The Exbury Egg in situ at the Jerwood Gallery
The Exbury Egg in situ at the Jerwood Gallery

The Exbury Egg is a thing of beauty and, after a somewhat epic journey along Britain’s highways, byways and waterways, it has come to rest in the courtyard outside the Jerwood Gallery. Artist Stephen Turner, whose work often challenges the relationship between natural and human-constructed environments, says, ‘an egg is crucial as a way of expressing connection – everything living comes from either a seed or an egg and it is such an archetypal form that I felt people would connect with it, wherever in the world’.

Turner collaborated with SPUD (Space Placemaking and Urban Design), project architects PAD Studio, master boatbuilder Paul Baker and naval architect Stephen Payne to create the Egg. The idea was to design a low-impact live–work space, using materials gathered within a 20-mile radius. The result is a c. 6m by 3.5m ovoid-shaped wooden vessel that embraces centuries-old boatbuilding techniques. Circular plywood ribs are held together with stringers made from local Douglas Fir. Recycled strips of cedar have been bent over the structure and nailed onto the stringers. A layer of fiberglass and epoxy ensure the Egg is watertight.

Stephen Turners Exbury Egg Interior, Image (c) Stephen Turner
Stephen Turners Exbury Egg Interior, Image (c) Stephen Turner

On the outside, it has weathered naturally over time from exposure to the elements – it’s sunbleached and below water, barnacles and algae have attached themselves to it, turning it into, in Turner’s words, a ‘natural calendar of the seasons – a contemporary book of hours’. On the inside, the adaptable living–work space has provided a place for Turner to explore nature and the changing environments around him. Over the past years, the Egg has visited many places, including the River Exbury in the New Forest, the Leeds and Liverpool Canal in Burnley, Lancashire and London’s East End, and Turner has catalogued its journey in drawings, photographs, maps and other media.

‘The Egg itself is its own artwork’, he says. ‘The walls are full of all the different things I collected and started to make whilst I lived here.’ And Jerwood visitors can view some of these pieces, both in situ and in the complementary exhibition of Turner’s work inside the gallery.

Turner cites 17th-century scientist William Harvey’s ex ovo omnia – everything [comes] from the egg – as inspiration. He says: ‘From primate to plankton, [the egg] embodies the idea of new birth and renewal, protection and fragility. In an urban 21st-century world, where we are increasingly disconnected from nature, this ancient archetypal symbol will nurture re-enchantment and understanding as a step toward a truly sustainable future.’

Turner’s environmental vision complements that of the Jerwood, which was designed to be a green gallery, with 60 percent less CO2 emissions than other similarly sized buildings. ‘It’s a fabulous piece to have here,’ comments Kate Giles, the Jerwood’s Head of External Communications.

The Egg can be found outside the gallery, making it accessible to everyone, and, for about four hours each day, visitors can climb inside and experience Turner’s world firsthand. And it seems somewhat fitting that the Egg, which is registered as a boat, and has spent so much time on, or near, British waterways, should come to rest by the sea, exposed to nature and the elements once more.

Stephen Turner’s Everything Comes from the Egg, 16 September–15 October 2017, Jerwood Gallery, Rock-a-Nore Road, Hastings TN34 3DW, www.jerwoodgallery.org

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