Narrating Plasticity Exhibition moves to the Inigo Rooms…

Following the exhibition at the King’s College London Anatomy Museum 2-3rd February, the Narrating Plasticity exhibition moved to the Inigo Rooms for another week of public display…

Benjamin Dalton, Narrating Plasticity, Amanda Doidge
After the vast space of the Anatomy Museum, it was interesting seeing how the exhibition adapted to the very different space of the King’s College London Inigo Rooms. The exhibition itself had to become plastic, and find new forms and structures with which to tell its story…
Benjamin Dalton, Amanda Doidge, Narrating Plasticity, Inigo Rooms, King's College London
The Inigo Rooms at the King’s College London Cultural Institute served as an apt dark crypt for Amanda Doidge’s disturbing mutating cups
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The scientists’ own plastic creations was displayed alongside images of their trips to the ceramics workshop…
Benjamin Dalton, Amanda Doidge, Narrating Plasticity
Thanks so much to everyone who left their comments and contact details in the comments book. We had reactions from artists, scientists, surgeons, environmental activists, therapists…. We are excited to continue the conversation with you all, and see where the Narrating Plasticity project leads in the future…
Isy Lacombe, Narrating Plasticity
Theatre designer Isabelle Lacombe visits the exhibition whilst visiting London from Canada…
Isabelle Lacombe, Narrating Plasticity
Isabelle has been a close friend of mine for years, but we are usually separated by the Atlantic Ocean. It was so special to be able to take her around the Narrating Plasticity exhibition in person, and hear her reactions to it. Isabelle is a theatre designer and prop maker, so it was fascinating to hear about what plasticity and plastic creation means to her on both a conceptual and practical level.
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Professor Patrick French, who supervises my PhD thesis on plasticity in contemporary French thought and culture, comes to visit the exhibition…
Catherine Malabou, Benjamin Dalton, Narrating Plasticity
The Narrating Plasticity project film was displayed in the Inigo Rooms cinema… here is professor Catherine Malabou lecturing about the neuroplastic brain and the epigenetic human. Malabou’s work on plasticity has influenced the project throughout, with Amanda Doidge and the neuroscientists reading key texts of hers. Malabou’s work is also largely the subject of my PhD thesis: “The Coming of Plasticity: Transforming Change in Contemporary French Thought, Literature and Film”
Benjamin Dalton, Narrating Plasticity
Because I clearly just couldn’t help myself…
Benjamin Dalton, Narrating Plasticity
And here I am with my own brain. These two scans were taken before and after my endoscopic third ventriculostomy in December 2015. The brain on the left hand side exhibits hydrocephalus, whereas the post-operative brain’s ventricular system looks thankfully a lot healthier! This photo was taken the day of my annual brain scan and check up, and my surgeon Mr Bassel Zebian called later in the day to tell me he had been engaging with the Narrating Plasticity project… 
Dr Anna Kolliakou, Benjamin Dalton, Narrating Plasticity, Culture at King's
Dr Anna Kolliakou works at the Cultural Institute and the Institute of Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience at King’s College London. As Knowledge Exchange Associate, Anna has been the project advisor for Narrating Plasticity from the very beginning. I absolutely could not have done this without her imagination, enthusiasm, support (both practical and emotional), and her brute dynamism when it comes to dealing with emails. Anna, thank you so much.


Amanda Doidge: Ceramics in Series

Ceramicist Amanda Doidge creates series of ceramics, introducing small differences between each individual item, adding evolution and temporality in her plastic (de)formations.

How does plastic art represent or produce an event, a happening, or a transformation?

Can the plastic arts – such as sculpture, pottery and ceramics – transform and express transformation even after their forms have been ossified or fixed, for example after being fired in the kiln?

Does plasticity and plastic transformation have a temporality, or a history? What kind of narrative or story does plastic transformation produce?

Does plastic transformation happy in time or space? Or both? Or neither?

The work of ceramicist Amanda Doidge comprises fascinating and surprising engagements with these questions.


Amanda Doidge: Ceramics, temporality, event

Describing her recent creations in experimental ceramics on her website, Amanda says:

“I am fascinated by how life has evolved from rock. How can we tell the precise stage when it becomes life and is no longer ‘just’ chemistry? I have been looking into the elements that make up clay and glaze materials, that are also found in humans and have a biological role. Some, like Lithium, are used as medicines.

This piece kill or cure is made of bone china, all the elements of which are found in humans: Silica, Alumina, Potassium, Sodium, Calcium and Phosphorous. I have included in the clay increasing amounts of Lithium. In ceramics, Lithium is normally used in the glaze. It lowers the melting point of silica. In medicine Lithium has to be given at a dose specific to the patient, and patients have to be very closely monitored. Too small a dose and it doesn’t work, too much and it can cause everything from paralysis to death. The difference between a medicine and a poison is the dose. In kill or cure, the gradual increases of the ‘dose’ illustrate the story of where the tipping point is. If you do not see the whole series but see the final cup in isolation it is almost unrecognisable as a cup. 

Kill or Cure
Kill or Cure

The series of cups below is also made of bone china. I have made a mould and carved into it – repeatedly carving into the plaster mould and recasting the clay until gradually the cup disappears, consumed by the rock. Displayed the other way around, it seems as though a cup is emerging from the rock. I was inspired by a story about Michelangelo, who was asked by a small boy why he was chipping away at a piece of marble: his answer was ‘because there is an angel inside.’”

The Angel Inside
The Angel Inside (bone china)


Change and transformation in series: A linear progression?

Upon meeting Amanda, I knew that her way of working and thinking plastic transformation and deformation through ceramics would be perfect for the “Narrating Plasticity” project.

Amanda’s way of producing bone china cups in series, with minute differences and transformations between the cups, struck me as a way of putting temporality in ceramics.

When you encounter Amanda’s cups side by side in series, they read left to right or right to left, mobilising the temporality and kenesis of a progression or a change, even though each individual cup in itself might seen static or ossified in its form.

Amanda stresses that all the cups were fired together. In the Kill or Cure? series, the level of deformation of each individual cup depends entirely on the dose of lithium mixed into the bone china.

All the cups went into the kiln at the same time and were exposed to the same heat for the same duration, each cup deforming and flopping back in concordance with the dose of lithium within it. Amanda notes that whilst the cups have all deformed to different degrees, they all seem to flop in the same way, falling back on the weight of the cup’s handle. This unifying logic of deformation creates the feeling that the cups are all different moments in the same narrative arc of deformation.

One way of reading this series of cups, then, it seems, is as a linear progression of transformation or deformations, either from left to right or right to left. The beautiful, recognisable form of the perfect cup gradually melts along the series into the smudged up puddle of bone china, or conversely, the smudged up puddle of bone china evolves into the recognisable form of the perfect cup. Read like this, transformation is linear, developmental, evolutionary. Each cup gains its identity from the narrative of the series, identity evolves as a clear arc or progression.

However, this is not the only way of reading the series.


Taking the form out of the series 

The cup pictured below is Amanda’s favourite cup in the series.

What does it mean to take one of the cups away from the series? Does it drag its narrative arch of transformation with it? Or is it now entirely lost, evacuated of context?

When we have finished looking at the cups in series, Amanda picks one of the cups out and places it on a different table in isolation.

“Look at it,” she says. “You probably wouldn’t know it was a cup.”

Taken out of context, the cup loses its narrative arc, its logic or history of transformation. It is rid of its linear, helpful temporality.

We don’t know quite where the cup’s deformations are coming from, or where they are going. We don’t know what the cup was “before”. Has its function as a cup changed? Is it still a receptacle? Is it still a form?

Is there still temporality even though this temporality has been taken out of its linear progression? Is there a narrative of this transformed or evacuated temporality?

Talking through the initial brief of the “Narrating Plasticity” project with Amanda, the image of the transformed cup in isolation seemed particularly resonant. We talked about the neuro-ward, and how clinical teams will encounter a patient completely out of context. This patient will sometimes have undergone changes to their brain that will have rendered them very different to the person they were “before”, and yet taken out of context, the story of that change is very difficult to communicate, or indeed becomes itself fragmented, or is erased entirely.

Over the course of this project, from the transforming cups in the series onwards, we hope to think about ways of communicating and narrating plastic transformation where recourse to linear temporality and developmental narrative arcs are no longer possible.