I started working on the idea for this series of works at the start of my year long Pangolin London residency.  Although pregnant at the time, I wasn’t intending to produce any work about that but ended up by a strange coincidence developing this work about embryogenesis. The inspiration was a rather strange one for a rational scientist, as it was Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of Morphic Fields. In his book ‘A new science of life’ he argues that developmental biologist still cannot really explain how the DNA of a species controls how the blob of a dividing fertilised egg organises itself into the specific and complex form of the developing embryo. Instead he argues that there might be morphic fields that are generated by any existing form, and that the developing organism is most influenced by the forms closest to it genetically, temporarily and physically, which turns out to be its parents and genetic line. He does not try to explain how these fields exist or work, and makes a convincing comparison to gravitational fields, which we still do not understand yet can believe in due to their convincing presence holding us on to the surface of our planet.

There is of course no evidence to support his theories and I am yet to be convinced of their validity. But it is a lovely idea to play with, especially as a sculptor, since he states that any form once it has come into existence will create its own morphic fields that will influence the development of any other form that can tune in to its fields. The more a shape exists, the stronger it’s morphic field, which would imply that a sculpture I create in a large edition might start influencing the sculptures of other artists via its morphic field… or should I say ‘with great power comes great responsibility’!

Patterns of Growth

The small embryo at the center of this installation is surrounded by a large Fibonacci spiral of copper and brass which could represent Sheldrake’s morphic field influencing the development of form in this tiny precious thing, or it could more generally imply all the forces of nature, humanity and society that move and organise themselves to allow this amazing act of creation to be possible. This delicate maelstrom hangs above a circular plinth upon which its shadow is cast. The duality of object and shadow relates to the scientific process of object and observation, its circular nature reminiscent of petri dishes or microscope view finders. The scientist can record the observation, but it is an act of faith extrapolating back to the actual phenomenon the object hanging above. This also highlights how there are still gaps in our knowldege of how embryogenesis actually works.

For more information on the ideas and the making of this work you can view this video:

Patterns of Growth by Briony Marshall

Pewter, copper, brass, wooden plinth and grey felt drawings
Unique (available for sale)
103 x 150 x 132 cm

Embryonic Growth

In this smaller work in the embryogenesis series, the embryo hangs in a small perfect Fibonacci spiral.

Pewter, brass and copper
Edition 6
18cm high

11 weeks

Life size sculpture of an 11 week human embryo. This work has produced strong visceral reactions both positive and negative in observer. Its power seems to lie in its small scale – it sits easily in the palm of your hand – yet is heavy with meaning for us, on both personal and political levels.

Edition of 6
4cm high

Patterns of Growth 1

A cyanotype or solar print is produced by a photographic chemical reaction using the sun or UV light. In this case I used my sculptures as ‘negatives’ to create photogram type drawings in cyanotype’s distinctive blue colour. I have also played with the process to include imperfections and accidents in the final print.

Unique (available)
38 x 27.5 cm

Embryo Spiral

A pencil drawing of my smaller embryogenesis sculpture.

Graphite on paper
29.7cm high

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