Exhibition Essays

2004 Reviews

December 2004

The body as the marker of time

Sarah Miller

Despite human attempts to alter its effects, the human body remains a marker of time through its quality of aging; denying attempts to alter history otherwise through the doctoring of documents and stored information. Eventually, our human condition becomes reduced merely to the body's traces: ashes and dust. H&M draws our attention to the nature of bodily deterioration through their installation.

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust. This installation consists primarily of a machine, a moving collection of artificial parts. This can be reduced in description: a pump is suspended on a wooden builder's horse, attached by a vacuum cleaner tube to a constantly inflating and deflating paper bag. This bag in turn disperses a growing amount of dust on a rough cast concrete slab. During a simulated life cycle, this machine breathes for seven days a week, 24 hours a day, with small packets of skin cells collected prior to the installation added daily for dispersal by the paper bag. This dust constitutes the traces of death in the presence of life. The presence of life is constituted both physically and aurally by the pump, reminding as it does of a mechanical breath or heartbeat, and creating a solemn rhythm through its continual movement to remind the viewer of the passage of time. However, as though to highlight the fluid nature of both life and death, the two elements can also be conceived in the reverse - the dust as a product of a life, created through the process of its being lived; the unceasing breath a reminder of the inexorable approach of death and the breath's own inevitable cease, the silence that would ensue.

Thus over its seven day cycle, the machine replicates the human body. It is constantly in motion and this motion leads inevitably to the deterioration and physical damage to its own parts. By the end of the cycle, the external heartbeat or breath of time (the air pushed through the pump) is impressed irreversibly upon the paper bag (the body). By the end of the cycle we can literally see the effects of time, witness as we are to the creasing and tears on the bag. Despite this damage, the pump continues to move, the bag continues to inflate and deflate. This continuation of the pump despite the resulting damage to one of its own parts helps to demonstrate to the audience life's progress despite the effect of time. Meanwhile, seven days worth of dust building up around the life-simulating machine draws attention to the metaphorical build up of the elements of death and discard that bank up around the individual. A result of life in itself. This draws our attention circularly back to the artists' original written statement: Within a period of a week, three people in our proximity dropped dead...