Duo (2023)

Diptych ink impression hand-printed on Japanese paper, taken directly from a pair of unpreserved swan wings. 94 cm x 145 cm (each).

Edition of 20 (variations)

On display at the Royal Academy 13th June – 20th August 2023

Swans (in death) have made regular appearances in our lives – twice we have witnessed dramatic airborne collisions, more times rescued tragic bodies from the river.

One such event took place during a stay at a reputedly haunted priory; out walking when the fog had cleared we happened upon an explosion of white in the middle of a field. An overhead pylon, and perhaps a fox or dog post-mortem had rendered a brace of magnificent swans into a beatific white and red confetti of feathers and flesh. However, one pair of magnificent pinions survived, and these wings we rescued from oblivion to our freezer. Like all artists, we collect, to hold on to something too extraordinary to allow to quickly disappear, attracted by the sublime, macabre beauty and sheer scale of these disembodied wings, these extraordinary pieces of natural engineering.

When David Remfry invited us to present work for the RA Summer exhibition, we mused the notion of connection and remembered the frozen wings. By romantic coincidence, the newspaper they were freezer-wrapped in, given swans pair for life, was dated February 14th 2015.

Like much of our work the prints were made in dialogue with our ship. We built a bespoke press aboard our 19th sailing vessel capable of printing 3-dimensional objects, in order to make prints directly from the unpreserved, disembodied wings – bone, sinew and feather. As such, the prints are a literal impression, like a finger print. Whilst working with the swan we discovered the 19th C Japanese practice of Gyotaku, which was the method of printing directly from fish to accurately evidence the size and resplendence of one’s catch, before the advent of photography. Though the technique itself was not suitable for the wings, we were inspired by the idea of the “true record.”

Duo  is a record of a specific swan at a particular moment in time, a homage to an individual as well as universal symbol, a collected specimen, a literal document; each print is subtly different as the feathers move ever so slightly each time they are placed. The ship too, her movements and occasional grounding altered the forces on the press and subsequent prints.

Duo, as  their work Self Portrait as Charcoal on Paper, they consider an example of Radical Physicalism. There is no separation between the subject and the art: the subject itself – the swan wings (or the human bones) is  not depicted or represented,  it is employed directly in the method for creating the art itself. This is the means by which Z+Z are articulating the formalism, aesthetics and conceptualism of the work.

Wings are an incredibly strong and defined symbol in the common consciousness with the clear resonance of freedom and transformation, which can make them difficult to work with. To us wings also spell connection – a pairing needed to function successfully, or conceptually to connect us to a higher plane…a singular wing is beautiful individually, but it’s always part of a pair, and thus we chose to present them as a diptych: by their very nature they are separate but one.




Associated works