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Helen Pynor

Gadigal Country
Sydney, NSW, Australia


Habitation explores the animate-inanimate boundary collapse we are currently witnessing due to the widespread use of prosthetics, and was prompted by hip replacement surgery Pynor recently undertook to address a congenital hip abnormality. The installation takes up Monika Bakke’s notion of ‘lithic intimacies’: life’s diverse, intimate relationships of exchange and inter-species companionship with minerals.

Navigating medical prohibitions, Pynor gained permission to retain the bone material removed from her body during surgery, raising important questions about ownership and personal agency over ‘life forms’ excised from the body, and what happens to them after removal. To honour the material, symbolic and spiritual potential embedded in her excised bone, Pynor has used the bone to make a series of bone china objects, modelled from CT scan data of her pelvis and femur bones. Bone china clay contains up to 50% animal bone and during its production, soft tissues are burnt off to leave only the mineral content of the bones – calcium, iron and mineral trace elements. This transformation releases the minerals that afford bone china its strength and capacity for delicacy, and makes manifest the inherent minerality of our skeletons. Coral-shaped forms are attached to the bone china objects. The intimate relationships of material exchange taking place in coral between soft-bodied organisms and their calciferous structures, offers an analogy to the osteo-integration of human bone cells into the mineral structure of prostheses.

Adjacent to the bone china works are two lightbox images that reference the absent bone and the transformational processes following surgery.  The imagery is drawn from Pynor’s archive of CT scans and X-rays, which trace her bone’s dynamic adaptation to change over the course of her life.

Habitation seeks to challenge perceptions of the body as a passive recipient of human-engineered implants. Pynor’s titanium hip implant is ‘cementless,’ meaning no adhesives are used to attach implant to bone. Rather, it has a hydroxyapatite coating that stimulates the patient’s own bone cells to grow into fissures in the coating, thus holding the implant in place for decades. Pynor is interested in the molecular and atomic exchanges that inevitably take place between living and prosthetic ‘tissues’ at this dynamic interface. She will re-stage this exchange in the lab during a residency at SymbioticA, The University of Western Australia, where she will use tissue culture techniques and microscopy to image this cellular integration.

The Artist
Helen Pynor

Dr Helen Pynor is a Sydney and London-based Artist and Researcher whose practice explores philosophically and experientially ambiguous zones, such as the life-death boundary.