MORTAL REMAINS: Steve Dilworth


20 years on from his seminal ‘Acts of Faith’ exhibition, Steve Dilworth returns to An Lanntair with a major show – part review, part commission – to accompany Faclan.

In creating his totemic objects, Dilworth harnesses once-living materials to personal mythologies and purposes.  A dead bird becomes the kernel of a sarcophogus.  An extinct seed that marries core and husk,  reborn into the world as an echo, a simulacrum; the ghost offspring of its former self.

He says, “I want to retrieve that moment of understanding, not by describing, but by making.  Of course I’ll fail, but in the chemistry of making another moment will appear.  These objects are drawn from an internal landscape, of shifting sands.  Connections are constantly being discovered”.


From ‘The Old Ways’ by Robert Macfarlane (Hamish Hamilton 2012)

Steve Dilworth’s studio: Photo Jahn Maher

“These are some of the materials he uses in his work: the skulls, beaks, bodies, eyes, skins and wings of herons, wrens, guillemots, gannets, woodcock, fulmars, swans, owls, sparrow-hawks, buzzards, black-backed gulls, hooded crows, puffin, sand-eels, john dories and dragonflies; tallow, lard, blubber, sperm; seawater collected during equinoctial gales, freshwater gathered from a deep well, still air gathered in a chapel, storm air gathered in the overhang of a boulder; the north wind, the south wind; the bone, baleen and teeth of minke and humpback whales; the vertebrae of porpoises and sheep; bronze, brass, silver, nickel, copper; dolerite, gneiss, granite, soapstone, alabaster; ten-thousand-year-old bog oak, walnut, mulberry, rosewood; the prow of a fishing boat; hawking lures; sea-beans, sand-dollars, sea-urchins; eggs, feathers and sand.

These are some of the things he has made: a lead casket, barred with whale-bone and bound with rope, containing a phial of storm-water; a foot-long mulberry chamber, the shape of a coffee bean, ribbed in steel, that contains the body of a blackbird; a hollow case made of a shell of lignum vitae and a shield of whalebone, containing loose dolphin teeth, the whole bound with fishing rope; a walnut sarcophagus, edged and locked with brass, containing a bird made of bog-oak, beaked and tailed with bronze; a hollow soapstone cone containing hundreds of dried fish eyes; a pair of herons, kills from a fish-farm, locked into an embrace, their wings hung with hundreds of fish-hooks, their legs bound with fine black cord (archaeopteryx-fetish; an avian BDSM dance).

It can be hard to know how to describe the work: totem objects, sarcophagi, talismans, effigies, rattles, rocking stones, throwing stones, kists, charms, fetishes, jujus. Dredgings from the common consciousness. Archetypes materialised. Hints of mountebank recipes, crocked cure-alls (hold this and it will heal you…) but also entreaties to faith. One piece, the body of a wren sealed in a dark-oak kist, with jointed bronze legs folding out from the underside, is designed to be ‘thrown into an inner landscape’.

It can be hard to know how to describe Dilworth: wizard, shaman, showman, mountebank, Jungian, joker, crypto-zoologist, votary of the deathly and the defiled. He is tall and warlock-ish in appearance. Those who know the work but not him imagine him to be severe, forbidding. In fact, he laughs and jokes almost unstoppably. This is a good thing. A shaman who took himself seriously would be insufferable. He does, though, take his work very seriously indeed.”

Steve Dilworth’s website

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