Bog Bodies: Exhibition, performances and talks

Research output: Non-textual outputExhibition


The Bog preserves the body in death enabling us to travel back in time as far as the Mesolithic period. Conditions inside the bog are acidic. They are perpetually wet, entangled with plants and peat, muddy and monstrous. A dense soup inhabited by complex ecologies that thrive in the anaerobic surroundings, creating a unique biochemical and physical occurrence that facilitates the mummification of prehistoric humans.

These turgid, dark, fleshy wetlands present treacherous environmental conditions that reveal life and death. For artists Birtles and Blackburn, the bog body is symbolic – representing metamorphosis and degradation, the vital mud and turbid waters evoke an underworld hell that exposes seemingly paranormal curiosities.

Bog Bodies is an exhibition that interrogates and exposes the complexities of these mysterious spaces, figures, images and ideas through ceramics and photography. The exhibition presents the work of Holly Birtles and Charly Blackburn who reflect upon the disturbing enigmatic myths and scientific findings, that informs their visceral responses realised through clay, found debris, performance and photographs. The work focuses on two specific locations of significance to the artists. Through the landscapes of the Thames Estuary and The Fens they unfold their personal associations while exploring the slow dark ecological violence, weaving these into the wider narratives of estuaries and wetlands.

Holly Birtles examines selected locations along the Essex side of the Thames Estuary as she envisions a musical production that articulates the sacred and tragic tales of the estuary juxtaposed with associated ecological trauma. In her project Mud and Monster Soup Birtles works with performers and musicians to explore backstage and rehearsal processes whereby members of the cast contemplate and practice their role as specific creatures or monsters. Birtles’ multi-disciplinary practice involves prop production, performance, analogue and digital photographic processes. She draws on performance documentation, re-appropriation, AI generated imagery, and self-portraiture to represent a collaborative response to selected estuary locations.

Charly Blackburn responds to the Fenland Marshes. She reflects upon the boggy depths and subsequent excavations that reveal sinister tales and biochemical phenomenon. In Bog Bodies Blackburn presents clay vessels that embrace the debris and degradation of materials submerged and compressed in these wetlands. She produces sculptural vessels that appear to embody thousands of years of acidic stewing, compressed tightly – a textured muck and metamorphosis of earth materials. These forms appear as though they have been dredged up – teleported from deep mud to the studio, re-contacting ancient forms.

Together Birtles and Blackburn each articulate the need to preserve these locations by engaging with folklore and supernatural tales as a means of reconnecting with ancient landscapes.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2024


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