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07 Oct 08 - 23 Dec 08

Bull in a China Shop

Stephanie Quayle


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Summoning a troop of monkeys, a skulk of foxes, a congress of baboons - from various exotic and far-flung locations, Bangladesh and Belize, via Latvia - Quayle examines the energy, mystery and a cast of characters from the animal kingdom, and our parallel existence with them.

Starting with drawings and paintings, the final works are predominantly in clay. &#34;I love the primal nature of the material, it comes from the ground and is as old as mankind as a way on making and expressing&#34;. The sculptures are either raw clay, carefree and full of essential ideas and expression, but which disintegrate over time, or fired in the kiln, and will last indefinitely.

The centre-piece of this exhibition is a full-size Indian bull elephant, transformed, shaped and flung from three tonnes of clay, which was constructed in the week leading up to the opening in situ, and will last for the duration of the show before being broken down. The title "Bull in a China Shop" refers to the clay beast itself, as well as her energetic, and seemingly haphazard gestures, and to the freedom of making, which once fired however, becomes brittle, delicate and porcelain-like. The show will also comprise smaller fired works, surrounding the large unfired elephant, and perched in domestic bliss on old wooden sideboards and clocks. The title also refers to the artist"s self-confessed tension at being amongst these final fired works, their delicate nature at odds with her initial carefree gestures.

A first elephant was created in 2006 whilst on residency and scholarship from the Royal College of Art in Belize. A month spent in Poustinia Sculpture Park resulted in a 20ft high animal made purely out of the materials of the jungle. Clay from the swamp, and constructed with creepers and banana leaves, all have now been reclaimed by the jungle and decomposed by termites.

Following that The British Council sent her on a residency to Daka, Bangladesh, in search of the endangered hoolock gibbon; and most recently she went on a self-initiated trip to Laos, "the land of a million elephants", where a slow-growing tourist economy has allowed elephants to remain "wild, leapfrogging the tourism boom where they are harnessed and trained to perform and entertain." Before these trips to the wild, her experience of animals and nature, and fascination for them, had been primarily nurtured through her farm upbringing on the Isle of Man. &#34;My work focuses on the animal - our other; familiar yet distinct. Animals and the wilderness they inhabit remain a fascination within the human psyche. Nature is bound up in our own spirit, and I am interested in the innate animal within ourselves, removing the mask from our animal faces; at our inner most essence we are animal, yet we no longer recognize our place in the animal kingdom. It is we that are becoming displaced, denying our presence in the natural world&#34;. The expressions and faces of the animals in this show could be easily identifiable in ourselves; an anthropomorphic mix of beasts we will not be surprised to recognize as they sit comfortably on the furniture around us. The vast presence of the elephant in the gallery serves to make us realize both our fascination, as well as our humble statue, in the face of such a creature. Yet the elephant is still an endangered species in many human hands. As she explains, her work is seeking to say something of &#34;the unnerving (mis-)understanding that exists in the boundary between man and beast&#34;.