“Forms transformed to bodies new and strange” Ovid
19th November - 23rd December 2021
So much of what the sculptor Emma Rodgers makes is about Metamorphoses, about transformation and fusing, often the point where human and creature meet and merge. It has touched on all her work, her ability to connect with, to inhabit the subjects she portrays in clay and bronze. It is a process of change that continues in the kiln and the foundry furnace, materials that combine and transmogrify, just as they do in the magical dramas of Ovid, and indeed Greek and Roman mythology in general has closely examined the bond and interaction between man and beast, in story-telling and in our cultural traditions at large. There is Juno, manifest in the familiar of the peacock, and the dryad tree nymphs that emerge from and turn back into wood. Arachne, weaving away, is ostensibly human in appearance, but the simple wire frame of her skirt subtly forms a cobweb. Emma's figure of Helen of Troy, with her dress based on coral, shell and wave forms, begins to merge with sea-life and sea as she crosses the Aegean on her epic voyage.
There is symbiosis too in a more earthly sense, for example the strong bond of nomadic hunting with raptors in the Eurasian Steppe (more specifically here, Mongolia) inspired a piece where the close interdependance between horse, rider and eagle becomes one collective movement in Emma’s interpretation. Her dog fox, modelled on one particular animal she knows intimately, is sinewy and alert, but there is vulnerability and fragility too, the surfaces brittle and open in places, while the lively and prominent tail extends the energy of the head and neck in this moving depiction. It too is a magical creature, a changeling in some imaginations - memorably so in Ted Hughes’ poem ’The Thought Fox’.
Emma Rodgers’ world is powerfully elemental, her cast of characters often shown in situations in extremis. They are energies of nature, her players, shapes which can merge, or shift from one state to another. They take on different form and character through conditions of confrontation, of flight and speed, death and decay. This is existential territory, and the landscape is visceral enough. Emma knows that we continue to change and enrich after our pulse has stopped, and how drama and beauty is manifest too in the skeleton or the imprint of a fossil, in the flesh as it gradually leaves the bone. Helen of Troy’s boat is decayed too, almost skeletal, as if discovered on the ocean bed thousands of years hence. The loosely modelled and ghostly pheasants in ‘Final Descent’ free-fall in advanced decomposition. As she says of her 'Raging Bull' (which has all the lively abbreviation of cave paintings), I have broken the muscle structure down almost like plates of armour, and it is her forensic and unsparing eye, her sense of excavation, which gets to the heart of the matter, not only anatomically, but to the very life-spirit of the creatures and interactions she explores.
It is because of this that the work, even though it can touch on our ever-present mortality, is ultimately optimistic. Her expressively treated surfaces (her forms often move into abstraction) truly reanimate her subjects. Her art is a kind of dance, one with enduring grace, and what comes across is not only virtuoso skill and a complex creative mind, but a profound feeling and empathy for what she depicts, so in the end life, its spirit and energy, very much transcends death. In the process we get an extraordinary insight into what it means to be both animal and human.
All that remained of Daphne was her shining loveliness
porcelain & mixed media
“My soul would sing of metamorphoses.
But since, o gods, you were the source of these
bodies becoming other bodies, breathe
your breath into my book of changes: may
the song I sing be seamless as its way
weaves from the world’s beginning to our day.”
Melas: Protector of sheep
Maliades were tree nymphs worshipped as protectors of sheep and of apple-trees. In ancient Greek, the word ‘melas’ meant both ‘sheep’ and ‘apple’ giving the nymphs their double role. Maliades could disguise themselves from the eyes of mortals by transforming into trees.
God of wine, pleasure, festivity and altered states, in mythology, Dionysos is considered to be responsible with the origin of dolphins. A Homeric hymn, that tells the story of how Dionysos came to be worshipped as a god, tells the tale of how Dionysos as a young boy was captured by pirates as he travelled among the islands of the Greek Aegean. Once brought aboard by the pirate crew, and angry at being captured, the boy-god conjured vines that wrapped around the ship’s prow to sink it. As the pirates dived into the water to safety, he transformed them from humans into dolphins as punishment. One of the most morphic ancient deities, Dionysos could transform into a leopard, a serpent, a tiger and a bull.