The Pair of Elephant Vases are based on a vase à têtes d'éléphant, first made by the Sèvres Manufactory in 1756, which is one of seven examples in the Waddesdon collection.
During the period when these and other extraordinary ceramic vases were made there was a strong interest in science and natural history, which was reflected in surface decoration. Though this is not evident on the Waddesdon vase that was 3D scanned and used as the basis of my interpretation, it can be seen in other Sèvres pieces in the Waddesdon collection. For instance, the vermiculé pattern that I appropriated for my Vermiculé Vases uses microscopy imagery as inspiration for a decorative pattern. The bringing together of art and science in a decorative object is unusual now, but at the time when these vases were made there was much less separation between branches of learning. Groups of learned people such as the Lunar Society would explore wide-ranging interests and treated the arts, humanities and sciences as compatible equals, a view that we would do well to return to.
In order to reflect on this, I based the pattern that pierces the vases on contemporary micrograph imagery of elephant hide. The Elephant Vases were only made possible by the use of new technology, in particular 3D printing, where a drawing is created using 3D software and used to fuse together extremely fine layers of material, in this particular case, nylon. Since earliest times, craft has evolved, with innovation and the development of new tools enabling makers to create objects and artworks that was previously impossible or extremely difficult. This is certainly the case with 3D printing, as it allows me to produce objects that I could not previously create on the potter’s wheel. However, I firmly believe that all tools have their place and 3D printing does not replace them. As artists and makers, we simply have some new tools to choose from and can develop the craft skills required to fully exploit them.
Michael Eden 2018