Mariele Neudecker

Artist in residence


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The work

Plastic Vanitas

Plastic Vanitas - Still Life with Chopping Board & Cup [AIBDC 535, CR, 134, Shelf 6 of 8, 1.8kg]

Mariele Neudecker created Plastic Vanitas as a result of a residency during 2015 at the Arts University Bournemouth. It is a collection of 49 photographic artworks which re-present the MoDiP collection as 'Vanitas' paintings. The work formed the complementary exhibition to the international conference, Provocative Plastics: Plastics in Design from the Practical to the Philosophical, held at the University on 17th & 18th September 2015.

Vanitas painting is a specific form of still life, developed in 16th and 17th century Flanders and the Netherlands, in which the accoutrements of fine living are used to signal the transience of life. The 'vanitas' paradigm shines a new light literally and metaphorically on the often mundane objects from the MoDiP collection. Clocks become the harbingers of life's brevity; Carmen curlers emblems of worldly vanity; and protective helmets, the spectres of what might happen if they are not worn. The compositions, which present objects that themselves raise carbon footprint issues, act as a whole as allegories of the challenges that face our world and its dwindling resources.

The artist

Mariele Neudecker is an internationally renowned artist. German-born, she studied at Goldsmiths College and Chelsea School of Art and Design, and now lives and works in Bristol. Neudecker is a Research Fellow at Bath Spa University. She was short-listed for the prestigious Fourth Plinth in 2010 and has shown in Biennales in Japan, Australia and Singapore. Her UK solo exhibitions include Ikon Gallery,Tate St Ives and Tate Britain.

Her work examines the Contemporary Sublime. At the heart of what she does is the intensification of the act of looking and, therefore, seeing. Working in a wide range of new and traditional media, she uses imagery invented, retrieved and reconsidered from our common cultural consciousness, and represents what we know so we see it as we have never seen it before.

The residency

The residency had two elements:

  • Exploring the MoDiP collection.
  • Creating the work with the BA photography students.

Exploration of the MoDiP collection


the collection

MoDiP's store

Neudecker often realises her 3D imagery in plastics and thus this residency was an opportunity for her to increase her understanding of this material group. She was delighted to have the opportunity to go behind the scenes at MoDiP and discover the collections for herself, removing boxes from the shelves at random and unwrapping the objects within them to see what they were. She was struck especially by the dichotomy of plastics: in her own words 'potentially both the worst and best thing environmentally speaking'. She was also fascinated by how the objects were stored by material, size and weight (heavy boxes at the bottom and light ones at the top) in accumulations of objects that often make no intellectual sense.

Each image represents a box of stored objects from the MoDiP collection. The specific boxes featured were chosen by the artist listing the types of objects found in 'Vanitas' paintings and the MoDiP team selecting from 1000 plus boxes in the collection, boxes containing at least one such object. Her self-imposed rule was that whatever else was in the box was to form part of the still life.

Creation of the work

The work was created in the Arts University Bournemouth's photographic studios with assistance from a team of students studying BA (Hons) Photography and BA (Hons) Commercial Photography. It was a voyage of discovery for both artist and students alike. In the artist's words:

I wouldn't call myself a photographer. I use photography but it's usually outdoors and photographing what's there, rather than setting up scenes like this. I'm learning loads about lighting etc. It's really fun how each student has their own tricks up their sleeve, which they're happy to share.

Mariele Neudecker

The students especially enjoyed participating in the creative act of such an established artist, witnessing and reflecting upon her working method: the trial and error, and the patience required to achieve the perfect image. One student reflected:

This was a great experience and every student should have the opportunity to work with artists on residencies such as this one. Some students simply don't know what to expect outside of their educational bubble. An opportunity like this gave me some idea of how the industry operates in a comfortable work environment I'm familiar with.

Leo Gauvain