful preservation using washing up liquid and salt, the dried fish are odourless, a great relief for all visitors with a weak stomach.

careful preservation with washing up liquid and salt, has made the dried fish odourless.

Right: careful preservation with washing up liquid and salt, has made the dried fish odourless. © 24 Hour Museum

Although the overall impact of the exhibition is impressive, making superb use of the space and using the actual building as stimulus to create the text, the tone is somewhat futile, without offering anything meatier (or fishier) for the spectator to think about.

It is visually stimulating, but I felt it lacked an emotional contribution. But that's just one person's opinion out of a sea of individuals; go see for yourself to make your own mind up.

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