June 23, 2024

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

Textile artist Ellie Pearce invites to you to break taboos with her.

Sophie Burley
11th December 2020

Ellie Pearce is a recent graduate from renowned London art college, Central Saint Martins, and I had the fantastic opportunity to catch up with the artist, whose work combines the contrasting worlds of art and science, through the unusual medium of rug-making.

Pearce with her collection of rugs
Pearce with her collection of rugs

Having experimented first with punch-needling, a form of embroidery, Pearce knew that she wanted to explore something similar… but bigger. This would require a new approach, something she tackled with ‘tufting’. Tufting is a process involving an electric gun that weaves at high speed through cloth to produce a fluffy texture, while simultaneously making the crafter look like a badass. This is exactly how Ellie Pearce has created her large-scale collection of rugs, all of which beg viewers to break the cardinal rule of art: “Do not touch.”

Not to worry though, this is exactly the sort of interaction that the artist wants you to have with her pieces! In fact, she would have you to go one step further and sit or lie down on the rugs. Really take a closer look and feel! For many of us, even with permission, interacting with a display or artwork feels totally alien and almost naughty… But while we may all be thinking “should I really be doing this?”, Pearce’s answer is a definitive yes. She chose to create her art in the form of interior furniture; hoping viewers will acknowledge the pieces as familiar and something that they can touch. Her choice to reshape the rules perfectly mirrors the subject matter and inspiration behind her work. Take a closer look:

Hand-tufted 'Rectum Rug' - Dimensions 100cm x 78cm
Hand-tufted ‘Rectum Rug’ – Dimensions 100cm x 78cm

If you were to lie down on this piece, you might first notice the abstract soft woollen shapes, the bright red-pinks and purples, but what you might not immediately realise is that this rug in fact depicts a rectum!

Pearce discusses her inspiration for the ‘Rectum rug’

Not only is the biological subject matter of the rugs unexpected, but each rug is connected further by another common theme.

Pearce tells me she has always been interested in organic forms, and in particular circular (and cellular) patterns which led her to explore biology and the body under the microscope. In her third year of university, she began to chase for an endometriosis diagnosis, and as the symptoms and the accompanying medical process became a bigger part of Pearce’s life, it was natural for her artwork to follow a similar path. Consequently, each of the rugs in the final degree show collection represents an organ that can be affected by endometriosis.

Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to that found in the inner lining of the womb (endometrium) is found elsewhere, causing a variety of symptoms including pelvic pain, and painful periods. The female pelvis is jampacked with important organs, and much like weeds popping up in a garden wherever there is room, this endometrial-type tissue can easily grow across multiple sites. Though it is thought that 1 in 10 menstruators may be suffering with the condition, it is notoriously difficult to diagnose because symptoms can vary considerably, making the average length of time from onset to diagnosis 7.5 years!

For myself, the collection really highlighted just how little I understood about the condition, but I am certainly not alone. While there have been a number of campaigns raising awareness of endometriosis, unfortunately reproductive health still hasn’t yet made its way into our everyday conversations. With unknown causes and no definite cure, the symptoms and effects of endometriosis can be quite scary, but through researching her own situation, Pearce has translated this intimidating subject into something soft and comforting.

“You don’t really know what’s happening with your insides, endometriosis causes lesions and adhesions, and your organs are fused together, well maybe fused together, which is a terrifying thought, but I’m trying to find, I guess, comfort through textiles and making rugs.”

Ellie Pearce

To this aim, she has definitely succeeded. After publishing her work online and starting her online shop, she’s received a number of emotional responses, from others that are struggling with endometriosis, thanking her for raising awareness of the condition, as well as making a difficult part of their lives look (and feel) beautiful.

Cerebellum Cushion – Cerebral endometriosis
Cerebellum Cushion – Cerebral endometriosis, though rare, involves the growth of endometrial-like tissue within the brain, and is mainly characterised by headaches and seizures.

Throughout our whole chat, Pearce was so relaxed and confident articulating her experience that it seemed hard to believe she is still getting used to talking about these topics publicly. She so naturally described her own struggles and the need for reproductive health to become an everyday dialogue, that I instantly felt more informed and comfortable discussing my own. Ellie’s rugs have opened the floor (quite literally) to these necessary conversations that one day, I hope, won’t feel taboo at all.

Ellie has a fantastic website and Instagram feed to check out, and definitely visit Ellie’s Etsy Shop, for what would certainly make a fantastic gift this Christmas!

And, to find out more about endometriosis, please do take a look at this leaflet from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

Sophie Burley is a science communicator with a masters in astrophysics and a love of all things extraordinary.

All images in this article courtesy of Ellie Pearce.