A Walk on Brandon Hill
Humanity and Nature in the City of Slavery
A decaying piece of wood under a plane tree
caught my eye.
I thought of decay and ageing and looked more
It was reddish and full of holes. It lay like a
carcass amongst fallen leaves.
It was a habitat.
I wondered who inhabited it and when and how
they came to live in it.
RoBng and decay was the pre‐condiDon of its
Observing and describing
This is quite small, about four inches long and
reddish in colour. There are white, powdery
deposits which could be fungal growth. It is
wider at one end and tapers to a point.
If it were possible to stand it poinDng upwards, it
would look like nothing more exactly than a
How interesDng, that a process of decay and the
industrious construcDon of several thousand
insects can produce habitats so similar in form!
• Which kind of tree was it once a part of? Was
it a plane tree?
• What is the signiﬁcance of plane trees?
• What gave it its red colour?
• How long did it take, from falling to the
ground, for the wood to become like this?
• How long does it take for a piece of wood to
rot down completely?
• Who lives in it and when did they arrive?
• How do people intervene in nature’s progress
from new growth to dying and decay?
• Why do we ﬁnd meaning in shapes even
though they may be random?
• Does anyone else ﬁnd beauty in roNenness
• What can I learn from this about living life
more richly Dll the day I die?
My exisDng knowledge
I already know and love John Keats’ fascinaDon
with the beauty and transience of nature
She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Welcome Joy and Welcome Sorrow
WELCOME joy, and welcome sorrow...
Come to‐day, and come to‐morrow,
I do love you both together!
I love to mark sad faces in fair weather;
And hear a merry laugh amid the thunder;
Fair and foul I love together...
Infant playing with a skull;
Morning fair, and shipwreck'd
Keats was profoundly inﬂuenced by Shakespeare,
who wove the theme of decay richly into the
imagery of Hamlet
‘there’s something ro1en in the state of Denmark!’
...and touched on it in other, late plays...
Now bless thyself: thou me1est with things dying, I
with things newborn
If you Google ‘roNenness’, a Punk website is the
ﬁrst hit. Did the Punk movement draw on
some deep insDnct in people for reconciling
ourselves to death and decay, or was it just a
reacDon to a complacent 20th Century culture
of order and control?
If you Google ‘decay’, you ﬁnd a New York Boy
Band has called itself ‘Decaydance’! Here is
one of their t‐shirts.
Encountering funds of knowledge
It could be more interesDng for this enquiry to
look into ‘roNen wood’. Google gives nine
opDons, mostly on wood treatment and
restoraDon, but also one on ‘roNen wood
Clearly there are enthusiasts out there...
... including the writers of this ‘Elytra and
“These pages are dedicated to those enthusiasts whose
love for beetles, walkingsDcks, grasshoppers,
manDds, and other invertebrates has brought them
to rearing of these alien creatures so that they can
enjoy their anDcs and beauty year round.”
Females lay eggs in holes that they
excavate in old roNen wood. Larvae feed
on the fungi and take about nine months
to reach maturity when fed roNen oak,
beech and some other hardwoods.
medium stag beetle
The big ‘world‐view’ quesDon
Who ﬁnds beauty in
Someone tells me about...
The Exquisite Corpse
Exquisite corpse (also known as exquisite cadaver
or rota3ng corpse) is a method by which a
collecDon of words or images is collecDvely
assembled. Each collaborator adds to a
composiDon in sequence, either by following a
rule (e.g. "The adjec@ve noun adverb verb the
adjec@ve noun") or by being allowed to see the
end of what the previous person contributed.
“There is nothing perverse about a dying person in an
art gallery...” (April 2008)
For years, I have a dreamed of a room in which people
can die in peace. It's a simple room: ﬂooded with light,
with a wooden ﬂoor
I have recreated this room ‐ as an arDst, that is what I do ‐
and at the moment, it is standing right here in my
studio. Any minute it could be dismantled, put on a
plane and reinstalled anywhere in the world, for
someone nearing the end of their days and who wants
to die in a humane and harmonious environment.
"I want to display a person dying
naturally ... or somebody who
has just died. My aim is to show
the beauty of death."
I'm not a naive person, but I don't think there is
anything wrong or perverse about this dream.
I think it's quite innocent. So it has been rather
a shock to me that for the last week I have
been receiving death threats by phone and
Who and what is decaying here?
• Within a few days, thousands of arDcles appeared
across the world... In a way, I am not surprised that
they have triggered some absolutely horriﬁc images in
the heads of journalists and readers. And yet I am sDll
astonished by the nature of the comments I received,
and disturbed by their vulgarity and violence. I
received threats in mulDple languages, some of them
absurd, some of them seriously threatening.
• Someone emailed to suggest I should be "slaughtered"
and given "the Jesus treatment". Someone else
emailed: "Why don't you kill your mother and show
her to us while he's [sic] dying?" Another told me my
artworks were "degenerate".
The Beauty of Death
by Kahlil Gibran
Sing of the past as you behold the dawn of
hope in my eyes, for
Its magic meaning is a soi bed upon which my