Trapezius: Lisa’s Final Blog

Lisa Gunn with Columna vertebralis

Hello everybody and welcome to my final blog for Trapezius! I will use this opportunity to explain a bit more about the works and the process of installation.

Columna vertebralis is a site-specific 11 ft. scale sculpture of my damaged spinal column. I used MRIs and x-rays of my full spine, and particularly its area of damage as visual reference, to create an anatomical representation of how it has changed. It is not only intended to be a physical study of the nature of the damage to my spine in an attempt to help us understand alternate physicality, but is also a realisation of the human body’s amazing ability to adapt, evolve and heal in the most extreme of circumstances.

The spinal sculpture is held up and supported by extremely large, hand-made ‘dowelling’. The dowels hold the vertebrae together, but allow the spine to be flexible when it is not attached to the wall, in an attempt to mirror the natural movement of the human spinal column.

To make Columna vertebralis, I carved each of the vertebrae as a single piece, and then watched in amazement as I saw the final sculpture ‘grow’ in the gallery before my eyes! Seeing it fully built and in situ for the first time was fascinating for me. I hope all that go to see it will get a sense of the excitement I felt when I saw it for the first time.

Thoracic cascade

Building and installing thoracic cascade gave me an opportunity to enjoy the process of making during an exhibition installation! For me, watching it grow and evolve during the building process was incredible. It is a combination of film and sculpture depicting the power of nature through the explosive movement of the Rheinfall, and a sculpture consisting of a wooden framework, which references the structure of the human spine and rib cage.

The structure has layers of latex, giving the appearance and texture of ‘muscle’ or ‘skin’. This becomes animated with the slightest air movement, in an attempt to simulate the appearance of growth, independent movement and ‘healing’. In contrast, the film focuses on the overwhelming power of nature and its ability to age and erode. Over time, the water will destroy anything in its path. The work is intended to be a study of the cycle of life and how nature and time is capable of change, either through the process of healing or age and erosion. My choice of latex within the sculpture is intended to reference the passage of time and aging. It was fresh at the start and will gradually age, darken and change in texture as it is exposed to light during the overall time of the exhibition.


The film footage within Trapezius consists of three separate works. Two of these depict alternate parts of the Rheinfall in Switzerland. The Rheinfall is the largest waterfall in Europe, located on the High Rhine near the town of Schaffhausen in Northern Switzerland. The films are placed within the gallery space to mirror one another on opposite sides of the gallery. This footage is not only a study of the natural power of the water but also an aesthetic appreciation of the beauty of this natural phenomenon. The works are part of a series which were filmed in the summer, when the average water flow is at its highest at around 700m³/s.

The third film in Trapezius is part of the work entitled Kyphosis, which is inspired by my experience of the natural history collection at the Herbert, and is made in reference to the relief fossils that I have included within the exhibition. It consists of a large-scale hand-made ‘fossil’ portraying a life-size relief of my damaged spinal column, and a film of an MRI of my full spine projected onto it, that slowly fades in and out.

I have found working with a combination of film, sculpture and atmospheric lighting to be extremely rewarding. For me the final editing and finishing of the films to enable the projectors, media players and sculptural forms to work together fluidly, has been a very delicate and important part of the final installation.

Calvaria feminae

Calvaria feminae is a combination of bronze sculpture and a large-scale light box, detailing an adapted image of a full x-ray from my own skull. This work is intended to allow people to appreciate the aesthetic of the x-ray, something which is so important to the medical profession for physical diagnoses and understanding of the human anatomy, but is generally not appreciated for it’s natural delicacy. A bronze cast of a female human skull has been placed in line with the large-scale light box to allow the viewer to appreciate and compare its structure. I would like all who visit the exhibition to touch the bronze skull if they so wish, and effectively become part of the work in progress. I am hoping that enough people will handle the skull to encourage the process of erosion, and the dark red patina on the surface will slowly wear away in places to reveal the lighter bronze underneath. Like with the latex in Thoracic cascade, I would like this reflect the passage of time and the aging process during the exhibition.

Seeing Calvaria femininae and the elephant skull working in harmony across the gallery space for the first time was really exciting! Combining objects from the natural history collection with a contemporary art exhibition was far more dramatic for me than I could ever have imagined.

I would like to say thank you very much to Michael Edgson and the team at the Herbert for all of their time and assistance in helping me to achieve my vision for the exhibition.

And of course I am really looking forward to the evening of 14th May 2011, when the film I have made for the Trapezius Projections night will appear across ruins of Coventry Cathedral!

I hope you enjoy Trapezius as much as I enjoyed the process of making it!

All the best,
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Posted on 26/04/2011, in Exhibitions and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Thanks for sharing the detail behind your work. I’ve really enjoyed watching people interact with your joint exhibition. Brilliant.

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