Digital clay image for The Urpflanze (Part 2)
Melanie Jackson, Moby Dick still for The Urpflanze (Part 2)
Melanie Jackson, The Ur-Phenomenon Cover Image
Melanie Jackson, The Ur-Phenomenon Cover Image
competition bred goldfish
Revital Cohen, Kingyo Kingdom, research still, 2012
Japanese home rooftop goldfish breeding
Revital Cohen, Kingyo Kingdom, research still, 2012
Japanese goldfish breeders competition
Revital Cohen, Kingyo Kingdom, research still, 2012

Transformism, new commissions by two artists, Melanie Jackson and Revital Cohen. 

Both artists, through their distinctive practices, have made new works exploring their interests in how cultural archetypes and ideas interweave with science and technology to create new shapes, visual forms and structures.

As we develop the tools to manipulate and engineer new forms and systems of life, the exhibition considers our historical and contemporary entanglements with nature, technology and the economy, and how these relationships influence emergent forms in biological and synthetic matter, through new sculpture, installation and moving image works.

The Urpflanze (Part 2) is the second part of Melanie Jackson’s ongoing investigation into mutability and transformation that takes its lead from Goethe’s concept of an imaginary primal plant, the Urpflanze, that contained coiled up within it the potential to unfurl all possible future forms. Contemporary science likewise imagines the potential to grow or print any form we can imagine, by recasting physical, chemical and biological function as a substrate that can be programmed into being. Jackson’s work begins in the botanical garden and looks to the laboratory, from clay pits to the factory floor, from analogue to digital clay, from its own animated pixels to the interior of the screen in a series of moving image works and ceramic sculptures. She has collaborated with Esther Leslie on a text that has informed the work and a new publication, THE UR-PHENOMENON, that will be distributed as part of the exhibition.

In Kingyo Kingdom, Revital Cohen, whose projects often test the ethical parameters of biological design, explores the genus of fish that have been designed for aesthetic purposes, questioning the definitions used to indicate living creatures. Does one denominate a manipulated organism as an object, product, animal or pet? What consequences does this entail for our feelings and behaviours? Cohen’s interest in the cultural perceptions and aesthetics of animal-as-product took her to Japan where exotic goldfish have been developed over centuries of meticulous cultivation; breeding out dorsal fins and sculpting kimono-like Ranchu fish tails. Kingyo Kingdom explores the unique culture of breeders, collectors and connoisseurs with footage from the Japanese national goldfish competition, questioning the design and commodification of this species.

The exhibition's Reading Room includes:

  • Paola Antonelli, Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects
  • Jane Bennet, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things
  • Diana H. Coole, Smantha Frost, NewMaterialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics
  • Michel Houellebecq, Atomised
  • Esther Leslie, Synthetic Worlds: Nature, Art and the Chemical Industry
  • Daniel Miller, Materiality (Politics, History, and Culture)
  • William Myers, Bio Design: Nature Science and Creativity
  • Harry Pearson, Racing Pigs and Giant Marrows: Travels around the north country fairs
  • Kazuya Takaoka, Kingyo: The Artistry of Japanese Goldfish


An illustrated exhibition guide with an essay by Isobel Harbison will be available in print and as a free eBook download.


Opening and Crafting Life: Materiality, Science and Technology symposium

2.30pm, Sat 26 January 2013
John Hansard Gallery, University of Southampton, SO17 1BJ, UK
Crafting Life symposium explored how crafted life forms create an interplay between art, design, science and technology.
The symposium was part of the opening day programming around the Transformism exhibition of work by Melanie Jackson and Revital Cohen.
The cultivation and crafting of biological life has existed for centuries, both for aesthetic and practical purposes. Today, with the advancement of bioscientific tools, techniques and materials, these new forms are now not only produced by farms and individuals, but in laboratories and factories, with 'crafting' taking place on the molecular level.
In this symposium, we will begin to examine, from different disciplinary perspectives, some of the implications of applying new scientific and technological tools to the manipulation of living forms and systems, what this means for our relationship with non-human life, and the new realm of aesthetic and forms it opens up.
Prof Susanne Kuechler is head of Anthropology department at UCL, Director of Masters Programme in Culture, Materials and Design, and co-editor of the Journal of Material Culture. Her current research is in new material, new technologies and society: their innovation, take-up, classification and transmission, material-aesthetics and the anthropology of art, and she specialisises in pacific anthropology and ethnographic collections.
Dr Emma J Roe is a lecturer in Human Geography in Geography and Environment at the University of Southampton. She specialises in bodily cultural geographies, specialising in bodily cultural geographies of human-nonhuman relations, embodied material ethics and practical experience of consumption.
Prof Raymond Oliver is a lecturer in Interactive Materials in the P³i - D:STEM Interaction Studio Lab at Northumbria University, a chemical engineer with 20 years expertise through a variety of senior research and technology management posts in a global chemicals and materials company. P³i - D:STEM Interaction Studio Lab specialises in Synthetic Biology, Organic electronics, Sensors and Mircrofluidics, Nano materials and technologies into practical, usable, desirable solutions for tomorrow’s issues today.


Read reviews

Nicola Triscott blog
AnimalNewyork blog


Melanie Jackson inhabits different tropes of art making to interrogate possibilities of representation against the engaged practices of the world. She is interested in ways in which thought and affect is conducted through the material, and much of her work has explored this against the context of work, production and the flow of international capital.  She is currently investigating the relationships between nature and technology through a series of experiments with fauna and flora, and the technologies available to her. Melanie is a lecturer at Slade School of Fine Art, her solo exhibitions include The Urpflanze (Part 1), The Drawing Room, London (2010), Road Angel, Arnolfini, Bristol (2007), Made In China, Matt’s Gallery, London (2005).  She won the Jerwood Drawing Prize in 2007.

Revital Cohen is an artist and designer who develops critical objects and provocative scenarios exploring the juxtaposition of the natural with the artificial. Her work spans across various mediums and includes collaborations with scientists, bioethicists, animal breeders and physicians. Since establishing her studio in 2008, she has been exhibiting and lecturing internationally within varied contexts and locations - from scientific and academic conferences to art galleries and design fairs. She is the current winner of the Science Museum’s Emerging Artist Commission.

Supported by

Melanie Jackson's commission has been supported by a Wellcome Trust Arts Award and the Slade School of Fine Art and Revital Cohen’s by S-Air Japan. Transformism is funded by Arts Council England.