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Contemporary Art Practice (MA)

Layan Harman

Layan Harman (b. 1997) grew up in rural Devon, South-West England, and is currently based in London.

He completed a Ba in Fine Art at London Metropolitan University with first class honours in 2020.

His recent residencies include a collaborative residency alongside Skye Turner at the Center for Recent Drawing, Islington, in February 2023, and a residency at Mawffa Mawddach, Wales, in December 2022. He was a member of the 2021-22 cohort of the Into the Wild artist's development programme. He runs Fleshy Wisdoms, a performance night at the Steamship Project Space in East London.

Layan works between London and Devon. His practice spans across sculpture, installation, costume, performance, film, and sound. He uses traditional techniques like forging, carving, weaving, and sewing to explore ecology as interlinked with human activity and culture. Using these materials and techniques, he creates objects, costumes, sculptures, or environments that evoke an ancient, ambiguously ritualistic character.

The artist stands surrounded by dense foliage. He is dressed in brown and beige, and looks sombre.

I feel that massive issues like climate breakdown or the brutality of capitalist exploitation are best addressed by art on local, specific terms. I therefore look for specific points of difficulty or negotiation between human and more-than-human worlds, such as fragments of ancient woodland, beekeeping practices, or a space telescope, from which to tease out these much wider, underlying concerns. I conduct my research in close listening with my environment, often responding to the place I make work in, traces of the past extant in the landscape, or my own cultural heritage and context, always looking to be rooted, emplaced.

I create ritual equipment, sites of transformation, or remnants of speculative cultural practices that flow from these negotiations. I aim to speak from a place of timelessness, creating work that could be ancient yet points towards a transformed future. I always leave room for the mystery- that which is fragmented, hidden, or unknowable. Much of my work stems from recognising and valuing the ungraspable nature of the earth’s ecological systems, the distant past, or the cosmos, as a counterpoint to Western culture’s implicit belief that something must be understood in order to have worth.

The act of working with materials, learning and developing manual skills, conversing and problem solving alongside physical matter, is very important to me. It is a point of interface between “internal” and “external” worlds- the reciprocal transformation that occurs during the making process between body, material, and environment demonstrates the permeability of these perceived divides. In using evocative materials such as honeycomb, amber, or gathered clay I suggest an archaeological reading of my work- it is “material culture”, residual remains of beliefs, mythologies, or traditions, existing as matter.

Mythmaking is a central part of my work, as a timeless method by which we as humans collectively build the world we exist in. Rather than seeing this as Cartesian mind/matter divide, I take the view that our mythical world-making is therefore part our environment, of ecology, passing beyond the human. As Western culture becomes increasingly withdrawn from its environment due to the advances of capitalist exploitation, I believe there is an important role for art to play in inoculating our cultural landscape with the possibility for revering and respecting that which is beyond our human knowing.

This is the only known transmission received shortly after the disappearance of a reclusive gardener/beekeeping fanatic who called themselves the Apionaut. Their abandoned shed was discovered to be filled with homemade astronomical instruments and other unidentifiable equipment. The transmission was detected from an ambiguous source, apparently emanating from one of their vegetable patches. Their beehives were also abandoned, with no sign of the bees.

The apionaut stands holding their helmet, breathing in some srange fumes emerging from their suit.
The Apionaut investigating some strange earth flora.
The Apionaut looking pensive.
The Apionaut inspects a flower, surrounded by mugwort and sweet cicely.
The Apionaut looks to the sky in a moment of thoughtfulness or an aching back.
The Apionaut looks like they might have recognised someone they know but aren't sure.
The Apionaut crouches, holding a piece of honeycomb, sticky and delicious.
A close up of a piece of honeycomb clasped tenderly in the Apionaut's white-gloved hands

This short film piece was produced in collaboration with Skye Turner (Ma Contemporary Art Practice RCA) whilst on residency at the Centre for Recent Drawing, Islington, in February 2022. It was filmed in Dulwich woods, and used generative storytelling through roleplay as a method for investigating themes around hunting, land enclosure, and apocalypse prepping. The two characters in the film play host to one another in the landscapes of their respective survivalist fantasies. It was shown as part of the exhibition Hortus Conclusus at the culmination of the residency. From the show text:

The Hortus Conclusus is an alchemical symbol of the enclosed garden, a perfect metaphor for nature as abundant yet subdued. Modern-day survivalists often turn to a presupposed “outside” for feelings of agency and escape, constructing survival situations to reassure themselves of their own capability. Historically, landowners have created hunting grounds as simulated primordial arenas in which to demonstrate their prowess through the medium of death. In both cases, what presents as radically individual and agentic serves mainly to reinforce dominant, hyper-conservative power structures, through rejection of communal aid or through land ownership and enclosure.
In this show we have proposed two characters who dwell in the walled garden- one hunter, one survivalist, both occupying the same woods but in different paradigms. One is the archetypal leader of the pan-European myth of the wild hunt, a representation of a primal dream; a dream of dominance and the right to kill. The other is a survivor in an alien land, perhaps a distant future, crafting armour for themselves out of mythic crustacean shells, trapped in a shell of self-sufficient paranoia, perhaps one that they themselves have created. For both, the arena in which they must constantly test themselves entails an imposed separation from the rest of the world, a walled paradise in which to kill or suffer.




A cloth covered column with a spiny clay glob at the top. Embedded in this is a piece of amber, lit from behind, showing a cross
A cloth covered column with a spiny clay glob at the top. Embedded in this is a piece of amber, lit from behind, showing a cross
A cloth covered column with a spiny clay glob at the top. Embedded in this is a piece of amber, lit from behind, showing a cross
A cloth covered column with a spiny clay glob at the top. Embedded in this is a piece of amber, lit from behind, showing a cross

These sun holders are made to resemble staffs or wands, rising from the earth. Light shines through a piece of Baltic amber at the top of each staff, leaving a shadowy image of a cross. The cross is an ancient symbol, appearing in early Bronze Age European art invoking the sun. Amber has been regarded as a sacred material for millennia. In this case, it is functioning like a photo negative, where a hidden, latent image is revealed through the activity of light. The venerated cosmic body is brought to earth in a symbolic unification. They are enclosed in earth- held in lumps of gathered clay from south London, that writhe and grow like fungal fruiting bodies. These artefacts can be seen as fragments of a belief system, one that felt a desperate yearning to bring the sun to the earth, to feel its celestial power coursing through the soil. Its proponents are absent, however, leaving only the excavated equipment of their rituals.


Baltic amber, gathered clay, textile, steel, LED light


1.4 x 0.2 x 0.2 M