The Elephant Bed

“I want to humanise time, I want to bring a person into an environment and present to them [unknown] places that are imbued with meaning”. – John Grade


The Elephant Bed

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 sea bed. At the end of the Ice Age, one such strip of shale and sand washed down from the Sussex Downs, eventually compacting into the bed rock, 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.

Total Visitor Numbers: 27, 561

Further reading…


Visitor Comments


Evoked memories of Morrocan and Indian architecture – marble tesselation – my 8 year old daughter insisted we returned – a success!!


The paper in the water gives me a very uneasy feeling, but hanging sculptures give me a warm and calming sense. TO ME: Life and death – VERY CLEVER.


Wonderful! – the most inspiring exhibition I’ve seen in a while – love the combination of environmental sensitivity/awareness with meaningful artforms. Thankyou.


Image Gallery

Photographs by Philip Carr