Reliquary – Bloomsbury Institute London


Monday 22nd July 2019

As many of you know, for the past two years we’ve been running our very own Artist in Residence programme, headed up by Fiddian Warman.  

At the end of last year, Fiddian unveiled his first ever Bloomsbury Institute art installation, ShoeShine Stories. Since then, Fiddian has been working on a very special project for our Gower Street reception, that was recently unveiled at our 2019 Teaching and Learning Conference 

Here’s Fiddian again with more about his recent artwork and the inspiration behind it… 

How it all started 

An example religious relic

I was chatting with our beloved Director of SEWS, Cal Courtney, when he happened to mention the large amount of lost property left after lectures, some of which were very curious. This gave me an idea – wouldn’t it be interesting to do something creative with this detritus and help us think about the impact of “stuff” on the world? Following on from my first work, Shoeshine Stories, I also felt this could be a perfect way to celebrate the lives of the students and all that they contribute to the institute 

From these ideas Reliquary was born.

The core concept was simple: take some of these bits of lecture room flotsam and jetsam and guild them. In this way the discarded objects could be elevated to a status similar to religious relics and, by association, the students who discarded them could be honored with a special kind of importance or sainthood!  

liked the idea that the shape of the case that would contain our relics, known as a reliquary, could mimic the form of the relic and object. I also wanted to use internal lighting to increase the association of students with the sculpture. This interaction I planned to achieve by using a camera to pick out a colour from the clothing of students and reflect it back using LED inside the Reliquary.  

And so it began 

I selected a range of 13 interesting objects from lost property for the relics. I mounted and gold gilded them which was surprisingly challenging for items like a furry notebook or a small teddy bear! 

23.5 carat gold leaf is extremely thin; the slightest draught or mishandling can cause it to tear or ball up into nothing, so care and patience is required to apply it. 

Having gilded the objects the next step was constructing the reliquary to echo the oddly shaped relics it contained. I couldn’t simply trace these objects – instead I had to use a CAD program and CNC router to cut the shapes in plywood.  

I assembled the reliquary as you might make a guitar, painstakingly pinning and gluing very thin plywood around the outside edge and sanding and finishing it with a rich rosewood veneer. 

A bump in the road

Finally, was the internal lighting. I fitted 130 LEDs inside the reliquary, but this took a lot longer than originally expected.  

I had serious problems with the colour-grabbing interactive software. I initially developed a system that recognised faces and grabbed colour from clothing below the face. However when I tested it in Gower Street reception, to my horror I found it did not recognise some people of colour.

I wrote to the people who developed the hardware and was told by the CEO, himself an African American, that this is a known issue with the open Artificial Intelligence used in these systems. It turns out they were trained on mainly white US tech students in the early 2000s.  

I started again using a small computer and a new custom colour-grabbing code created by my longtime collaborator at Soda, Jons Jones-Morris. 

And finally 

After a few more bugs and compatibility issues, Reliquary was completeReliquary is now hanging on the chimney breast behind the reception desk at Gower Street if anyone wants to take a look. 

The unveiling of Reliquary at our 9th Teaching and Learning Conference

There is a final strand around the work I’d like to propose … a call to action! I’m sure there are a good number of students who like writing and I’d like to ask if you would be interested in choosing a relic from Reliquary and write a very short fictional story. This could be about its history, why it is here, any kind of story really – let your imagination run riot! The stories will be made into a small book to be shown at reception and published on our website. 

Please contact me at or talk to reception staff in Gower Street if you’d like to be involved.