Josephine Rutherfoord | England

Sep 16, 2022

I’m Josephine Rutherfoord and I live England. I work in the space where art meets science. Collaboration with scientists is core to my practice, as are research and experimentation with ideas and materials. I have made work on diverse subjects from miscarriage and loss, IVF, and the politics of conception to the hidden world of mycelium.

 

My younger sister once asked me: ‘What has art got to do with science?’ I struggled to answer at the time and realise that the question should be: ‘What have artists got in common with scientists?’ Artists and scientists both have the desire to understand and make sense of their world. Artists might paint what they see or use art to process their experiences while scientists use microscopes and experiments to understand the processes of life. Whilst our end results are different, both disciplines are driven by curiosity and the desire to share what has been uncovered with others.

 

I use my creative process to transform scientific knowledge and put it back into the world after it has undergone a shift, subtle or otherwise. Inspiration for my work can come from anywhere – for example, the radio or books – but the first work I am talking about today came from my own experience. 

 

This work is part of an installation called ‘I grandi dolori sono muti’, which was part of the group show ‘Obsessions’ at Modern Art Oxford in 2008. In 2005, in my final year of my Fine Art degree at Oxford Brookes, I had a positive pregnancy test following IVF. As I was on the phone telling a friend the good news, I felt something ‘go’ within me. A scan a few days later showed the gestational sac – it was empty. I had lost the baby.

 

I was haunted by the echo of the empty sac and began making sculptural forms from latex and wax which fit into the palm of my hand. They are voids, they have no internal support – the latex form is filled with my breath to stop it collapsing on itself, referencing the fragility of an early pregnancy.

 

The work explores the inexpressible feeling of loss, a universal experience, hence the title ‘i grandi dolori sono muti’ (great griefs are mute). Visitors to the work, without knowing the subject matter, said that ‘it felt sad’. Bringing a subject such as miscarriage out of the shadows opens a conversation around something that people often feel shame or embarrassment about, hiding their grief in the deepest part of their heart.

 

Recently I have been exploring the hidden world of mycelium and fungi, inspired by the book Entangled Life by mycologist Merlin Sheldrake. Mycelium is the underground part of fungi with mushrooms being the fruiting body of the organism. Mycelium is amazing. It links into the roots of trees and distributes nutrients from healthy trees to those which are struggling.

 

Mycelium is normally hidden and microscopic, but I wanted to bring it into the light and scale it up. I created a series of large cyanotypes (78x78 cm) using stencils to show the way different types of mycelia grow. The cyanotypes show what might be mistaken for a road network with roundabouts and T junctions: the mycelium’s tendrils seek out nutrients in one direction but when nutrients are found elsewhere a message is sent and the tendrils change direction.

 

Currently, I am attempting to grow mycelium into free-form sculptures. Last year the SPUN earth project, which seeks to map the vast underground mycelium network, was launched. Merlin Sheldrake is part of this, and I have contacted him about the possibility of artists being involved in the project.

You can see more of my work at Josephine Rutherfoord (josephine-rutherfoord.com) or if you would like to chat about any aspect of it message me on Instagram @josephinerutherfoord