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All about artist Chris Ruston

PUBLISHED: 12:13 11 April 2016 | UPDATED: 12:14 11 April 2016

One of Chris Ruston's pieces

One of Chris Ruston's pieces

All rights Christopher Matthews

Chris Ruston's new exhibition at the Colchester Natural History Museum has been a long time in the making. Janice Walker finds out more about the artist, her work and why this is such a special exhibition for her

A piece in the worksA piece in the works

When artist Chris Ruston began to create her collection of ammonite books, it was with the intention of displaying them together in the perfect venue. Her plan has finally come to fruition and the exhibition, The Great Gathering, can be enjoyed at Colchester Natural History Museum.

With a background and a degree in fine art, Chris worked for many years as an art psychotherapist. She now has a studio at Hadleigh Old Fire Station and continues to express her passion for using art to explore our place in the world.

Chris explains: ‘My work looks outward to the broader ‘stories’ of life, often incorporating varied interests of science, history and geology. I am particularly interested in environmental issues and how they affect us. Museums are like islands of memory in which they hold, preserve and help us question where we have come from, where we are and where we are going.’

Chris works with paper in all its various forms, combining painting with book structures. She exhibits regularly and her work can be enjoyed in collections around the world. Her latest exhibition, The Great Gathering, consists of seven unique sculptural artist books, each created in the shape of an ammonite, representing seven moments in time.

‘The Great Gathering refers to our continued exploration of where we have come from and where we are going,’ explains Chris. ‘Fossils hold the key that has enabled us to unlock the story of our origins – from the largest creatures to the smallest organisms. Using the ammonite’s spiral shape as my starting point, these books represent the unfolding story of evolution. The humble ammonite is an abundant index fossil, easily recognised and a regular feature in museum collections.

‘I have been involved in the Essex Book Festival, with book-making workshops at Firstsite in Colchester, and launched this exhibition as part of the festival. When I was considering a venue I wanted it to be a museum, preferably alongside a natural history collection. I was delighted when the Colchester Natural History Museum agreed to be home to my ammonite books for the duration of the exhibition.

‘The museum is housed in a de-consecrated church. Originally built in Norman times, All Saints Church was closed in 1956 due to a declining congregation and opened as a museum in 1958. I was struck by the idea of changing attitudes and the controversy that Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) had stimulated only 100 years before All Saints Church changed its role. I wanted to bring these two aspects together. Therefore, one of the seven significant moments I chose to create was the publication of Darwin’s book. Its impact is still felt today. Darwin’s ideas helped open our minds to thinking about our origins and how life evolved. I have incorporated Darwin’s words and the text from Origin of Species into the book. Hidden among white pages, the text interweaves with blank pages which represent gaps in our knowledge.’

Chris continues: ‘In thinking about the history of the Colchester Natural History Museum building as a place of worship, seven is the number of days in which God is said to have created the world. I have represented seven moments through this amazing journey. Moments from the beginning of time through to the present age are incorporated within these fossil-shaped books. Like the collections held at the museum, these books are in equal measure able to preserve and reveal their secrets.’

Find out more

The exhibition runs from March 5 until May 14. For details visit www.cimuseums.org.uk/naturalhistorymuseum. You can read more about the Chris and her work at www.chrisruston.com

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