The Soul of a Unicorn, 2019

bronze, horsehair



Where does the soul reside? In his book ‘The Five Senses’, the philosopher Michel Serres suggested the site of the soul is the skin because it is there we meet the world. We are because we feel. We can carry on without sight or hearing or taste or smell, but it is impossible to exist without touch. This tactile sculpture was influenced by Serres' philosophy, and by the ‘Lady and the Unicorn’ tapestries whose subject is the senses. It has no eyes, ears, nose or mouth, only integument, and it is clothed in a cape made from a product of that integument – hair.

Jane Theau thanks Nick Stranks for his assistance with casting.

About the Artist


Jane Theau lives on Cammeraygal Land on the north shore of Sydney, NSW.


Artist portrait, photo credit: Greg Piper




My name is Jane Theau.

The Soul of a Unicorn is one of a series of bronze and horsehair sculptures I made for doctoral research into the subject of textiles and tactility in contemporary art. I was exploring the sense of touch in an art world, indeed in a world, that is perceived predominantly through the visual sense.  If we just look at our environment, and don’t touch and smell and listen and taste it is impossible to fully, holistically, appreciate it. This impossible three-legged creature has no eyes, ears, nose or mouth …. only skin, it is a sentient form that can only perceive by feeling, and it was made to be touched. I chose to clothe it in a tapestry of horsehair because this little-used fibre is a product of skin, the organ of touch. And, because skin knows hair and wants to touch it: the glossy woven form and the shaggy fringe encourage you to reach out. When I was weaving this tapestry the fringes at the edges constantly beckoned me to run my fingers through them.

I chose to pair bronze and textile to provide a tactile contrast between the heaviness, hardness and coldness of bronze with the lightness and looseness of the textile. The surface of the bronze is finished to mimic the scaly texture of a shaft of hair as viewed under a microscope. A large part of my art practice involves making life-sized lace portraits which weigh next to nothing (one of these was a joint winner of Hidden in 2012). Working with the solidity of metal is a completely different sensory experience. The physicality of pounding such a resistant material as bronze is almost a relief after working for so long with floppy fibres.

This work was inspired by the medieval Lady and the Unicorn suite of tapestries whose subject is the senses, and by the book The Five Senses which was written by the French philosopher Michel Serres. In this very readable book Serres suggests that our soul is in our skin because it is there that we meet and mingle with the world, and this is an idea that makes a lot of sense. He thinks prioritising vision robs us of the richness of the world, and I agree with him.

I finished my PhD during the Covid lockdown, and it was never clearer than during that soul destroying time of isolation how important touch is.