When Art and Literature Go Hand in Hand: Modern Medal Maker Chloe Shaw

This Living Hand (After John Keats) {Image-SF}

Seeing this beautiful thing stopped me in my tracks recently.

This Living Hand (After John Keats)‘ by modern medallist Chloe Shaw is an absolutely beautiful thing. Partly through the delicate beauty it possesses on its own, but even more so with how it interacts with the poem from which it takes its name, This Living Hand by John Keats.

I’m no scientist, so i hope I can just about explain the metal work in a way that does it justice but, the 2009 work is a tiny medal (designed to fit neatly in the palm of your hand), has heat sensitive patina which reacts to warmth of touch. Painted text (written with gorgeous, eighteenth century Romantic font) fades or emerges when handled. The text being the words, ‘this living hand’.

The medal in its two states {Image- V&A}

The connection with Keat’s work becomes evident once we read his poem,

“This living hand, now warm and capable

Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold

And in the icy silence of the tomb,

So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights

That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood

So in my veins red life might stream again,

And thou be conscience-calmed—see here it is

I hold it towards you.”

Shaw elaborates on the connection “Like the Keats poem that inspired it, the tactile medal is an equivocal offering to its beholder: both an enduring message from the maker and a memento moro”.

Shaw’s medal feeds off the pulse of the beholder, in a vampiric and dependent relationship similar to Keats’ own intense love affair. The inanimate art work comes to life through due to our own beating hearts and  emanating  heat.

It is very odd, if not utterly redundant, that this interactive piece currently lies in a sealed glass case amongst other modern medallists in the Victoria and Albert Museum; deliberately cut off from human touch. Therefore, it is not possible to see the work in anything but its untouched state at the moment within the museum. To understand the sheer skill and beauty of the work and idea, it is worth watching  the video made between Shaw and the museum

An incredibly odd and scientifically complex idea become simple and graceful. Like the phantom scene described by Keats, we are privy to apparitions, messages apparently from another world.

Chloe Shaw is an exhibiting member of the V&A’s New Medallists collection currently on view to the public until 19th August 2012.