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Ms Sian Bowen

Professor in Fine Art. Director of Paper Studio Northumbria (PSN)

Department: Arts

Siân Bowen’s research is located within the field of Fine Art practice.

Within this area she has recently developed a number of projects that focus on drawing in relation to ambient light and actual space, as well as real time events with particular reference to a museum context. Bowen has also had a longstanding interest in Japanese culture and aesthetics – she has periodically carried out residencies, exhibitions and research visits to Japan having spent four years living in Kyoto (Monbusho Scholar, Kyoto University of Arts, 1985-87).

A large-scale installation of twenty-five back-lit drawings and eight video projections which referenced a failed attempt to reach China by sixteenth century cartographers, was recently staged at Jilin University of the Arts, Changchun, Northern China. To create this body of works, Bowen continued to the cartographers’ failed destination – the bamboo forests of East Asia. Filmed solely in the reflection of a Claude Glass (a black curved mirror), this not only fragmented the artist’s passage through sub-tropical landscapes but also sought to challenge experiential understanding of time and space. These were shown alongside a further series of video works which had been made through similarly employing reflections in the mirror – this time as the artist travelled through the ice pack of the arctic. Through multiple foldings, the drawings explored ideas connected to the transportation and storage of ephemeral objects. These were used to ‘wrap’ large light-tables and were made through repetitive burn marks.

Since 2012, Bowen has been developing two further collaborative projects. The first is with Arkhangelsk Museum and the Russian Arctic National Park; drawing as a transformative process and the relationship between sites of discovery and preservation, are central to this investigation. In 2012, three hundred of Bowen’s drawings were buried on the site of the first arctic over-wintering refuge by Europeans, on the island of Nova Zembla in the Russian Arctic – and are currently being worked on/with to form a new body of works. The second project navigates through three distinct historical and contemporary ‘sites’ of knowledge – the extraordinary seventeenth century illustrated treatise on the plants of Malabar, Hortus Malabaricus; historical herbaria in Edinburgh, Liverpool and Oxford; and sacred groves in tropical forests and coastal plains of South India). It aims to stimulate new modes of drawing through considerations relating to the collection and preservation of rare plants.

From 2010-12, Bowen worked with the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, as Guest Artist in Drawing. This project examined the relationship between materiality and the ephemeral. Prints that were discovered after having been frozen in the Arctic for three hundred years and which were conserved at the Rijksmuseum, were used as models for developing new modes of drawing. As Resident Artist in Drawing at the V&A, London, (2006-8) Bowen developed a body of site-specific works on paper which related drawing means to the Far Eastern and Word & Image Collections, the museum context and exhibition installation.

Siân Bowen

0191 2273812


Monbusho Research Scholar, Kyoto City University of Arts, Japan

Diploma in Japanese Language, Osaka University of Foreign Studies, Japan.

Postgraduate in Drawing and Painting (with distinction), Edinburgh College of Art

B.A. Hons in Fine Art, University of Newcastle

Sponsors and Collaborators

Current collaborators include: Arkhangelsk Museum, Russia; Russian Arctic National Park; Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh; Oxford University Herbaria; Liverpool World Museum; Jawarharlal Nehru Tropical Botanic Garden and Research Institute, India; Gowry Art Institute, India.

Recent collaborators include: Rijksmuseum Amsterdam; The V&A, London; Salisbury Museum and Stonehenge World Heritage Site.


Current/Recent Projects

1. 'Siân Bowen and Nova Zembla: Suspending the Ephemeral,’ touring exhibition (2012- ).

Artworks evolving from ‘Capturing the Ephemeral: Siân Bowen and Nova Zembla’, The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (see below), formed a further solo exhibition, ‘Siân Bowen and Nova Zembla: Suspending the Ephemeral’ at: Fruehsorge Contemporary Drawing, Berlin (2012); and Trinity Contemporary, London (2013). Since 2012, Bowen has been collaborating with Arkhangelsk Museum, Russia to develop the project. This has included working with researchers at the Russian Arctic National Park and the North Territorial Department for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring (HEMD). In 2012 three hundred of Bowen’s drawings were carried on board the ice-class research and expedition vessel Mikhail Somov and buried in the arctic; they were retrieved two years later. These form the basis of a new series of works that will be shown at Arkhangelsk Museum.

Selected works also shown in: ‘British Drawings, 1600 to the Present Day’ (2013-14), curated by Susan Owens, Senior Curator in Painting, the V&A, with accompanying publication, ‘The Art of Drawing: British Masters and Methods Since 1600’; and ‘Drawology’, Bonnington Gallery, Nottingham and Lanchester Gallery, Coventry (2013-14).

2. Guest Artist in Drawing, The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam: ‘Capturing the Ephemeral: Siân Bowen and Nova Zembla’ (2009-2012).

As Guest Artist in Drawing, (AHRC, £39,500), Bowen worked collaboratively with Rijksmuseum experts; the Nova Zembla prints, having lain frozen in the Arctic for three centuries, provided her with opportunities to explore the materiality of drawing and the ephemeral nature of museum objects on paper. Bowen travelled to the arctic to develop drawings and video works for a solo exhibition at the Rijksmuseum (2012), with publication: ‘Siân Bowen and Nova Zembla: Suspending the Ephemeral’ (Published by RGAP, essays by Wim Pijbes, Jan de Hond, Joel Fisher, Chris Dorsett and Jan Philipp Fruehsorge).   

3. Resident Artist in Drawing, The V&A, Part 2: ‘Of Dust’ (2007-2008).

‘Of Dust’, Daiwa Foundation, London, evolved from the residency, Siân Bowen: Resident Artist in Drawing, V&A, Part 2. The project expanded Bowen’s ongoing interest in devising new ways of creating and exhibiting drawings to interrogate the museological dimensions of states of flux. Bowen collaborated with experts at the V&A’s conservation studios and Tokyo National Museum in order to explore lacquer as a drawing medium - and in groundbreaking ways applied it to photographic and print processes. See: ‘Of Dust’, publication, (Northern Print, 2008, Essay by Tim Travers, Senior Curator, the V&A); ‘Jerwood Drawing Prize’, 2009; ‘Northern Print Biennale’, 2009; and ‘Printmaking: A Contemporary Perspective’, Paul Coldwell (Black Dog Press).

4. Resident Artist in Drawing, The V&A, Part 1: ‘Drawing, Context and the Collection’ (2006-2007).

As Resident Artist in Drawing Bowen’s research resulted in the solo exhibition, ‘Drawing, Context and the Collection’, V&A, 2007). This expanded her interest in devising new ways of creating and exhibiting drawings in relation to ambient light and actual space, and real time events with reference to a museum context. A publication accompanied the exhibition (‘Gaze’, V&A publications, essays by Richard Cork, Tony Godfrey, Pauline Webber and Gill Saunders). During the residency period Bowen was also invited to spend three months as Guest Artist at Kyoto Art Centre, Japan, where she exhibited a large-scale installation ‘Shift’ through which she explored notions of temporality and refuge connected to folding paper teahouses. 

Postgraduate Supervision

Siân Bowen is currently supervising; Daksha Patel, ‘Contemporary Drawing Practice, Medical Visualisation and the Body Repositioned’ (principal supervisor); Caroline Ali, ‘Reconstructing the Copy: Synergies between Fine Art Practices of Copying, the Retouching of Drawings in Paper Conservation and the Archive of Charles Sims R.A. (1873-1928).’

Bowen was principal supervisor for the completed doctoral projects: Brian Fay, ‘States of Transience in Drawing Practices and the Conservation of Museum Artworks’ (2015); Agnieszka Kozlowska, ‘Taking Photographs Beyond the Visual: Paper as a Material Signifier in Photographic Indexicality’ (2014). Past supervision teams also include; Hiroko Oshima, ‘Artists' Groups in Japan and the UK and their Impact on the Creative Individual’ (2011); Sachiyo Goda, ‘An Investigation Into the Japanese Notion of "ma" ‘ (2011); Sulien Hseieh, ‘Buddhist Meditation as Art Practice’ (2011).

Bowen is interested in drawing practice and theory in relation to: materiality; light; the ephemeral; Far Eastern materials, aesthetics and philosophy; museology; paper conservation; archives; herbaria; the temporary refuge; archaeology of land and sea. Applications for doctoral supervision are welcome from students wishing to pursue practice-based research working in these areas.

Teaching Experience

Siân Bowen’s practice, which is centred on contemporary drawing, directly informs the studio tutorial, small group teaching, seminars and lectures that she carries out on the BA and MFA programmes. In addition, her teaching is informed by her experience over two decades of international residencies and artist exchange projects - and of  her research in Far Eastern materials and papers. She has been a visiting lecturer to institutions including Glasgow School of Art; Newcastle University; Lancaster University; Bath School of Art and Design; Kingston University; Kunst Seminar, Germany; Delhi, Trivandrum and Chennai Colleges of Art, India.

Bowen is also Director of PSN - Paper Studio Northumbria. This research and teaching facility is used to examine and reflect on the material and conceptual nature of paper in contemporary fine art and paper conservation. A number of PhD students work closely with PSN. A web archive of research activities carried out in PSN including doctoral projects, exhibitions, artist residencies and seminars can be found at

Further Information

Editorial Positions and Selected Conference Papers:

Advisory Board Member: ‘Drawing Theory and Practice (pub. Intellect), 2015- ; Co-Editor, ‘Tracey’, (pub. Loughborough University), 2012- .

Papers: ‘Further North’ (AHRC), Northumbria. University, 2014; ‘Cooperation in the Barents Euro-Arctic Region in Education and Research’, Northern Federal University, Russia, 2013; ‘Art and Its Afterlives’, Courtauld Institute, London, 2012; ‘Archaeology of the Barents Sea’, Arkangelsk Museum, Russia, key-note speaker, 2012; ‘The Cutting Edge: Lasers and Creativity,’ Loughborough University, key-note speaker, 2009; ‘The Go-Between’, Glamorgan University and National Museum of Wales, 2009.

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