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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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Trapezius: Lisa Gunn’s Blog

 Lisa's studio

At this stage all works for the Trapezius exhibition are in the final stages of production. Each piece is being finished off, cleaned and polished, ready to be transported to the Herbert on 31st March for the final installation process!

I am currently feeling quite enthusiastic about the work, and looking forward to seeing how each piece will look once everything is placed in Gallery 4. I am also excited at the prospect of exhibiting alongside Flora. I am interested to see the contrasts and similarities in our works once they are finally placed next to each other.

At the moment I am following up and collecting all of the work that needed to be outsourced. This includes: 

  • Laser cutting materials for the light box
  • Duratran printing process
  • Laminating, mounting and finishing
  • Cutting of bronze and aluminium
  • Final tidy and polish of bronze casting

I am also going through all of my personal checklists to ensure nothing is overlooked, and I have contacted my guest speakers to confirm the dates that they can come to give talks in the gallery throughout May and June.  

I have acquired all materials needed, drawn up new plans for installation, and I am drawing up diagrams for the larger pieces to be built. These works have been dismantled, packed and are ready for transportation to the Herbert where they will be reassembled. 

I have visited the Herbert on several occasions over the past few weeks to test the projections, and meet with Dom and the technicians to discuss the exhibition plans and building process. 

Flora and I have kept in touch throughout, and have frequently discussed the exhibition in its entirety, including planned talks, events, artist’s master classes and our ambitions to tour the exhibition in the future.

Attached are some images of the work in progress in my studio. They are dated from early January because I don’t want to give away too much information about the final exhibits and spoil the surprise!  

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Lisa's studioLisa's studio

An introduction to Trapezius and a welcome to Flora Parrott and Lisa Gunn to the Herbert blog

It’s been a little while since I last blogged; this has mainly been due to the fact that we’ve been installing our new Egypt exhibition. It really has been a whole Herbert team effort leaving little time for anything else. However now that ‘Secret Egypt‘ has launched to great success, it is time to turn to my attention to other projects and exhibitions occurring in 2011. 

Next up for me is a really exciting contemporary art exhibition which is being created by two very talented artists. This post is my chance to introduce you Flora and Lisa, explain a little about the exhibition and to let you know that they will our be added to our guest bloggers for the next few months.

First a little about each artist. Lisa Gunn may actually be a name known to many of you who have already visited the Herbert, we actually have a work of hers hanging in the ‘Art since 1900‘ gallery. For those who haven’t had chance to visit us yet, here’s some background information. Lisa was born and grew up in Coventry and studied for her BA (Hons) in Fine Art at Coventry University before moving to London to study for a Masters in Printmaking at The Royal College of Art.

Lisa’s work is primarily concerned with her personal and physical relationship to her own body and the trauma it has suffered after she experienced severe spinal injuries from a road traffic accident. The accident left her dependent on a wheelchair. It is through her art we can see her struggle to come to terms with the loss of mobility, and be accepted within a society that often ignores the less abled and views them as imperfect.

She explains further:

‘I believe my body art has become more about the abject body over time through personal life experience… an aesthetic response to the intense physical and emotional sensations that have arisen from physical trauma. [It is] about overcoming adversity. I believe the works emanate strength, resilience, vitality and the power to overcome social stigma.’

Flora Parrott also graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2009; in fact this is where she and Lisa met.  Her work focuses an artistic response to physical sensations, often those that are instinctive and performed without thought. In her own words she explains:

‘The idea of holding in a breath and trapping the air in your lungs is something I find simultaneously immensely calming and appealing as well as claustrophobic and suffocating. Wrangling with the desire to be in opposite states at the same time makes me visualise static forms that are stuck in a tense sort of inertia – on the brink of bursting.’

Her works will often mix printmaking, collage and sculpture to produce a presentation of a physical experience – what happens when you breathe or your muscles relax and tense.

For the Trapezius exhibition, the artists are creating brand new works which continue to explore their own influences as artists but will focus on the human spinal column and its ability to heal and repair itself over time. Both artists were also inspired to include objects from the Herbert’s own natural history collection and, in a very special event, they will project some of the works from the exhibition onto the ruins of the original Coventry Cathedral, further strengthening the exhibition’s connection to the City.

Hopefully this gives you an idea of what you might see in the exhibition; I’ll leave it up to the artists themselves however to explain their own practice and works in more detail. During the months of February, March and April, Flora and Lisa will each be blogging about the development and installation of the exhibition.  The aim is to give you a unique insight into the preparation and installation of an exhibition at the Herbert and allow you to get to know some of the artists that we work with a little better. 

Dom, Exhibitions Officer
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