Maybe there is no death as we know it,

by Bob Gelsthorpe

Just documents changing hands.


Thinking about a question posed in James & Steve's video What weakens the flesh is the flesh itself (2017): "I want to build death, but I don't know what materials to use"

I just keep thinking about it.

I don't know what materials to use either.

Creating something full of sorrow would be a start, but that would be grieving, not death itself. Creating something that ends permanently, could be an option, but then what do you do afterwards?


Thinking about materials and building, I think about line from Don Delilo's novel, White Noise:

"maybe there is no death as we know it, just documents changing hands"

I've been sitting with it for 5 years, with little resolution, par a cardboard sculpture I once showed in Port Talbot (IMG)

It's easy to overthink it, to pessimistically think that all we boil down to is a dozen documents, or to optimistically think that we are reborn again and again, but I favour the image it conjours up.

A family, any family, standing in the kitchen, talking to each other about their feelings.

Post arrives, dog goes apeshit.

A member of the family opens a brown envelope, it contains letters of condolence from energy suppliers regarding the passing of a member of the family. They inform her that they have stopped the accounts.

Hands are tear-stained, molecules of salt transfer to the correspondence. The letter is read, and then placed on a pile of documents relating to the deceased family member's affairs.

This small pile of documents, received, but not yet processed, are placed on a kitchen table.

There are a couple of minutes while the folds on the paper naturally flatten out onto the rest of the documents.

They are just documents, changing hands.


After work, some of the invigilators had a few drinks, and stumbled across a space, the space where Gavin Turk had a bar a few Biennale's ago. There was a press release that made a point about this. I went to the Gavin Turk bar, and it was just that - a bar that Gavin Turk opened, what felt like just for the invigilators. It felt like kind of an empty gesture considering Turk is a blue-chip artist. I cannot divorce his status from the work, and that is an unfortunate trait of mine, not his.

Regardless of this, there was a performance taking place, a sort of intimate conversation, or at least one that felt intimate as when I witnessed the performers, they broke conversation to look at us. The audience had broken that intimacy. This made me feel as though it perhaps was not a performance, but simply a conversation.

We had a conversation at a bar near Arsenale later that evening, speaking about value structures, labour, craft, all in regards to what we had just witnessed. I said little during this part of the evening, as I rabbit on at the best of times, and given that our new friends are from Australia, it was interesting to listen to their approach. There are not many Australian artists in Cardiff.

I think a lot about institutions and the artist-led sector on the walk home.


IMG: White Noise, Cardboard, packaging paper, packaging tape. 2014.