Through the process

Anniken Amundsen's otherworldly biomorphic textural forms were one of the hits of Through the Surface, the 2004 cross cultural textile designers exhibition. Here Amundsen talks about the personal journey, which brought her to creating these forms, and how the exhibition's mentoring exchange visit to Japan opened her up to a new relation with the world of nature.

Anniken Amundsen is a young Norwegian textile artist who has lived in Britain since studying at Winchester School of Art in the mid-1990s. By that time Amundsen had been through a monumental life experience of being treated for Hodgkin's Disease – a form of lymph cancer – which resulted in her being drawn to exploring cancer and other forms of 'abnormal cell growth' as a subject of her art research. The research has taken her to hospitals, pathology labs and museums in her pursuit of uncovering various aspects of illness of cancer. "I have been especially interested", she says, "in how this illness affects anyone who has been touched by it either directly, or indirectly as a relative or friend. Everyone has some sort of experience with this illness, and I think most of us have a deep fear of it. It felt like an important issue to raise and talk about."

Amundsen was first drawn to textiles as a therapeutic activity; "to make the days go by," while being treated for the lymph cancer. She enjoyed working with a loom and weaving, though soon wanted to take what she was doing several steps further, experimenting with all sorts of non-traditional new materials. These included pipe cleaners, rubber, cellophane, various elastics, metal chains, fluorescent plastic tubes, and electrical wires. Recently she has been working with more durable rubber materials such as silicone tubes and oil based rubbers like Nitrile. Nitrile, she says, has "a more abstract relationship to the body compared to natural rubber, but enforces the references to science and medical associations as well as creating a more other-worldly atmosphere to the pieces. Originally I wanted to cross some boundaries, using everything that could create an exciting meeting between the old arts and crafts tradition and myself as a young person, and was fascinated to follow the result that I got during the process."

It was, however, only after embarking on the Winchester course, six years after being treated for cancer, that she felt emotionally ready and able to dig deeply into the difficult area of cancer, without it becoming either too personally autobiographical or a form of art therapy.

The first sculptural results of embarking on this journey were crystallised during a project at Winchester School of Art in 1997, run by the artist Caroline Broadhead, called 'Re-thinking the Body'. Her artistic exploration of illness and cancerous and abnormal growth continued from that point on. In the first quarter of 2002, it led to a large solo show called Invaders in Maidstone Library Gallery. In Invaders much of Amundsen's approach became evident. Using contemporary everyday materials – mainly metal, plastic and fishing line – to make unworldly sculptural shapes, which relate to her particular uncovering of seams from the underside of life: cancer and its expanding colonisation through the body. Indeed by making visible something of the darkness and invisibility of a virus expanding within a host body, Amundsen seeked to disarm the invader, "by making the invisible enemy visible and leading an active psychological counterattack on the many wounds and scars of cancers."

She points out that the word cancer means crab, and how much of illness relates to the underwater world. Amundsen also notes how many diseases such as cancer, TB and AIDS have been mythologised, such as when cancer and cancerous growth is described as 'alien', 'alienated cells' 'a demon with its own will', 'mutants' and 'parasites,' all attacks from outside the body.

In 2003, Amundsen's journey into the night-time of living, ill-health, took a new turn; when she participated in Through the Surface. In this British-Japanese project she worked in collaboration with the Japanese artist and professor Machiko Agano (also featured in FDR7). In the touring exhibition, Agano and Amundsen are showing one monumental collaborative piece as well as one individual piece each. The Japanese visit seems to have brought on a whole new chapter to this journey, one where the drama of nature was almost overwhelming.