Image: Philip Carr


John Grade

The Elephant Bed

11 July - 31 August 2009

In his first UK exhibition, John Grade created The Elephant Bed, a monolithic interpretation of the life-cycle of the coccolithophore. Billions of these invisible algae congregate just beneath the surface of the world’s oceans and, when they die, their protective outer casings drift down to add to thick sedimentary layers on the seabed. At the end of the Ice Age, one such strip of shale and sand washed down from the Sussex Downs, eventually compacting into the bedrock, the Elephant Bed, below modern Brighton and Hove.


Landscape is at the heart of Grade’s work, as well as his preoccupation with change and natural disintegration. The Elephant Bed consisted of a multitude of delicate, suspended forms, each constructed largely from water soluble paper.

At one end of the gallery lay a pool of oil into which, over the course of the exhibition, several of the forms were lowered, slowly absorbing the oil and losing structural rigidity. At the end of the exhibition, the remaining objects were carried down to the Brighton sea-front and committed to the sea, quickly dissolving in the prevailing waves. As with many of Grade’s works, The Elephant Bed was finally reclaimed by the environment that inspired it, perhaps contributing in some small way to the bedrock of future civilisations.


During the exhibition, artist in residence Teresa Whitfield allowed visitors to contribute to several of her large and

complex lace drawings. Those with patience and steady hand were invited to draw on a tiny scale, responding to the

micro-organisms that inspired Grade’s installation.