Life Support

‘Life Support’ Series


Materials: Beeswax and paraffin wax, tinned copper wire, silk fabric, tissue paper, cotton thread, artists’ pigments, acrylic paint, acrylic varnish. Mounted on solid, custom CNC lathed 304 stainless-steel bases, inside hand-blown glass orbs.

On 23rd March 2020 in response to the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic, the prime minister of the United Kingdom announced in a live television broadcast the following instruction: we must stay at home. We should not meet friends or relatives who did not live in our homes, we should only leave home for very limited purposes, to buy food, medicine, to exercise once a day or seek medical attention.

During the weeks and months that followed, Townsend, who’s home and urban garden art studio is situated in the centre of Cardiff, began to walk once a day in the local park. Blessed by a series of joined areas of parkland just outside her doorstep in the Roath district of the city, she was able to walk for an hour each day. After a long dark and wet winter, the sun shone and the early spring flowers slowly but surely came into bloom. As the fast pace of everyday life slowed to a halt, nature was a solace, as it was for so many others at this time of national and global crisis. Watching the seasons change and the wildflowers open and close, gave a certainty, joy and hope when all around was in turmoil. Day after day the news filled with reports of illness, tragedy and the loss of so many lives but the green spaces and daily interaction with the natural world, lifted spirits. Whilst walking, thoughts turned to those living in cramped inner-city accommodation without access to this essential ‘life support’ of nature within a garden, parkland or green space.

Townsend documented the wildflowers discovered during those daily walks in a series of photographs and videos and when back in the studio began to recreate the flowers from beeswax. As the sculptures developed, they took on their own life and became a very personal record of this moment in history, illustrating the fluctuating and contradicting feelings that she experienced.

The flowers are isolated and confined within their own bubbles filled with air, enabling the plants to survive and even flourish with beauty, but their twisted roots and curling leaves tell the story of an underlying anxiety and uneasiness. They are part of a series, intimately linked to one another in a time and place, supporting each other but separated by glass walls, unable to touch. They illustrate calmness and contentment but also solitude and loneliness.

The ‘Life Support’ series touches on the recurring themes of Townsend’s earlier works addressing key questions. What do we really need to thrive? What should we protect? What precious things are of the greatest importance to us in this era of the Anthropocene?

Life Support, 2020. Image credit: Dewi Tannatt Lloyd

The Life Support series was represented by Ruup & Form in ‘Meditation in Material’ at the Crafts Council, Collect 2021 fair, in ‘Inspirit’ at Artefact, The Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour, London, 2021 and in Eye of the Collector 2021 at Two Temple Place, London.

‘Life Support, May 2020: Dog violet, Viola riviniana’ was also selected as a stand out-object for discussion at the Collect 2021 VIP programme in Collect Selects: Textiles and New Materials, in association with the V&A and RCA.