Medical marvels: Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva's gracefully gruesome sculptures take Nottingham

 Fragility (2015), was first installed at Fabrica, a decommissioned Regency church in Brighton.
Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva presents her medically-inspired sculptures in Nottingham's Djanogly Gallery. Pictured: installation view, Fragility, 2016
(Image credit: Nick Dunmur. Courtesy Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva and Djanogly Gallery)

Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva's work is beautiful, if a little eerie. The Venice Biennale representative's sculptures have a sinister secret: they're made from animal innards. She assures us, it's all in the name of medical progress.

For a new exhibition in Nottingham's Djanogly Gallery, the Macedonian-born artist has teamed up with scientists and medical professors to draw a wider public awareness to digestive diseases, as well as helping to ease the stigma surrounding them. Supported by the Wellcome trust, the project saw Hadzi-Vasileva shadow doctors the Nottingham's Digestive Diseases Biomedical Research Unit. Her work, sometimes harrowing, sometimes witty, always gracefully rendered, is a way of breaking down one of the final taboos of the body: talking about our guts. 'It has problems, just like any other part of our body, and there's no reason we shouldn't be talking about it', curator Neil Walker reasons.

A photomontage of medical images Hadzi-Vasileva collected during the research process opens the show, which prepares visitors for a candid video installation of individuals frankly discussing their experiences with digestive diseases. From here, things get markedly more sanguine. The first installation to use animal viscera inhabits the next two rooms of the gallery. Fragility (2015), was first installed at Fabrica, a decommissioned Regency church in Brighton. The artist uses chemically embalmed pigs’ caul fat, elevating it from a perishable waste product into a delicate, decorative material. The translucent work which covers the entire room, softly sifts the light creating a tranquil, contemplative space. The intention, Hadzi-Vasileva explains, it to recreate the phenomena of a near-death experience.

A residency at Michelin starred London restaurant Pied à Terre produced some of the artist's more light-hearted work. Gill's Slit's is made from skate bones the artist salvaged from the restaurant bins. Its jutting, charismatic wings capture the 'machismo of the kitchen', as well as reflecting how 'mesmerised' Hadzi-Vasileva was with the artistry of the dishes being produced, the curator explains.

Walker is keen to point out that all animal-based materials used in the exhibition have been carefully and responsibly sourced, and around 80 per cent of the products would have just been thrown away had they not been salvaged by Hadzi-Vasileva. This chimes with the artist's penchant for using materials of little financial or personal value; transforming them into something ethereal, and in this case, scientifically progressive.

The first installation to use animal viscera inhabits two rooms of the gallery

The first installation to use animal viscera inhabits two rooms of the gallery. Fragility (2016), pictured, was first installed at Fabrica, a decommissioned Regency church in Brighton

(Image credit: Nick Dunmur. Courtesy Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva and Djanogly Gallery)

Fragility has been combined with one of Hadzi-Vasileva's other renowned sculptures, Haruspex, first shown at the 56th Venice Biennial, 2015

Fragility has been combined with one of Hadzi-Vasileva's other renowned sculptures, Haruspex, first shown at the 56th Venice Biennial, 2015

(Image credit: Nick Dunmur. Courtesy Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva and Djanogly Gallery)

Installation view of the gallery

A photomontage of medical images Hadzi-Vasileva collected during the research process opens the show, which prepares visitors for a candid video installation of individuals frankly discussing their experiences with digestive diseases. Pictured: installation view

(Image credit: Nick Dunmur. Courtesy Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva and Djanogly Gallery)

Ladies Purse 4, 2016

The artist teamed up with scientists and medical professors to draw a wider public awareness to digestive diseases and the stigma surrounding them. Pictured: Ladies Purse 4, 2016

(Image credit: Nick Dunmur. Courtesy Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva and Djanogly Gallery)

Ladies Purse 1 (2016) pictured is made using sheep testicals

Ladies Purse 1 (2016) pictured is made using sheep testicals

(Image credit: Nick Dunmur. Courtesy Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva and Djanogly Gallery)

The artist uses chemically embalmed pigs’ caul fat, elevating it from a perishable waste product into a delicate, decorative material.

The artist's penchant for using materials of little financial or personal value; transforming them into something ethereal, and in this case, scientifically progressive. Pictured: installation view

(Image credit: Nick Dunmur. Courtesy Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva and Djanogly Gallery)

Hadzi-Vasileva's work is a way of breaking down the final taboo of the body.

Sometimes harrowing, sometimes witty and always gracefully rendered, Hadzi-Vasileva's work is a way of breaking down the final taboo of the body. Pictured: installation view

(Image credit: Nick Dunmur. Courtesy Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva and Djanogly Gallery)

Hadzi-Vasileva uses and experiments with unconventional materials made from animal innards such as caul fat

Hadzi-Vasileva uses and experiments with unconventional materials made from animal innards such as caul fat. Pictured: installation view

(Image credit: Nick Dunmur. Courtesy Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva and Djanogly Gallery)

Copper Wire Drawing, 2016, which traces the lines of a Manometry machine, which records the mobility of the digestive system

(Image credit: Nick Dunmur. Courtesy Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva and Djanogly Gallery)

Gill's Slit's (pictured left) is a sculpture made from skate bones that the artist salvaged from the restauraunt bins.

A six-month residency at Michelin starred London restaurant Pied à Terre, produced some of the artist's more light-hearted work. Gill's Slit's (pictured left) is a sculpture made from skate bones that the artist salvaged from the restauraunt bins. Pictured right: installation view

(Image credit: Nick Dunmur. Courtesy Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva and Djanogly Gallery)

INFORMATION

’Making Beauty’ runs from 20 August to 30 October 2016. For more information, visit the Djanogly Gallery website (opens in new tab)

Elly Parsons is the Digital Editor of Wallpaper*, where she oversees Wallpaper.com and its social platforms. She has been with the brand since 2015 in various roles, spending time as digital writer – specialising in art, technology and contemporary culture – and as deputy digital editor. She was shortlisted for a PPA Award in 2017, has written extensively for many publications, and has contributed to three books. She is a guest lecturer in digital journalism at Goldsmiths University, London, where she also holds a masters degree in creative writing. Now, her main areas of expertise include content strategy, audience engagement, and social media.