This exhibition ran from September 2019 until March 2020. Iluá Hauck da Silva, an artist and glassmaker specialising in works of anatomical and pathological symbolism, was the museum's third ever ‘artist-in-residence’. The College invited her to produce works inspired by her own experience of dry eye, diplopia and photophobia.
Drawing inspiration from the Museum’s collections, as well as from medical, scientific, and historical research conducted in the College library, Iluá set out to create a modern-day cabinet of curiosities dedicated to eyes, exploring the same aspects she has previously explored in other organs such as the heart: beauty, anatomy, pathology, and symbolism.
As a glass artist, she inevitably chose to make glass eyes, thus establishing a visual and conceptual dialogue with the existing ones in the collection. Note how some of them feature a double pupil.
Iluá also drew inspiration from elements of pre-scientific knowledge, such as the iconography of Saint Lucy, as well as aspects of the histories of optometry and ophthalmology in the work to be made - drawings, photographs, digital images, and glass objects. The results of her research were combined with facets of her own ocular medical history. There are many clues to this in her digital self-portrait.
Iluá recalls: 'In 2015, a severe ear infection spread into my head, infecting my petrous bone. Internal swelling led to sixth nerve palsy and acute diplopia. I was diagnosed at Moorfields Hospital, and subsequently Dr Gordon Plant and his team at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital looked after me. Hence, developing work about ocular pathology and health feels particularly pertinent to me. I would also like to explore the symptoms I still suffer with: eye dryness and photophobia. Thus, creating art that raises awareness of them, as well as how to prevent and soothe their symptoms, would not only be relevant, but important to the general public'.
Iluá has been working as a professional artist for over ten years. She graduated from Goldsmiths College, University of London, in 2002, and is currently enrolled on an MA in Christianity and the Arts at King’s College London. She also trained as a glassmaker in the UK and in France. Her practice is focused on investigating the human condition visually. Hence, body parts feature heavily in her work, as the signifier for different conundrums of our human nature and experience. In 2017 she began producing miniature internal organs, such as hearts, livers, and lungs in glass. So far, the hearts have been exhibited with success in Boston, USA. Iluá has held solo exhibitions for the National Trust at Sutton House, Brompton Cemetery (The Royal Parks), Museu Padre Lima, Brazil, and the Augustijnenklooster in Gent, Belgium. Group shows include The Savill Garden (The Royal Landscape), The Mall Galleries, Lacey Contemporary Gallery, National Trust, Kabinett Gallery (Boston), Shoreditch Town Hall, York Art Gallery, and York Saint Mary’s. She has also been nominated twice for each the following three art awards: Aesthetica Art Prize, Passion for Freedom, and Winter Pride Awards.
The artistic process
Iluá spent nine months in the workshop performing her artistic magic. She researched traditional glass eye-making techniques but aimed to do much more than simply reproduce those. These photographs show just some of her experimental pieces. Her exhibited piece entitled Dry Eyes required multiple firings so that the gritty texture which communicates the sensation of dryness could be achieved. Iluá chose to move away from anatomically correct eyes to a two-dimensional form inspired by Ancient Egyptian imagery.
The exhibition title
Although the story to be told is ultimately a positive one of recovery, Iluá says 'I wanted to include the word pathos, which in many languages evokes suffering and pain, and thus prompts empathy/compassion in the viewer for the sufferer'. The museum hopes that visitors to this exhibition will respond to both the beauty and the curious nature of the exhibits. These concepts are not mutually exclusive. Some of the imagery may subvert commonly accepted notions of beauty, and some of the most curious things, including pathological conditions, can convey a strange beauty of their own.
Talking about the exhibition
It is often suggested that the works of art in an exhibition will 'speak for themselves'. For this show we wanted to allow the voice of the artist to be heard much more explicitly.
We have conducted a podcastinterview and also taken short videos of Iluá discussing each work in the exhibition. Understanding the intention behind each piece makes their visual contemplation far more rewarding.
We recommend a listen!
On 14 August 2019, before the exhibition had opened, the Museum Curator, Neil Handley, interviewed Iluá for a College Podcast. Iluá talked about the inspiration for her work, including growing up in a medical household and her own vision problems. You can listen to 'Through the Eyes of an Artist' by searching for it on most podcatchers, or you can listen to it here:
The exhibition was due to close on Thursday 7 May 2020. In fact, due to the worldwide Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic the museum closed to visitors in March of that year. Despite hoping for some time that the exhibition might reopen, if only for a short while, we took the sad decision to uninstall the Pathos Ocularis exhibition in April 2021. Find out about visiting the museum including any information as to when we might reopen.
A collecting legacy
We are delighted to report that the museum has acquired the drawing 'Double Vision Pathway' for its permanent collection. In the artist's own words: "This pencil drawing was inspired by Muhammed Ibn Ja’far’s first ever illustration of a functional anatomic scheme of binocular vision (1000 AD). I love how the optical nerves and chiasma are rendered so geometrically and are almost abstract”.
The other works included in the exhibition have now been offered for commercial sale.