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Teratology

Barbican Arts Group Trust, Waltham Forest, London, 2018

Saelia Aparicio, Roy Immanuel, Xiaoyang Li, Graham Lambkin & John Thole

Teratology is a group show to be treated as an organism in a continuous state of development, exploring themes, structures and functions relating to the body, myth and monsters.

Teratology is a term currently connected to the study of physiological development and its potential abnormalities. It also covers deformities in botany, and its original ambit was much broader in scope, covering anything that was considered abnormal.

In the 16th and 17th centuries, teratology was essentially the “science of monsters”, and “monsters” were the subject of collection, wild misrepresentation and religious propaganda. Even before any attempt at study, reports of a supposed monster could develop a life of their own. In 1512, pharmacist Luca Landucci described the Monster of Ravenna:

It had a horn on its head, straight up like a sword, and instead of arms it had two wings like a bat’s, and at the height of the breasts it had a fio [Y-shaped mark] on one side and a cross on the other, and lower down at the waist, two serpents. It was a hermaphrodite, and on the right knee it had an eye, and its left foot was like an eagle’s.

Word travelled throughout Europe via drawings and prints and at each stage it would gather extra limbs and further layers of meaning (its horn became a symbol of French national pride). This development continued long after reports of the “monster’s” death. The Monster of Ravenna became a myth, a set of symbols. The myth developed like an organism.

Such is the intention of the show Teratology – a collective artistic dialogue to function like a myth, to inhabit the body of a ‘monster’, a growing organism, continuously reshaping, stimulating and contemplating the world around us. Myths are constructed from discrete components – words and visual images, they confirm some form of truth about how the world is or how we wish it to be, and the more the myth is known, the less it is the subject of interrogation, providing instead a stage for debate.

Once initial work has been established, artists over a period of time are encouraged to create new works that interact and respond to the body of the show. Works can be replaced, rearranged or added to. Artists can collaborate and respond any way they deem appropriate. The artwork is never a finished product but part of a living process, a practice, that can be reactivated and reshaped at different times.

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