Nothingness, Acceptance, Resurrection: Creating a Second Life

Mother and Me

By Mia-Jane Harris

My work delves into the curious, fascinatingly odd and morbidly beautiful. I make intriguing juxtapositions between the gorgeous and the macabre, aiming to intrigue the viewer and pull them in to my world with strange objects and morbid curios to manipulate their emotions on the subject of mortality – life, death & resurrection. I wish to challenge the inevitability of our disappearance after death by preventing decay and rescuing ‘junk’. I give a second life, an artistic resurrection, to deceased animals and second hand objects in the hope that this second chance I give them will in return help me live on through these creations when I am gone.

My creations are about helping to overcome the fear of nothingness by accepting death as a thing of beauty and using preservation and up-cycling to show myself that if I can stop decay and disappearance then I can have some sort of control over my own demise. The idea of mortality means a lot to me and has always fascinated me due to my death during birth, and my fear of when it will take me next. There were complications during my birth which resulted in me being born deceased and after resuscitation left with Erbs Palsy, the partial paralysis and stunted growth of my right arm, so I have always had a fascination with the morbid and abnormal.

“The idea of mortality means a lot to me and has always fascinated me due to my death during birth, and my fear of when it will take me next.”

The main aspect of my practice is my sculptures, which are hybrids between self made taxidermy and vintage ceramics. All animals used in my work are animals I have found naturally deceased or as accidental roadkill. I gather my other materials from charity shops, house-clearance stores, dumps, boot-sales, skips, riversides, street floors and antiques markets. I then take these thrown away materials and use deconstruction, reconstruction, re-painting and assemblage combined with taxidermy/mummification to turn discarded objects in to curious new art objects for people to admire. The main items I save and resurrect are porcelain figures and dolls, these people-like objects help me tell autobiographic tales through the work.

Each piece also has its own secondary personal meaning. The processes of dissection and sculpting themselves can be very tricky, especially with my Erbs Palsy, but this is a very important struggle for me to get through. I use it as an outlet, a sort of catharsis to let out any negative emotions or stresses in my life at that time. And what I am dealing with when going through the processes of each animal and object comes out in the final creation.

My sculptures are made from chance and fate. It is a butterfly effect that causes each deceased animal or found object to be in the same place and time as me to make it into my collection. An item or animal may be in my collection for five minutes or five years before they meet others that they harmonise with, and when collected items fit together in a surreal partnership with each other that feels right then I transform them into an art object. It is all little fragile pieces of a puzzle that could end up entirely differently if just one thing had changed. I love that aspect with the work, the way that the medium itself takes some sort of control, some kind of ‘life’.

“It is a butterfly effect that causes each deceased animal or found object to be in the same place and time as me to make it into my collection.”

Another aspect of my practice is my ‘Beautiful Corpse’ photographic series. Whilst working in a pathology museum I wanted to show people items from around museums and medical collections that I didn’t think were appreciated the way that they should be. These museums hold thousands of human cadaver specimens that are used for scientific research and study. They are looked at every day to learn from but in their dull and dirty containers surrounded by thousands of others they lose part of their charm and people are so focused on what they are that they don’t notice how amazingly beautiful they are.

I wanted to take away the scientific surroundings, the educational environment, the dust and the grime and the information text books to leave behind just these absolutely striking objects. I photographed a selection of the human pathology specimens that I fell in love with the most, focusing on the patterns and colours in the tissues instead of what each specimen really was. I showed them to people without telling them what they are or where they were from and it worked. People appreciated the beauty behind them. Those outside of the medical profession weren’t pushed away due to their normal mind set of ‘its part of a dead person so its disgusting’ and those in the medical profession finally saw the beauty that they had ignored that had been staring them in the face the whole time. People were amazed to see that death could be such a beautiful thing and were curious to find out more about the images and kept asking to see more and more of these captivating objects.

“This photography series I feel has a similar aesthetic to drapes of luxurious fabric or paintings made of watercolour.”

This photography series I feel has a similar aesthetic to drapes of luxurious fabric or paintings made of watercolour. The preservation process used for the specimens that I photograph affects the colouring of them quite a lot. This is because of both the lack of blood from these sections having been dissected away from the main cadaver and washed, plus the chemicals used to embalm the sections causing a bleaching of the human tissue. The resulting effect is that of stunning blue/purple hues and tiny visible details of veins/arteries and minute alterations in the tissue patterning. It is the addition of the preservation process that made my subjects so fascinate and beautiful to photograph.

Hearts and Chains
Hearts and Chains
Virgin of the Resurrection
Virgin of Resurrection
Sister of the Resurrection
First Sister of Resurrection
Mother and Me
Your corpse is beautiful III
Your Corpse Is Beautiful III
Your Corpse Is Beautiful V
Your Corpse is Beautiful IV
Are We Nothing But Machines I

Mia-Jane Harris is a multidisciplinary fine artist focusing mostly on assemblage sculptures made from taxidermy and vintage ceramics. She lives and works in London but has exhibited internationally. Harris studied art, design and illustration at both ‘City & Guilds of London Art School’ and ‘University of East London’ and is currently working on new pieces for her 65th exhibition.

You can follow Mia and her work on Instagram and on Facebook.

Anthony Lycett ©

Mia’s next exhibition is coming this Autumn:

‘Beautiful and Damned’

1st to the 16th of November 2018

The Stash Gallery


The Crypt (below the Church) of 30 Prescot Street, London, E1 8BB

All are welcome to the opening night!

William Corbet ©

2 responses to “Nothingness, Acceptance, Resurrection: Creating a Second Life”

  1. Such an interesting and thought-provoking article! Thank you for featuring this. I love finding out about artists that create work that goes against the grain.

  2. Scary, but at the same time fascinating.
    I specially like your work with statues

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