Gifts for gods
Volk Gallery

Volk Gallery is a repurposed nappy vending machine, hung in the Keillor Centre shopping centre in Dundee. A rotation of products are dispensed at a set price of £3 each. Each Volk artists is given a size limit and a budget and left to their own devices.

Gifts for gods takes as a starting point the ancient practice of making and exchanging ‘anatomical votives’ – small, powerful clay scuptures designed to fit in the hand. I’ve used the ancient method of production – casting in terracotta clay – to make an edition of 50 votives across five original designs: mouth, eye, ear, hands and womb.

In the territories of ancient Greece and Rome unwell citizens visiting a healing sanctuary or temple, might buy a small model of a human body part from a roadside vendor to leave as an offering to the gods as part of a prayer. Archeologists have found huge stashes of these ‘anatomical votives’ at pre-Christian religious sites, but exactly how they were used by the individuals who first handled them remains a mystery. You might gift an ear to cure deafness or because you want people to listen to you...

Visitors were invited to pick one up for £3 and make a wish.  

Clootie Well for Hospitalfield
Collaborative installation

As Lead Artist on the Young Artist programme at Hospitalfield, I worked with a group of targeted young people from Angus on Saturdays for 20 weeks. As well as making their own work and learning new skills, the group explored the house’s history and collections, and for the culmination of the project, installed an exhibition that ran across the grounds and historic rooms.

Alongside this, I developed Clootie Well for Hospitalfield with the aim of creating an ending ritual for the Young Artist Club’s final meeting.   

Drawing on Hospitalfield’s early history as a place of healing and pilgrimage, and linking this with the ancient celtic tradition of making wishes at holy springs by tying pieces of cloth to nearby branches, the group transformed the Victorian fernery into a colourful grotto, installing textile pieces and making weavings using the metalwork on site. 

As the young people made their work we reflected on how they had grown in confidence and made new freinds. We ended the session with each member of the group tying a ribbon and making a private wish for themselves. The following day, as part of their exhibition, they invited their families to do the same, so that the installation was added to throughout the day. 

Text from exhibition catalogue:

Clootie Well for Hospitalfield reimagines the fernery as a centre for pilgrimage and healing. A site-specific collaborative weaving will link Hospitalfield’s early history, as a hospital for pilgrims travelling to Arbroath Abbey, with the pre-Christian tradition of Clootie Wells. These were holy wells associated with healing, where pilgrims would dip strips of cloth in the water before tying them to trees as part of a wishing ritual. Ferns are ancient plants and have long been associated with sacredness. Visitors can add their own ribbon to the Young Artists’ installation and make a wish.

Wolves in West Bell Street Car Park Underpass, Dundee

Eight drawings installed on billboards, graphite on paper

During the 2020 Covid lockdown I installed a series of eight large drawings on billboards in an underpass in central Dundee. They were graphite drawings – so hand-drawn, not printed reproductions – and showed a pack of wolves walking in the direction of town.

I made drawings of wolves because they are the subject of continued debate over rewilding in Scotland. When I put them up it was amid posters advertising cancelled exhibitions and events, and there was a sense of the drawn wolves patrolling the emptied city spaces. 

Wolves are Europe’s archetypal predator and, as the demand for puppies soared during the pandemic, they seemed to me an interesting animal to think with. Both like and completely unlike the dogs we keep as pets, they have lived, historically, in the forests at the edges of domestic space.  

In fact there is actually a real-life pack of wolves living on the outskirts of Dundee, in Camperdown Wildlife Centre and the drawings are based on photos I took of them. 

Below are photographs of the drawings when first installed, and then again a few months later. 


Four digital prints, 84.1cm x 118.9cm 

Six months after I installed them, four drawings remained — material artefacts  that had weathered the second lockdown. I photographed these graffitied and worn collaborative images and turned them into a series of prints, as a record of that period in the city’s story. 

Installation, November 2020:

Selected drawings, photographed February 2021:

Digital prints of four drawings photographed after six months in the underpass, in May 2021:

Text and Image project
University of St Andrews

Collaboration with theologists at the University of St Andrews, exploring text and image and the idea of revelation. 

Text from exhibition catalogue:

My work for this exhibition explores the material integrity of images in the context of the project theme of revelation. It includes paintings on cut-up cardboard boxes, a textile piece featuring embroidered lettering that can only be read with a mirror, and a set of nine sculpted ceramic tiles. It is part of ongoing attempts to make work that defamiliarises the act of looking in response to the daily experience of using the internet.

As we move across its gleaming surface with search terms and tabs, the internet can feel like a limitless extension of thought. It is a space that can seem to swallow time, and in which images are not objects but digital reproductions, scaled to fit whatever screen we happen to be viewing them on.

To explore this contemporary experience of disembodied looking and sense-making, I was drawn to medieval depictions of space, in particular to the playful representation of physical space in two Sienese paintings showing saintly intervention, from which I’ve borrowed figures and a colour palette. The medieval pictorial device of continuous narrative, which sees chronologically distinct scenes integrated within a single picture, has also been a point of reference.

I wanted to make a long moment; to create an unsequenced narrative, with imagery running across different objects, that slows down the act of looking. Themes, colours and formal ideas – holes, emergent figures, cut-outs, falling, children, repetition – link the works and, I hope, present meaning-making as an imaginative act requiring physical space and time.

A sequence
Mixed media textile
100 x 155cm

Child falling out of an old painting
Acrylic on cardboard
67 x 103cm

Two arrivals
Acrylic on cardboard
16cmx12cm and 30cmx16cm

Nine parts
Ceramic, acrylic, varnish
40 x 40cm

Make an anatomical votive
Art assignment, collaboration

An open educational resource, devised in response to the physical separation of the 2020 lockdown. Make an anatomical votive invited participants to make a connection between feelings, the body and the act of making an object.

Read about the project at The Votives Project, an interdisciplinary project at the Open University.

Listen to the assignment, or see the transcript below. If you decide to make your own and would like to share what you make,  I’d love to include it here on the project page. Please get in touch!

This assignment takes the idea of the ancient anatomical votive as a starting point. So I’m going to start by telling you a bit about these objects – and then we’ll move on the art assignment.

Votive offerings exist in lots of different forms across lots of different cultures. But for this assignment we are drawing on the pre-Christian Greek and Roman tradition of dedicating objects that look like body parts, to the divine.

I should say that the thinking for this assignment came out of reading a recent book called ‘Bodies of Evidence’, edited by Jane Draycott and Emma-Jayne Graham, published in 2017. So for anyone who wants to know more – that’s where to look! The Wellcome Collection also has a great catalogue of images online.

In the ancient world, the anatomical votive was an image, often a small model, of a human body part, offered to the gods. The word ‘votive’ is in fact related to the word ‘vow’. This is because of how this particular kind of ritual activity worked: an individual would go to the temple, to seek direct support from a god or gods – asking for a direct intervention into their lives on a particular problem. They would make their prayer and then vow to present the god with something in return when that prayer was fulfilled. For example, you break your leg, go the shrine to pray ask for it to be healed and vow to return with a gift when it is. After a few months and your leg is better, you take a small sculpture of a leg and leave it as an offering, thereby fulfilling your vow. So there’s this cyclical relationship between the human body, language, the object and the gods.

Huge numbers of these objects have been found by archaeologists at the sites of ancient temples and centres of healing – feet, scalps, genitals, swaddled infants, hair, breasts, eyes, bladders, limbs and lungs. Most likely they were mass produced – lots of the models would have made from casts. Some of them seem to show imagined versions of internal organs and are therefore hard to identify. For example, there is some debate over whether what archaeologists have long described as ‘votive wombs’ – or uteri - are in fact intestines. Some anatomical votives are life-sized and others are not, but lots of them would be a nice size to hold in your hand.

Your assignment is to make your own anatomical votive. The aim is to make a connection between feelings, the body and the act of making an object.

Here’s how:

**Identify something you would like help with**. It it’s a pain, it might be emotional rather than physical, in which case, identify a part of the body that you relate to this pain. You could do this by thinking about where you feel that emotional pain – in your heart or your belly for instance – or it might be that you want to use a body part as a symbol. For example, you wish you could travel, so you make a foot. Of course it’s not possible to know what individual ancient Greeks and Romans meant by their votives, they may well have had symbolic as well as literal meaning – or instead of a literal meaning. You might make a tongue because you are suffering from mouth ulcers, or you might make a tongue because you have a secret you want the courage to tell.

**Make your anatomical votive using whatever materials you have to hand** – either at home or go for a walk while you’re doing your thinking and find a stone to draw on or a piece of bark to work with. Greek and Roman votives would be made out of all sorts of materials. Clay, wax or wood – but also more perishable materials which have not survived – like fabric or foodstuffs. Or they would be drawings inscribed into a tablet. These often have holes in showing that they were designed to be hung up.

How you interpret the brief will be personal. The only rules are that your votive should have some kind of 3D element and, like lots of the Greek and Roman votives, it should fit comfortably in your hand.

I’m going to leave you now to get on with feeling your own way into this.

But first a last word on what happens next in the life of an anatomical votive:

Greek and Roman votives were left at sites of healing, as dedications to the gods. I like the idea of all these many body parts, signifying many different things to many different individuals, accumulating over the years, and forming one massive, composite human body – a body made up of endless fragments and repetitions. At this time of physical separation from each other, I thought we could try to make another such body, by collecting what gets made in response to this art assignment. So, if you’d like to be involved, send us an image of your votive for inclusion on our online ‘site of healing’ and one off artist book. Email You can also use the hashtag #MindsEyeAssignments.