Tuesday, February 17, 2009

decomposition and beauty

Beauty in unexpected places.

At the moment in my studio I am trying to turn base metal into gold ....... well that's what it feels like.

I am attempting to transform the undeniable reality of decomposition into a more beautiful created reality.

As part of my M.A Research I am keen to canvas as many views as possible concerning what happens after death.

The following questions are for guidance only, use them if they're useful ...... but otherwise I would really value your personal points of view.
If you would like your contribution to be credited then please do include your name with your comment. Equally if you would rather remain anonymous that's fine. It would be useful to know your age and gender however.

Cheers and many thanks


Do you believe that death is the end?
Does something continue beyond death?
Is there a heaven or hell? Have you a notion of them?
What of those you have loved? Will you be reunited?
Do you believe the dead watch over us?
Do your beliefs make you fear death less?
Are there any religious symbols/keepsakes that are important to you?

To join in - click on the comments button at the bottom of the page

warning this video contains maggots

memory runs backwards


  1. From a male, aged 64. Your video is a grim reminder that death is indeed the end. But I find that as I get older, death gets less, not more, scary. What would I do in heaven (or hell) for eternity with no body and therefore no senses? What sort of existence would it be, with no pleasure, pain, surprises, etc? And if I were to be reincarted but without my memories, in what sense would I be me? I find comfort in the knowledge that no atoms of my body will be lost but are, rather, recycled in the physical world. And in the belief that I 'live on' in the shape of future humankind. (I choose to be reincarnated as some fresh faced youth with no memory of me and therefore a completely fresh start.) I find the notion of the extinction of the human race more difficult to come to terms with - but then again, the universe is a big place with plenty of possibilities! Finally, it is the awareness of the temporary nature of my life that gives it piquancy and immense value to me. The chances of my having existed at all are incredibly small. To be here is a privelege and a wonder and a delight.

  2. 23 y/o M
    I wasn't too bothered that I didn't exist for the first 13 billion years of this universe so I can't imagine being that fussed when I'm dead either. That doesn't mean I want to die, it's better to understand the finality of death and live life fully whilst I've got the opportunity. I can't believe in anything beyond my last breath aside from memories for other people and they're important enough for me to settle with. As one would expect, Epicurus was suitably epic in his view on death, "Thus that which is the most awful of evils, death, is nothing to us, since when we exist there is no death, and when there is death we do not exist."

  3. Female aged 21- Firstly can i comment on the fact that I feel that you have made the morbid reality of decomposition something rather beautiful and artistic to the eye. When asked do i believe that death is the end, it seems rather negative and somewhat scary to say YES so i wonder as to how many responses of that persuasion you will receive. However i think that an individual's perception of life after death must differ extensively.I would have to respond in the negative when asked if i believe in a heaven and hell. As scary as it might be, i think that the short time we have on this earth is the only time we have with the people we love. As a non religious/spiritual person i don't believe there is an afterlife as such, whether it be heaven or hell. Then again, this poses the question as to one's perception of a heaven and hell. We use the terms flippantly in everyday life to convey likes and dislikes, so in a way heaven and hell exist mutually on earth for each person individually. Is it somewhat arrogant to say that one knows categorically if there is an afterlife of any kind? There may not be any scientific proof of an afterlife but is that really enough to rule one out? We thought the earth was flat after all! I'm one to get scared very easily, and i don't make it easy for myself as I am an avid watcher of horror movies. All of this makes for someone who is slightly peturbed by the thought of someone "watching over me". I know it is meant to make one feel peaceful, and indeed it does for a lot of people, but in all honesty it doesn't comfort me. I try not to be superstitious and would tend towards not believing in ghosts, however, again is this an extremely arrogant presumption? All i truly know is that we are here on this earth for a very short time and, as this video shows,we are eaten up by the earth even quicker- as if we were never here. All i can suggest is ENJOY!!!

  4. To those of you who have responded already many thanks...verrrry impressive! I'm going to collect all the responses into a book. If you could follow the blog as I post up some of my early visual ideas and experiments that would be so useful....

  5. For me there is an unambiguous termination of everything at death; it is the complete cessation of all experience. I speak here as one who has never felt a spiritual contact with anybody who has died, who has no religious beliefs whatsoever, and whose only fear of death is the final separation from those whom I love. I do, however, have an image of heaven as being that perfect society to which we aspire, in which greed and violence are unnecessary because all the material needs of everybody are satisfied. In this context, I see the entire entire corpus of religious teaching as an allegory for our 'life on earth'. And such afterlife as I may enjoy is a total consequence of having touched the lives of others by my actions in life and they in turn have passed something on to everybody they have touched.

    There are times when I envy the blind faith of the devout, for their ability to clutch the comfort blanket of a supreme being who looks over and protects us all but that is no more than the comfort I derived from believing in Father Christmas.

    I should also add that though I have no spiritual experiences of those who are already dead, when I have been in the presence of somebody who has died, I had a strong impression of something special having happened. One instant the person was a live sentient being, the next instant that person was no more than dead flesh. The person had 'given up the ghost'

  6. Well, yes really I do believe that death is the end. But daily I see and feel both the physical (in manner and characteristics that have been passed down generations) and spiritual (in nature or nurture) that continues after it in we who have been left behind by those we have loved and/or whose lives have touched us in some way. Heaven and Hell for me only exists now, and where we are depends on the hand we have been dealt at birth (not by any superior spiritual being!)and our fortune in being able to do anything about it. My only fear of death is for those I leave behind who may believe that they need me when I am no longer there. And strangely keepsakes are important carriers of memories that I would rather not be without.

  7. Male, 23

    I believe that life changes our views on death. Everybody has their own individual experiences of death and I think that it depends on the individual situation of each person that shapes their views. Someone that has gone through the death of a close loved one will be influenced differently to someone that hasn't.

    I'm an agnostic person and am definitely not a religious/spiritual person, yet my close personal experiences of the death of my loved ones has influenced the way I view and think about death and what happens to us after we die. Before I wouldn't really of cared what happened after death as it didn't matter to me, but now the thought that my loved ones that have passed away are somewhere they are happy, safe and free of pain and worry is much more of a comfort and easier to think of than them either being a pile of ashes somewhere or a skeleton in a box underground that's rotted away and been eaten away by bugs and insects. It also makes it easier to think of my own death, as if I believe that after death there is some kind of an afterlife, then I may be reunited with all of my loved ones when I die. Holding on to the hope that I will one day be reunited has taken away my fears of death, though I still hate to think of leaving behind my loved ones. To be honest it is more of a selfish, comforting way of thinking rather than any spiritual/religious belief that I have.

    I saw the way that death can alter the way someone thinks about things through my dad in the weeks after my mam died. He is an atheist and doesn't believe in God, Heaven and Hell etc. but he told me stories of things that he experienced during the first few weeks or so. Things from her favourite bonsai tree being the only one that survived in our garden after a strong wind to him hearing a strange noise and sensing a presence that woke him in the night and him following this noise through the house from his bedroom, to my sister's, then to mine. He has explained this as her coming to check on us and making sure we were alright. This could be just grief making him think that she was letting us know she was alright, though I like to think that is was really her. I know it sounds stupid to think that there's anyway it could of possibly been her. But it does make it so much easier to cope with the extreme grief you feel after going through something like that and brings a smile to my face to think she's there looking after me.

    If I hadn't lost close family members then I think I would probably view things in a very different way or atleast think about it in a different light. It's impossible for me to explain this to anyone that hasn't experienced this kind of loss as it will be impossible to know how it feels and makes you rethink things over and over again.

    On the other hand your video does show some of the positives of death though. It shows that through death, life can be created as the dead body has now helped to create new life for various species. Even though we look at it as though it's a lesser thing because it's only insects and bugs, it's new life nonetheless.

  8. Naomi
    female 24

    I find it difficult to communicate the views that I have surrounding death and more importantly what happens when we die. I think this is largely because my views are so juxtaposed....I am practical and emotional, scientific and spiritual, collected and confused.
    Death is certainly an absolute - I will die, so will you - this I know. After this I do not.

    I do not see the individual's journey as confined to the life and death of the body.

    I think that we live on here through the people we have influenced, the things we have made, the memories we leave in others that they pass on and on....

    This brings me comfort while I am alive as I enjoy remembering loved ones and feel that they are with me, influencing the decisions I make and things I do. It eases the loss that death inevitably leaves.

    I think the knowledge that we will one day die can cause us to mourn the notion of lost life. I do not believe death equals the end.

    I do not want to die, I do not want anyone I know to die....and I don't believe they will. The body will come to an end but whilst death is fixed I believe life is much more fluid. We will swim through the memories we make.

  9. Stuart R
    Hi Dawn,43yo male here.
    What do i think about death?,well i believe that is the end for the dead person both physically and mentally as i have absoloutely no belief in any form of an afterlife at all.
    The dead person will exist in the minds of those who knew them,which is all that i consider to be possible.
    I can no more accept the concept of heaven/hell than i can conceive the concept of magic,fairy tales,unicorns etc.
    I am not 100% certain of this,as their is allways the chance that i am wrong,but since there is zero proof for anything of that sort,i am happy to take that chance.
    Having been in a near death situation in the past,the one thing i remember was how unconcerned about the outcome for myself,only the impact it would have on those who knew me.This is the exact feeling i had before my experience,so as much as i do not wish death to hurry up,i am not in any fear of it when it does finally happen.
    Good luck with your project,Stuart

  10. If you don't know Tarkovsky's films you might be intersted in 'Stalker' and 'Nostalgia' which both use images of decay and death as beautiful things. Also read the first page of 'Sowing' by Leonard Woolf (OUP)

  11. Steve, 50, atheist.

    Dead is dead, the absolute end, we came from nothing, we go to nothing. There is no afterlife, no heaven, no hell, just a void.

  12. I firstly thought that this would be an easy topic for me to comment upon as i felt my opinion was quite entrenched that there was nothing after death.

    I have lost two people in my family both grandparents and always found it odd that i never cried when i heard they died. the only time that i cried was when i saw them in the coffin, a thought struck me of how unlike themselves they had now become, not anything just empty vessels.
    thats what gets me, the nothingness.

    I lack the ability to be duped by religion and spirituality which I secretly wish i had.
    i long to feel that one day we will meet again but i just dont have it in me to believe in the afterlife.

    I think that my experiences of death was formed in my early childhood rather than any change in my religious beliefs which occured in my teens.

    As a child i was rather sickly which involved me being hospitalised on a number of occasion two of which led me to "near death" experiences.
    from all that i remembered in my head was that the bit that was scary was the "dying" and the pain associated with my lungs stopping working. then there was nothing and then i woke up after what felt like a sleep.

    we all know that "Death comes to us all". i have the opinion that i welcome it, if only when i have either reached a certain age or lived my life to the full, unfortunately i havent decided on the criteria of these just yet.

    The thing that i am most scared of is not what happens when we die, basically i am resigned to the fact that it is out of my control, but dying knowing i could have done more, not living fully when i had the chance.
    whether i made good decisons or bad does not affect me i do not fear hell or crave heaven, i simply want to be able to say that i have lived!

  13. Merrilees,
    Female, 22

    How can death be the end. We can't go throughout our lives really beliving that this is it and there is nothing beyond this. My own experience of almost dying makes me believe that there is some higher place beyond this world.

    I am a christian but I don't know if I believe that there is specifically a heaven and hell but I believe that the actions in this life will be judged in some way. Whether this be in going to a 'heaven or a hell' or merely by being reincarneted.

    I believe that each person has a soul, so if we die and there is no after life where do all the souls go? Again I can not believe that this is it.

    I believe that we are watched over by loved ones. Spirts are there to guide us and to be our angels on our shoulders. I also believe that there are echoes of the past all around us. Whether this is defined as a ghost or merely a whisper of a distant memory.

    I do not fear death but I fear dying and leaving my loved ones behind. I think by believing I will meet them again helps me to sleep at night and helps me with the grieving process.

  14. Female
    I do not know the answers to any of your questions posed above. My views on death, the afterlife and the dead are very conflicting and change from day to day. I think that I desperately want to believe that after death there is nothing save a blessed oblivion but one of my earliest memories is the knowledge that I had lived before. As a very young child I had a basic understanding of what I later learned was called 'reincarnation'. I only knew it then as the certainty that 'when you closed your eyes, someone else opened theirs' I also recall the first time I recognised myself in a mirror ie that I realised the image reflected was 'me', and I can still feel my recoil of horror that I didn't recognise myself. The real me in my mind's eye was a little girl with two short brown plaits wearing some kind of dungarees - and not the black haired monkey faced thing staring back at me. I'm not too sure if this makes sense but reincarnation or any concept of it is not part of my cultural or religous background and I have lived such a privileged life that I have a terror of coming back to the misery,fear and oppression that many people endure. I have also experienced some paranormal events in my life which might indicate the existence of some form of 'spirit / energy' after death. However again this does not bring me any consolation - I know that some people find comfort in the idea of meeting loved ones again but when I think of my beloved deceased mother, who would I meet. Would it be the strong independent young woman that I never knew,the middled aged woman who loved me and that I loved in return but who was enduring a hard life and was probably depressed or would it be the lost and frightened old woman who at times didn't know me. All these questions I have no answer to and they perplex me.
    I will be cremated as I cannot stand the idea of the heavy earth pressing on me or the decompositon and especially the maggots. Yet when I read Being Dead by Jim Crace which charts the decompositon of two bodies murdered in the sand dunes, instead of revulsion I felt nothing but comfort and peace.

    I don't know if I believe in God, I have some vague idea of spirituality but not belief in religous creed or dogma and certainly not the Catholicism of my youth which in those days (I'm over 50) placed great emphasis on death, final judgement, heaven and hell. However if such a God does exist I think that he must be a cruel entity to endow his creatures with the dreadful prescience of their own demise.