Interview with – Masters and Munn

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For Welcome to the Jungle we were very privileged to have the input of award-winning sculptors Masters and Munn – that’s André Masters and CJ Munn. They loaned us some casts of elephant skin and gharial skin and our showstopping elephants poos were thanks to them too. André’s background is in modelmaking for film and television including sets, armour, props and animatronics. André works in all kinds of media and takes commissions for, amongst other things, interior design and wearable art. CJ is a self-taught artist from Kent, the daughter of artist Diane Brazier and film maker David Brazier. She originally worked as a writer and producer for television. After the birth of her son, CJ jumped at the chance to change career, rapidly becoming the award-winning “lifecaster” and sculptor that she is today.

 

Masters and Munn’s Endangered Species Collection, is where they and CakeBomb meet (through Francesca Pitcher).

CJ & Andre_Chelsea 2010

CJ and André, your Endangered Species Collection, creates tactile works of art and teaching aids for blind and partially sighted audiences. How did you come up with this idea?

CJ: The original Endangered Species project actually began in 1998 when André cast a six year old Indian elephant at Woburn zoo called Chandrika (Indian translation, meaning “Moonlight”).

AM: I was originally inspired to take the cast after overhearing a blind girl at the zoo asking her parents “How big is the elephant? What does it feel like?” and the seed for the project was planted in my mind. The project involved working with schools for the blind, creating high quality life casts of animals in order to make three-dimensional teaching aids that would be accessible and exciting to blind and partially sighted children, as well as other visitors to the zoos education centres. In order to compare size and texture, life casts of domestic cats and dogs were made to give ‘The Endangered Species’ a scale reference.

 

I was originally inspired to take the cast after overhearing a blind girl at the zoo asking her parents “How big is the elephant? What does it feel like?” and the seed for the project was planted in my mind.

 

The practicalities of getting these samples must have been considerable. Can you give me a couple of examples showing the difficulties involved.

AM: Most of the casts were taken whilst the animals were being annually vetted. Once a year the animals are given a general MOT, they are all weighed, blood samples are taken, their teeth are checked and the female animals are given pregnancy tests to see if there might be any future arrivals in the zoo. Once the animals are anesthetised we only have a few minutes to make the moulds so the whole process needs to be planned and executed with pin point accuracy. Anaesthetising large animals is a tricky business which does involve some risk for anyone who enters the animal enclosure in case they wake up early. The bottom line is, you never really know what might happen so you have to be flexible in your approach in dealing with highly fluid working environments and always remain calm under pressure.

How do you prepare the surface of a real animal’s skin or paw to be moulded?

AM/CJ: There are various techniques and materials we use which are both skin and fur friendly for the animals. All of the products we use are based on natural ingredients which are researched, tried and tested for suitability and ease of use for us and for the animals concerned. For hairier animals a barrier or release cream of some sort is always used so as to avoid giving the animal any sort of ‘waxing’ experience. That way, by the time they wake up, they won’t even have been aware we’ve cast them at all.

MM Bronze-Casts

What have the audience’s reactions been like?

AM: The project’s impact and ultimate success was fully realised the first time the casts were shared with children from The Leatherhead School for the Blind, exploring the texture and size with their fingers and then holding the dinner plate-sized paw cast of a Sumatran Tiger. When their faces lit up with the delighted realisation of the enormous scale of this powerful creature (that just simply hadn’t come across from verbal description alone) it opened up a whole new world of wonder about wild animals.

Do you think Chandrika remembered you from your first meeting?

AM: Chandrika definitely remembered me. I was filming our reunion with my camera and nervously laughed as she ran towards me like an excited puppy. She wrapped her trunk around my waist and cuddled me before raising her trunk over my head which is elephant body language for ‘Look how tall I am!’. It was wonderful that she did remember our original meeting and that we could continue working together, creating beautiful casts that would continue to educate and provide a life like point of reference for future generations.

Chandrika_montage

She was one of the only animals from which you made casts to not be anaesthetised. Did you at any point worry that she might decide ‘enough’s enough’ and squash you?

CJ:  André wasn’t at all nervous, having worked with elephants before, but I must admit I was a bit worried beforehand. I’ve worked with horses in the past who can be skittish and kick on occasion and I do remember saying to friends ‘This could be a very embarrassing way to die!’ before we went. But once I’d been introduced to Chandrika and the other elephants at Woburn I felt so safe with them. Despite their enormous size, they are in fact extremely agile on their feet, always watchful and careful not to step on us, bump into or push us around. They were also very playful, using their trunks to sniff around our pockets, checking for treats and generally being quite mischievous. But discovering just how intelligent and sensitive they are also reassured me. Chandrika, like many elephants living in captivity, understands about as much as a human toddler and we could ask her questions to which she would either nod or shake her head in reply. In this way I felt reassured we had her permission to cast her, especially as the ‘payment’ was a bucket of fresh apples which she didn’t have to share with the other elephants. She was so cooperative and patient with the process – much more so than many of the children we get coming to the lifecasting studio!

 

Chandrika definitely remembered me. I was filming our reunion with my camera and nervously laughed as she ran towards me like an excited puppy. She wrapped her trunk around my waist and cuddled me before raising her trunk over my head which is elephant body language for ‘Look how tall I am!’.

 

Here is the video of Masters and Munn casting Chandrika.

In what other ways have you added to the collection recently?

AM: Since the early days ‘The Endangered Species’ collection of unique and precious casts have grown to include casts from Chessington World of Adventure, Maidstone Museum, return visits to Woburn to recast Chandrika as a fully grown 3,300kg adult elephant and working with the WWF, making seven bronze casts for their brand new head office and ‘Living Planet Centre’ based in Woking, Surrey.  As macabre as it might sound, we’ve also gained a bit of a reputation for casting recently deceased animals, so if anyone we know finds anything unusual we’ll get a call or an email from someone asking us if they should pop it in their freezer till we see them. Some people might find that a bit gruesome, but living specimens of wildlife are not always readily available and a dead lizard or weasel is always going to be slightly easier to cast than trying to track down a live one that just happens to be being anaesthetised for something. We’d certainly never anaesthetise an animal just to cast them, or anything else that could put the animals at risk.

How did you meet Francesca?

AM/CJ: Originally CJ met Francesca via the Maidstone Mums in Business group and then introduced her to André. As we began following Francesca’s Facebook page, she just published her amazingly realistic ‘snake cake’ and we began discussing and planning a variety of possible joint projects.

You kindly loaned us moulds of a gharial crocodile, elephant hide and a mould of elephant dung. Was the gharial a live specimen?

AM: I’m afraid not. The Gharial belongs to and was moulded at Maidstone Museum. As with all  Museum specimens, the Gharial was a very old and rare taxidermy asset which we were able to mould for the WWF ‘Living Planet Centre’ project.

What did you think of Annabel’s cake sculpture of the gharial, have you seen it?

CJ: We haven’t seen it yet although we’re very excited to see the results and hear people’s feedback. We’re just waiting to see some of the photos of the exhibition, but heard it was a huge success.

Gharial crocodile by Conjuror's Kitchen

Annabel de Vetten’s gharial crocodile for CakeBomb. Annabel had Masters and Munn’s gharial skin mould as inspiration for the skin on her cake but she actually ended up carving the scales freehand to get the necessary depth of pattern in the sugarpaste she was using.

What are the challenges involved with making a mould of dung?

CJ: Well, dung moulding certainly isn’t something we make a habit of, but when Chandrika the elephant was producing so much of it, it occurred to me that someone, somewhere might want a bronze elephant poo doorstop one day. Funnily enough, I wasn’t wrong, as when we approached our local bronze foundry to ask for a quote on just that they told us ‘Oh we did a few of those last year, this year bronze cow pats are all the rage!’  Anyway, taking the initial mould of the poo in the elephant enclosure didn’t seem too problematic. There is a pong in any animal enclosure but you soon get used to it and forget about it. But having brought the poo-in-mould back to our home studio to demould and cast it out it was quite a different story. The smell was something completely other-worldly when taken out of context and into our home. The fumes practically burned my eyes! ;o) And to get the original poo out of the set mould so I could recast one in plaster has to be one of the most disgusting jobs I’ve ever done. I realised all too late that the only way of doing it was to reach in there with my (thankfully gloved) hand and pull out lumps of poop a chunk at a time. Lovely. Still, the mould has already proved very useful and we’ve made copies for education centres at zoos and safari parks and then of course Francesca’s fabulous edible poop!

Would you eat a chocolate elephant poo?

AM/CJ: Providing the mould was made from a food safe silicone that had been properly cleaned and the casting material was indeed, edible . . . we’d eat it!

Here's our Rosie Cake-Diva giving the nutritional information of the chocolate elephant poos to the Cake & Bake Show crowd

Here’s our Rosie Cake-Diva giving the nutritional information of the chocolate elephant poos to the Cake & Bake Show crowd

Do you think you might ever consider sculpting from edible materials?

AM: Having worked on many promotional advertising food commercials as a model maker and prop master, I have had many opportunities to work with a large variety of food items and ingredients. As life casting artists, CJ and I have actually been working with food materials for more than ten years. We have cast sculptures out of chocolate, cake ingredients, ice, jelly and sugar syrup. In 2006 we made life-size figurative bread moulds of artist Sharon Baker for her ‘Eat Me’ exhibition at London’s Thames festival and last year I was featured on Pat Marsh’s BBC Radio Kent show as a food artist specialist. All in all, CJ and I love researching new material technologies and working with other creative artists and technicians as it keeps everything exciting and fresh for us.

 

Seeing the audience rip apart what looked like a human corpse and devour it was very disturbing even though we knew it was essentially a giant loaf!

 

 

CJ: Yes, helping make the bread bodies was a big favourite. Seeing the audience rip apart what looked like a human corpse and devour it was very disturbing even though we knew it was essentially a giant loaf! I’ve always wanted to do more large-scale chocolate pieces as I’m a bit of a chocaholic and grew up making my own Easter eggs with moulds my mother had bought. The strangest application of edible casting technology I heard of was a former colleague who passed around chocolate bum-holes at a posh dinner party! I think you can even buy boxes of them on the internet….although I wouldn’t expect there’s a huge demand.

MM bread

Human castings of artist Sharon Baker in bread dough. Lower two photos © and courtesy of Sharon Baker, sharonbakerartist.co.uk

How did you both meet and then decide to work together?

AM/CJ: We first met via a lifecasting forum on the Internet 11 years ago, and both felt creative sparks fly. At the time, André was a modelmaker working in the film and advertising industry and I had not long started my lifecasting company, Rockabelly Lifecasts. Sensing I shared his passion for creativity and learning, André took me under his wing in the early years of my career, mentoring me as well as being equally inspired by my ideas and enthusiasm and hiring me to assist him with various commercial jobs. Within a year, André’s teaching had paid off so much that I was actually able to also start hiring André for my own artistic projects and a great working partnership began. Over the years, friendship grew into romance and now we live together and share workshops in Maidstone, Kent.

The-PrizeWhat are the challenges of lifecasting humans?

AM/CJ: Every body part and every client comes with different challenges. For some body parts there are technical challenges, like working as fast as you can to capture a pose before your client feels any discomfort set in and working at such speeds to cover large areas before your materials set. The clock is always ticking. Then there are the psychological challenges. Most people that come to us either have to trust us with their naked bodies or a new baby or even a dying relative. That’s a lot of trust to gain from people in a very short space of time. So we try to be as open as we can with people about every stage of the process to well-prepare them for the experience. We’ve both been cast ourselves many, many times too, so we can talk people through exactly how it will feel at every stage, and thus avoid situations where people might feel nervous or surprised by the experience. Then there are age-related challenges like how to keep a wriggly toddler still for the 2 minute it might take to get a decent cast of their hand or foot! Let’s just say multi-tasking comes into play big time. We can both cast a foot whilst simultaneously singing Disney songs and feeding people chocolate biscuits. Whatever it takes to get a good cast and leave people with great memories really!

Where can we see your work?

AM/CJ: Our work can often be seen at the Fairfax Gallery in Tunbridge Wells and the Lilford Gallery in Canterbury. We have also exhibited at the Business Design Centre in London, the Carrousel Du Louvre in Paris, Godinton House in Kent, the Forge Gallery in Worthing and as members of the Surrey Sculpture Society, we will be exhibiting in many more venues in and around London so keep checking for updates on our website.

CJ and André’s artistic website: www.mastersandmunn.co.uk

CJ’s commercial website: www.rockabelly.co.uk

André’s commercial website: www.andremasters.co.uk

Sharon Baker’s website: sharonbakerartist.co.uk

 

Thanks for helping with Welcome to the Jungle! AM/CJ: Thank you for inviting us to be a part of such a fun and exciting project!

No harm was caused to any animals in the making of the collection.

The Endangered Species Project. http://www.mastersandmunn.co.uk/Animals_Coll_G.html

 

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