UCL News


Animals built of glass inspire art exhibition at the UCL Grant Museum

29 September 2015

'Glass Delusions' is a new exhibition at the Grant Museum of Zoology at UCL featuring works by the Museum's Artist in Residence, Eleanor Morgan.

Photogram #2 by Eleanor Morgan Using prints, drawings, videos and objects Morgan explores the slippery boundary between living and non-living materials.

Inspired by the Museum's collection of glass sponges, intricate deep-sea animals that naturally build themselves out of glass, the exhibition centres on the use of glass as a material, its cultural significance and the strange psychological phenomenon of humans believing they are made of glass known as the Glass Delusion.

Building on conversations with biologists, chemists, geologists and engineers Morgan's work also looks at the challenge of re-animating a museum of dead creatures. The exhibition is a result of a yearlong residency at the Grant Museum, funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

"Working with the zoology collection at the Grant Museum has been a real privilege," says artist Eleanor Morgan. "It's allowed me to spend time exploring these extraordinary glass sponge specimens that still seem entirely magical to me - the way in which life can be formed from the same material that we use to made windows".

Included in the exhibition are the 'The mudlark diamonds', microscopic diamonds created from the dead creatures of the River Thames. Working with UCL chemists and geologists, Morgan has transformed a collection of organisms and debris into the hardest, and most valuable, natural substance on Earth.

Also on display are Morgan's photograms of the Museum's sponge specimens within their museum cases - a work which explores the relationship between the natural glass animals and the glass jars in which they are stored.

During the accompanying events programme, Morgan will resurrect the traditional Japanese art of fish-rubbing - covering whole dead fish in ink and printing directly from them. Before the invention of photography, this technique was used by fishermen to record the size of their catch. Prints made by participants will be added to the exhibition.

"The fish prints are genuinely stunning," says Grant Museum Manager Jack Ashby. "Having Eleanor Morgan work with the Museum over the past year has allowed us to think about the collection from a completely different perspective - as more than simply a scientific resource."

"Our Museum was actually founded in the 1820s by the man who proved that sponges were animals - Robert Grant", Ashby continues, "but these intricate, beautiful specimens are not exactly superstars of museum displays today. It's fantastic for us to be able to put them in the limelight. Dinosaurs will always get the headlines, but sponges are incredible too. Glass Delusions is giving people the chance to explore these wonderful animals in a really exciting way".

Glass Delusions runs from 1st October to 19th December 2015. The Grant Museum of Zoology is open from 1-5pm Monday to Saturday. Admission is free and there is no need to book.

A programme of free events accompanies the exhibition, from drawing masterclasses and fish rubbing, to talks, mudlarking walks and glass-blowing sessions.

Flickr gallery of images:



  • Photogram #2 © Eleanor Morgan

Media contact

Siobhan Pipa

Tel: +44 (0) 207 679 9041

Email: siobhan.pipa [at] ucl.ac.uk