Remains

TRACK

Length of railway 414.916 Kilometres (257.9 Miles)

Single line

Bridges 688 total, 680 timber, 8 steel.

Locomotives, Japanese C56

Gradients; Highest point, 273.45 metres (897 feet) above sea level,

Three Pagoda Pass

Work commenced in June 1942 at Non Pluduc, Thailand

and in October1942 at Thanbuzayat in Burma

both ends were joined near Nikki 23rd October 1943

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Remains is a collective of works that deal with human remains.  A consideration of the materiality of death and of death itself. The narrative of these works are linked by associations of memory, personal experience and many forms of arts practice with photography that have ranged from visceral direct responses to impending bereavement to conceptualised work that investigates the representation of human remains in science and the museum, with forms of documentation and interpretation in-between.

PORTRAIT IN NINETEEN  BAGS

19 bags screen version

Portrait in nineteen bags screen version

Portrait in nineteen bags is a single artwork made up of twenty photographs arranged in a grid. There are three versions, one, above is designed for screen viewing only, whilst version one is a large gallery piece with each photograph in a box frame and arranged in a grid on the wall, and the third piece has each image mounted on an archaeological planning board (A1 in size).

19-bags-in-Cork-Museum-2015

Version 1 of Portrait in nineteen bags in Cork Museum 2015

Manifest-2010-010-low-res

Version 2 Portrait in nineteen bags on a planning board exhibited in Manifest a group exhibition in Kinsale art festival 2010 at the Kinsale pottery and arts centre. This piece is now in a collection at Midleton College, Co. Cork.

Nineteen bags is a reference to the division made by archaeologists  of the human body during the process of excavating articulated human skeletal remains hence the display of the parts of a disarticulated skeleton, as artefacts in a grid. The twentieth image, on the bottom right, is a potato flower, as in this case the skeleton was from a famine grave excavated from the site of the Kilkenny workhouse in 2006. The person depicted here was a male, between 25 to 35 years old at death and was a clay pipe smoker. He died as a result of the Irish famine due to the failure of the potato crop in the 1840’s. This is all that is known about the individual discerned by analysis of his remains and the situation of his exhumation.

potato-low-res

The following is the oesteologist’s report on the remians; 

Skeleton number: CDI
Pit: [124]; (125)
Completeness: 98%; Complete skeleton.
Preservation: Very good
Age: 25-35 years (Early middle adult)
Sex: Male (+1)
Stature: 159.56 ± 3.85cm
Position:
Dental inventory:
      MAC DCC                      
18 17 16 15 14 13* 12* 11 21 22 23 24* 25* 26 27 28
48 47** 46** 45* 44* 43* 42 / / / 33* 34* 35* 36 37 38
* Clay-pipe facet

** Foramen caecum

Dental pathology: Caries (2/29), slight calculus
Skeletal pathology: A button osteoma (8mm) on the mid-superior part of the left parietal bone, 18mm from the mid-sagittal suture. Osteophytes and porosity on the articular processes of T4-T5 and T8. Minor ligamentum flavum on T5-T12. Slight to moderate Schmorl’s nodes on the bodies of T7, T11-L1 and L3-L4. An area of healed infection on the distal half of the popliteal surface on the right femur (50x29mm) with sclerotic irreggular new bone formation with two moderately shallow fossae. Possibly well healed osteomyelitis.
Metrical indices:
Non-metric traits and anomalies: Bilateral lambdoid ossicles, unilateral mastoid foramen exsutural (left), bilateral acromial articular facet, bilateral the vastus notch, bilateral anterior calcaneal facet double, unilateral peroneal tubercle (left), unilateral atlas facet double (right) and transverse foramen bipartite C5.

This work was made in 2007. The remains were subsequently re-interred in consecrated ground in 2010 with a religious ceremony. With thanks to Magaret Gowen & Co. Ltd., for allowing access to the remains and to Jonny Geber, the oesteologist who’s report is reproduced above.

Background to the work

burial-site-pm-126

A partially excavated grave on site

When a grave is excavated or a body discovered by archaeologists the skeleton is gradually revealed for the first time since burial. The surrounding soil  is removed meticulously by hand, the skeleton recorded and then removed from the grave. The body is placed in bags according to the parts of the body to facilitate study by oesteologists in laboratories. This division and dismemberment of the skeleton results in a total of nineteen bags relating to the legs, hands, skull and so on, of the individual. Each set of bags is placed in a box and removed from site, transported to the laboratory for further analysis.

human remains in the lab

Human remains in the laboratory

This work is a meditation on this process. The piece Portrait in Nineteen Bags is the result of both experiences of exhumation and a long journey of photographic investigation into how the experience brings up questions that can be interpreted through photography, about the rights and wrongs of representing the dead, as well as their excavation and analysis.

Initially I found that the photography of human skeletal remains on site, in the process of excavation, tended to over dramatise the subject, creating unwanted references through representation to fictional horror genres, rather than making references to the processes of exhumation and the relationship of the excavator to this process and the person being excavated, what is the only remaining evidence of a life lived in the past.

After much experimentation the decision was made to photograph the bags and the bones themselves. This took as its source material the photography of artefacts as undertaken by the archaeological photographer. The reason for this was that the body, through excavation and analysis, becomes a cultural artefact, as well as a human being. Each part of the body was photographed at least three times, in the bag, on the bag and without the bag all together.

 triptych low res

Once rendered into an artefact the body is subject to empirical analysis. Evidence is gathered from the remains about the individual’s life (see above). The rigour of this process has as a consequence the tendency  to  remove or minimise the potentially disturbing emotional responses that those undertaking the process and those observing it may have to dealing with the dead. The gathering of factual evidence tends to inhibit more imaginative responses that may contradict findings, or make the work of excavation difficult to undertake.

As an individual, in the course of my work as an archaeologist, I did on numerous occasions excavated human remains, I found the process disturbing despite the rigour of process, hence this response. I have wondered and still do as to whether archaeological empiricism alone is an appropriate response to a process not undertaken  primarily to gather information, but often  to remove the remains from a construction site. Not only do we dig up human beings, but there is  also a danger of dehumanising the person who once lived, loved laughed and cried, through  analysis.

 

 

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