Trophies of Empire
A sculpture exploring the process of informed consent, developed using discarded femoral heads from patients undergoing hip replacement surgery.
Trophies of Empire is created using extracted femur heads – hip bones - from living consenting donors. It consists of twin suspended stalagmites and stalactites of femoral head bones encrusted with crystals made from preservatives: salt and sugar, the former grows over time, the latter dissolves.
At this time the bones in these sculptures are made with plaster casts of two donated bones. Eventually these may be replaced with the donated bones themselves, which will be preserved and displayed in saline and sugar solutions that have, over time, formed crystals.
Historically, donors are generally dead. Fear is a very effective, insidious pandemic. Our fear of what happens to us after we die has made preservation of the physical-self omnipotent. To donate our bodies to research requires a leap forward and a letting go of our attachment to our physical selves.
These works recall the long-observed method of preserving meat, including embalming processes. Specific to Liverpool, salt has been produced in Cheshire for over 2,000 years and it is the only place in Britain where it is still produced on a large scale.
From about 1730 the merchants of Liverpool made huge profits from the slave trade, forming a triangle. Goods from Manchester were given to the Africans in return for slaves. These slaves were then transported across the Atlantic to the West Indies, and the sugar was brought back to Liverpool. In the 18th century sugar refining became an important industry in Liverpool. Henry Tate established his business in 1869 in Liverpool, later expanding to Silvertown, London. He used his industrial fortune to found the Tate Gallery in London in 1897.
Sugar was first recorded in England in 1099, and by 1750 there were 120 sugar refineries operating in Britain. Their combined output was only 30,000 tons per annum. At this stage sugar was still a luxury and vast profits were made to the extent that sugar was called “white gold”. Annual consumption is now running at about 120 million tons and is expanding at a rate of about 2 million tons per annum.