Sunday, 3 January 2010


The Cemetery
Within our cities and towns we set aside designated places for the burial of our dead. The photographs on this blog are taken from Smithdown Road Cemetery, Liverpool. A quick look at the Ordnance Survey Maps of Liverpool reveals that the cemetery was located well away from the city when it was first built - presumably to ensure that disease was kept well away from the inhabitants. Eventually the city engulfed the cemetery and a Workhouse [designed by Culshaw & Sumners] was built next door to the grave yard - presumably because land was cheap and it reduced the travel distance: in one door - out the other.
Today, despite the drunkards and the Staffordshire bull terriers it is a delightful setting. Its ugliness comes through the ostentatious vanity of some of its occupants. The futile attempts at immortality and claiming importance in death as in life, or perhaps I'm mistaken, and the extravagant commemorations are displays from loved ones. We see a variety of styles, miniature gothick Albert Memorials, peculiar cenotaphs with sculpture & bas relief and the inevitable urns. A collection of obelisks creates an interesting display, some with vastly over-scaled pedestals reducing the obelisk to a mere finial.


Abandoned buildings, dilapidated structures: they are signs of previous human occupation.

The ruins below are not ugly though. They are the clean white bones; not the decaying carcass that we find repulsive, the abandoned building occupied by pigeons.

At what point is the delapidation complete and the status of ruin achieved. At what point does romanticism take over from the sadness of waste and neglect? Perhaps it is the tenacity of the ruin that intrigues us. Its defiance to resist complete demolition and to remain more seemingly permanent than an occupied useable and 'functional' structure. The ruin played such an important part in the Western Renaissance. We returned to Rome, Greece and Turkey to measure such things as tools for estalbishing our future course. Could they be in-grained as a collective memory. The ruined Bank of England more certain as a ruin that Soane's incomplete version.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Cabients of Curiosities

We have a special relationships with things, objects, stuff, art, belongings and collections. We are what we own and we form a 'collective' identity through our national collections.
Cabinets of Curiosities have contained the unusual, the peculiar and the grotesque [i.e the ugly], as well as the unique, precious, rare and splendid (the sublime), and in that sense they form the perfect studies, as they illustrate our fascination with the ugly as well as our marveling at the beautiful.
The desire to own 'one of everything'....

My own foray into this dark and dirty domain has been through taxidermy.
A connection with death and yet the preservation of the illusion of life.
Image: Stoat Trophy mounted on rectangular timber shield.

Taxidermy: Whilst taxidermy may not be popular mass culture, it has seen something of a revival in recent years, especially in Modern Art [possibly stemming from Hurst's works].
To some taxidermy is a morbid creation symbolic of hunting, imperialism and cruelty, and in the past this may have been partially true, but it has always been more than that.
It has also featured in some poorly executed museum displays and equally is still found in some delightful curatorial feats [as found in the Manchester Museum, New Yorks Natural History Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum]. What better way of learning about an animal than actually seeing it {- yes, of course there is no substitute for seeing an animal 'in the wild' etc etc. }

Taxidermy is one of those topics that spans established genres. It is both a science and an art form. It is concerned with our natural surroundings, the beauty of creation, and also with fiction and narrative. Each taxiderm tells a story and sets a scene. It enables us to become un-naturally close to animals that would otherwise be out of reach. It possibly reminds us of death, but for me it is the marvel of looking at a wild animal, preserved and removed from passing time, seasons and the cycle of life.
Many people are scared when they first encounter a taxidermy specimen. Perhaps this relates to an inner ancient mode of self-preservation. We still feel fear when we see a lion form, regardless of whether it is alive or taxidermed.