Sam Taylor Wood, Still Life, 2001
Looking at Jeanne Dunning’s mouldy still lives yesterday made me think about Sam Taylor Wood’s Still Life, a time-lapse video work in which a basket of fruit reminiscent of countless still life paintings gradually decays and is taken over by rather beautiful white mold. At first sight, shown on a plasma screen, the work mimics a painting and it takes time to realise that the fruit is gradually changing as it starts to rot. This is beautiful decay but it’s still hard not to feel a little repulsed by the outcome.
As a reminder of the contemporary, in the foreground there is a plain plastic biro. I’ve never been quite convinced by this. For me the use of video and a flat-panel monitor place the work firmly in the here and now and the biro – unchanging as all around it turns to mush – is an unnecessary distraction, though in a way I do find its ordinariness an unexpectedly interesting disruption to the picture.
In a way, A Little Death is a return to the same territory a year on but it’s quickly apparent that, for all the similarities, this is a very different work. The set up is a hare – often a symbol of life and the arrival of Spring – and a peach, but as time passes the decay of the hare is very different to the graceful slide into mouldy mush of the basket of fruit in Still Life. Here the process is much more extreme, with a seething mass of maggots and flies feasting on the carcass; a frenzy hinted at in the orgasmic reference of the title. Disturbingly, the fruit here entirely fails to rot.
Though Still Life undoubtedly the easier work to watch, for me, A Little Death is more interesting. In part this is down to the grizzly fascination of watching the animal life cycle and many lives from from the death of another but it’s also about the speed of change and the way the pace of decay picks up once it gets going. There is a compelling awfulness to this that I can’t tear myself a way from.
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