The weird and wonderful art of Emma Ward

According to a well trusted friend of mine, who devotes her life to the perplexing ideologies of superstition, hair will begin to grow in your stomach if you chew and eat your nails to oblivion. I have no nails, so I have a lot to be concerned about. I can’t bear to imagine the thought of coughing up a fur ball, and am certainly not confident enough to ask the street roaming Salem-wannabe cats how to cough some up. Surely my internal hair farm needs a good harvest, right? And, even if it were a good season, I can’t imagine a decent-sized hairball having much street value.

Before I even get the chance to Google ‘Vomiting up Hairballs for Dummies’, I stumble across the genius that is emerging contemporary artist Emma Ward, and her Einstein creative motifs to re-investigate why exactly humans – and I guess cats too – decide to abandon such a not-so-valuable commodity.

Propelled into the white-blanketed walls of The Old Truman Brewery, I am engulfed by the works of Lancaster University’s graduating fine artists. Being a strong advocate for supporting student work, I can’t help but revel in the grotesque work of Ward and her innate ability to capture the essence of decay through the physical restructure and organisation of human hair. Her talent for assembling a mass of black human hair into tea cups and other everyday kitchen objects left me speechless, tied to the floor, mouth agape. A tea cup made from meshed human hair – I mean…really? There is nothing to suggest how she has constructed these wonderland-like, obscure cups. Largely, I think that’s what transcends her work into realms of wonder and revolt; her secretive craft is formidably alluring, although I assume hairspray and cotton played equal parts in the manipulation of her material. I begin to wonder how many fur balls were needed in the process of experimenting with these ideas, but then imagine her to be taking much more precaution than simply studying the gagging efforts of her neighbourhood cats. She invites her audience to understand her work as ‘disconcerting representations of decay’ by inertly forcing to ‘intrigue and repulse the viewer simultaneously’. A gold star and big juicy red tick for you Ward, because your ability to catapult me into a juxtaposed realm certainly threw me off balance. And I loved it.

After riding the rocket of artistic inspiration, I question my friends’ ‘hair-lined stomach’ superstitions and decide that perhaps my stomach is just full with the juice of ‘Grotesque Concentrate’. Lately, I have felt like such an enthusiast for all things grotesque, or anything unnatural or odd in shape, appearance, or character, which yet manages to somehow frame a canvas of absolute beauty. The history books have played with the word ‘grotesque’ for centuries, and I must admit that during my University days I fell in love with the Japanese theatrical art form of Butoh (a theatrical movement based on the principles of grotesque imagery and taboo subject matter played in extreme and absurd environments). So, I’m not completely unaware of the subject.

But surely there must be a reason for my die-hard attraction. Or, perhaps in trying to find that reason or answer lies the lesson – take it for what it is. Play with it, run with it, revel in it.

Emma Ward’s blog –
You can view Emma’s work at the Lancaster University Fine Arts BA Show 2011 (Shop 14, The Old Truman Brewery, Nanbury Street, London, E1)