Uterine Dreams       Seminar Abstract (19th October 2020, 12:00 - 13:00)

I write and research as an artist wishing to understand those things that inspire and influence my fine art practice, which is profoundly autobiographical. The full title of the exhibition of sculpture and photography linked to the Fellowship is 'Uterine Dreams : I decided for us that you wouldn’t have a child'. This new body of work - an emotional rollercoaster to “gestate” and “deliver” - focuses on three types of emotional distress and the physical locations perceived to house them: trauma in the psyche; grief in the heart; hysteria in the uterus. Like the vagus nerve that courses through the whole body, connecting on its route the brain, heart and uterus, I wish to pursue and connect up three separate areas of research to re-examine how these essential organs have been understood to absorb emotional disturbances. I will discuss briefly three cases to illuminate these larger themes. In the first I will reference my own experience of PTSD and its psychoanalytical treatment (trauma to the psyche). In the second the loss of my father and the Greek myth of Aeneas’s journey to the underworld (grief in the heart). For the third, the emotional anguish of miscarriage and William Hunter’s plaster and engraved records of the “lost” pregnancies of his un-named, non-surviving patients (hysteria in the uterus) and Freud’s work to liberate female patients from psychosomatic paralysis. In undertaking this I hope to better understand the workings of the unconscious mind – primarily in its sleeping and dreaming states - and the method I describe as my “metaphysical surgery”. In the act of making new work and the use of antique broken objects made by anonymous, long- past sculptors, I attempt to address my own emotional disturbances - and sometimes those of my dead collaborators. 

Apollo Lies Weeping : on the broken dreams of gods and infidels        Public Lecture Abstract (25th November 2020, 17:30)

Sarah Danays’ photography and sculpture draw upon her experiences as a woman. She is unapologetic about blending autobiography and research in her talks and her writing. She undertakes such blending in her studio practice, where hand-carved stone interventions meld with old, fragmented and broken objects. These sought-out antiques, created centuries earlier by anonymous sculptors – her dead collaborators – are the key components in a process she describes as “metaphysical surgery”. In the Greek “meta” means beyond, while “physical” refers to the natural world. Danays’ lecture will further explore what is beyond everyday experience or knowledge as she draws on classical mythology to inform her IAS Fellowship and the related exhibition 'Uterine Dreams', in addressing love and violence, pregnancy and loss, divorce and grief. Using her “meta-mythological” lens she will weave the stories of Aeneas’s journey into the Underworld to gain the counsel of his father; and the birth of Asclepius, ripped from his unfaithful, dead mother’s womb by Apollo, with the narrative of her own journey – and those of her broken objects – towards wholeness. Her lecture will unravel the process and meaning behind her “metaphysical surgery” as she shares the ancient and contemporary roles that dreams and dreaming can play in the healing of troubled hearts and minds.


Artist Biography for Durham University

Sarah Danays is an internationally exhibited sculptor and photographer whose work is inspired by gesture and antiquities – notably broken ones. Her practice involves extensive research into an object’s history and context to develop new interpretations for significant museum pieces and to inform the “treatment” of broken objects from her own collection. This practice she describes as her “metaphysical surgery.”

Danays graduated with a Joint Honors Degree in Fine Art and Art History from Camberwell College of Art in 1993 and had her first solo show at the Adams Gallery, London, in 1995. In 2003 she gained an MA in Textiles as Contemporary Art Practice from Goldsmiths University and later went on to study Stone Carving for Contemporary Sculptors at City & Guilds, London. During this time - 2007 - she was shortlisted in Le Prix de la Sculpture Noilly Prat as one of the UK’s top five emerging sculptors. In 2010 she relocated to Los Angeles and in 2013 was awarded a scholarship by the Los Angeles Art Association with her first LA solo show ‘Golden Bough’ opening at Robert Berman Gallery in 2014.

In 2016 the artist collaborated with Classicist Professor Anthony Corbeill and Dr Susan Walker, formerly of the Ashmolean and British Museums. The concluding installation ‘Sarah Danays’ Arms of the Portland Vase’ followed an exhibition by Sir Peter Blake which together marked the opening of the new Portland Collection at the Harley Gallery, Nottinghamshire. While, on the other side of the Atlantic, her work was housed at the Museum of Art and History, California, for the ‘British Invasion’ - a retrospective of the best of British artists working of out California since the 60s, spearheaded by David Hockney.

In 2017 Danays was invited to co-host an alabaster workshop for academics with Dr Kim Woods at The Courtauld Institute of Art, London, and later appointed Sculptor in Residence for Birmingham and Nottingham Universities’ Medieval music and alabaster sculpture research project. This in conjunction with Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Galleries, who in the same year acquired the sculpture ‘Bluebird’ (2012) for their permanent collection with a V&A Purchase Grant. The year concluded with her photography and sculpture shown at the Pacific Design Center, Los Angeles; and ‘Stigmata’ - with its photographic counterpart – (2009/13) selected for 2018 exhibition in the Crypts of the Medici, Basilica di San Lorenzo, Florence.

The sculpture ‘Saint Katherine’ (2019), the latest piece in the artist’s ‘Arms of the Martyrs’ series, referenced and completed a damaged Medieval alabaster panel from the V&A’s archives. These and ‘Tourniquet’ (2007) feature in the aforementioned project’s scholarly insert for the Binchois Consort/University of Birmingham’s ‘Music for Saint Katherine of Alexandria’ CD, released to critical acclaim on Hyperion Records in 2019.

Continuing to work with scholars, academic institutions, museums and galleries, the artist’s forthcoming Institute of Advanced Studies Fellowship at Durham University (2020/21) in collaboration with Ludmilla Jordanova, Emeritus Professor of History and Visual Culture, is the first to be supported by the University’s Centre for Visual Arts and Culture. Danays’ Fellowship is to dovetail into an Artist Residency to develop a new body of work entitled ‘Uterine Dreams’. The resulting scholarly research; catalogue essays; photography and sculpture – marble and alabaster worked with hand tools - will be hosted by Van Mildert College and go on show in the Spring of 2021, in association with the Oriental Museum.

(Due to Covid-19 the 'Uterine Dreams' exhibition has been pared down from the original proposal)   

                                                                                           Full Fellowship proposal

 Portrait of the Artist © Lalo Borja, 2020