As an artist I have been fascinated by the concept of ‘beauty’ since university when a visiting tutor, (the artist Jefford Horrigan) handed me a book and suggested I read an essay called ‘Biology and Beauty’ by Frederick Turner. The essay was profoundly thought provoking and the ideas that it helped me to articulate have informed my practice since then.

One of the ideas that I distilled from this book is that there is such a thing as beauty – in an absolute and not culturally determined way. The difference between this idea and more traditional notions of beauty however is startling; in essence it was suggested that ‘beauty’ can be thought of almost as a sense like taste or touch, that when we experience ‘beauty’ we are sensing a feeling of ‘rightness’ that comes from deep within, from the most primeval parts of our brains. This rightness is many things – the feeling of seeing an elegant structure like a bridge or the experience of standing on the beach and looking out to sea, almost a window into the mathematics that makes up our world – an ability to sense the ebb and flow of physics that define reality.

I am particularly interested in the notion that as an artist you can take an everyday object or idea and through a series of discrete and logical steps arrive at something, that whilst absurd in terms of day to day reality, has an internal consistency and integrity; how do you create an object that simply has a feeling of rightness, a feeling of ‘how could it possibly be any other way’ ? When we experience great art we are always presented with question after question rather than with answers. Art should try to peel back the surface of the world and ask poke and prod it – looking for answers rather than attempting to present on a plate. I think this is why so much art can fall hollow – if we just try to copy nature we are setting ourselves up to fail.

‘Stream’ is not an attempt to replicate a stream or river, the butterflies are an attempt to think about what happens as objects flow and move – to describe the dynamics of a fluid system or the fractal relationships between the members of a swarm of insects or a flock of birds. Very simple rules applied to large numbers of elements give rise to the enormously complex behaviours we see around us every day. The positions of the butterflies can be thought of as paths in water; each butterfly will tell us where it has come from and where it is going to, both still and full of motion.

‘Stream’ is the third in a series of pieces, composed of large numbers of hand made butterflies, which were inspired by a trip to the Amazon Jungle in Bolivia in 2003. Since then these sculptures consisting of large numbers of butterflies have been shown in various locations including an abandoned London church tower, the Hebden Bridge Sculpture Trail in Yorkshire and a couple of weddings.

Arts Council
Stream is funded by the Arts Council England through the Grants for the Arts programme. John Elliott is also the recipient of a bursary from the Devon Art Works 2007 in support of this project.

Thanks to Hannah Cameron, Rohit Bhrara, Nick Kaplony, Andy Cameron and COSMIC for sorting out my postcards.

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