Unknot (solo show)
South Block Gallery, Glasgow

Supported by Wasps & Marchmont House/Marchmont Creative

There’s more than one way to describe any knot.

For her first solo show, Unknot, artist Emma Hislop pulls together threads of encounters and research across alchemy, mysticism, quantum physics, taxonomy and dual/alternative worlds and world views.

Through Hislop’s multi-disciplinary practice she explores her perspective of the world as an assortment of unique connections. The exhibition showcases her fascination with approaches and methods of research into esoteric themes. She presents a cohesive look at the value of material processes and their individual, masterful skillsets as both sciences and crafts.

Unknot shows resulting artefacts from concentrated exploration into metals (steel, aluminium, iron and bronze) and glass. From Hislop’s initial self- taught learning to working in a lab with scientific glassblowers, she has maintained a fascination with the mythology and molecular movements of these ‘allegedly solid’ materials.

The work gives familiarity through recognisable motifs, contrasted by an unease built by her curiosity for the uncanny. Tension is a recurring theme for Hislop; whether by precarity of placement, the delicate opposing the hard or awaiting a fate (a movement or possible happening).

‘Apprentice Pillar’ exemplifies both motif and a hidden humour in Hislop’s approach. Its Rosslyn Chapel namesake’s decoration is revered for its mythic mastery, graced upon the carver by higher forces. Hislop plays on the legends surrounding the original – a monument of craft and mysticism embedded in science and religion. The comparison verges on parody, relating the opulently carved stone pillar to pine furniture and banister spindles, stone balustrade remakes and archaic columns. Wedged between mirror-cut steel drums is an excess of bronze that echoes these references; the wound serpent, synonymous with science’s alchemical roots, the ecological ouroboros (self-eating snake) and divination.

Intertwining continues into ‘Emerald Tablet’ – Hislop hopes to show that our belief of science as fact is more closely linked to myth than truth. Etched green glass gives a direct link to the title Unknot, the name of a closed loop single knot in mathematical knot theory. From maritime display cases, defining elements of the periodic table, DNA and mathematical unpicking of our world and human make up, knot theory is more than a rope-wound trefoil. Hislop finds the study of closed-end knots to echo her view of the world. The work’s title and form embody the beginning of knowledge, said to start with an emerald tablet inscribed by Hermes Trismegistus with coded details on how to transmute the philosopher’s stone with life’s purpose, featuring the fabled message “as above, so below”– and so began Hermeticism, alchemy and science. Hislop forces us to recognise just how far we haven’t come.

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