“I want to humanise time, I want to bring a person into an environment and present to them [unknown] places that are imbued with meaning”. – John Grade
In his first UK exhibition, John Grade created The Elephant Bed, a monolithic interpretation of the life-cycle of the coccolithophore. Billions of these invisible algae congregate just beneath the surface of the world’s oceans and, when they die, their protective outer casings drift down to add to thick sedimentary layers on the sea bed. At the end of the Ice Age, one such strip of shale and sand washed down from the Sussex Downs, eventually compacting into the bed rock, the Elephant Bed, below modern Brighton and Hove.
Landscape is at the heart of Grade’s work, as well as his preoccupation with change and natural disintegration. The Elephant Bed consisted of a multitude of delicate, suspended forms, each constructed largely from water soluble paper. At one end of the gallery lay a pool of oil into which, over the course of the exhibition, several of the forms were lowered, slowly absorbing the oil and losing structural rigidity. At the end of the exhibition, the remaining objects were carried down to the Brighton sea-front and committed to the sea, quickly dissolving in the prevailing waves. As with many of Grade’s works, The Elephant Bed was finally reclaimed by the environment that inspired it, perhaps contributing in some small way to the bedrock of future civilisations.
I love John Grade’s work, his whole practice of working is fascinating. He doesn’t just take inspiration from nature by creating a sculpture and leaving it at that. He immerses his work within the natural environment and lets decay and the passing of time take effect upon it. Leaving it sometimes for years, documenting its change along the way and finally using what’s left of the piece to create new work, creating a continuous circle of creativity, letting his past work bleed into that of his future. His work is like a tribute the the environment that inspired it, letting nature do what it wants with it.