This film records my decision to remove the crow body from the shroud revealing the shadowy stain beneath. I also decide to leave the butcher bird’s body stuck to the canvas. Although I found the crow’s body beautiful, I could see the objectification once the work hung in the gallery. The presence of the crow shroud stain however counteracts the objectification of the butcher bird remains due to visual subservience to the crow who feeds on death.
A week later a murder of crows had gathered at the body of their own kind creating a cacophony as they fought over the remains.
On the 20th of January 2013 Adam and I traveled to Tony and Steven’s farm to collect the Shrouds we had left at the end of Spring late October 2012. They had therefore been there for about 3 months, longer than I usually leave them. This was due to my arrangement for Michal to film their collection and processing today after she returned from the summer break, but unfortunately she could not make it.
The bodies were looking beautifully dried out so collection of the mammal canvases was no problem as the maggots during the wet decomposition phase had gone and beetle infestation during the dry decomposition phase had begun. The bandicoot looked particularly interesting and the cockatoo stunning as expected. This was my first use of the trampoline and the result was amazing as water had pooled on the surface absorbing a rich brown pigment I assume from the tree bark but maybe the bodies contributed. We chatted to Tony afterwards and he discussed the recent fires and their lucky escape.
At home I boiled up more eucalyptus leaves I had collected from the site tree using gas to heat the old copper. After purifying the hare for just a short while I left the possum over night and it achieved a rich brown tinge. I left the cockatoo/bandicoot as it was, just hanging it out to air. As it has not been creased like the others from the dye pot and is larger due to the trampoline space, I am not going to stretch it on a frame, but simply nail it to the wall.
My last shroud will be a large black crow and a tiny coloured finch which I have arranged Michal to film. Although Adam took the bed bases home from the site, we left the trampoline ready for the crow and finch.
Today Michal Glikson, a fellow postgraduate painter at the ANU, accompanied Adam, Tepi and I on our return to Steven and Tony’s farm to instal a spring shroud set. Michal has generously offered to film the shroud process which in this case features a cockatoo found in Dickson by Nigel my theory supervisor, a bandicoot found by my brother in Vincentia, a lizard found by Tepi and her friends in Hackett, a possum I found in Ainslie and a hare I found in Watson. Upon arriving we caught up with Tony, who had sad news about their dog blondie, she had died, they think due to eating rat poison. Tepi was upset as she loved visiting her, but it had been a long time since we had been to the farm. During the setting up under the same eucalyptus tree, which now has finches living in it, we even had a picnic. There was a lot of sheep and cow dung around and the grass appeared full of sheep wool. The spring lambs were big rather than newborn by this time and we found a few dried out casualties, but it had been a better season than last spring when I had produced all the lamb shrouds.
Adam helped me set up a large canvas under the studio eucalyptus tree on which I placed 6 mice a currawong and kookaburra. I added fresh eucalyptus leaves and some old ones and bark to encourage leeching of plant dye in evocative forms. At the last minute I added the dried magpie from the autumn shroud to encourage a clean patch of canvas in the shape of a bird. the wings of the fresh currawong and kookaburra were frozen and unstretchable and Adam suggested in future I should make an armature on which to stretch out the wings prior to freezing the body. This idea prompted by aesthetics enters a taxidermy style approach where a corpse is moved into a more live-evoking pose. I find myself uncomfortable with this as artifice enters the otherwise natural death-position of each body. Although it is equivalent to a morticians beautification of a corpse for viewing by loved ones and obviously the penetrations of wire cannot cause pain, it is a psychological discomfort I feel.
This work began as an installation at my exhibition Dead Beauty to demonstrate the process behind the creation of the shroud image. Seeing the body of the magpie upset one lady in particular who stated that animal’s spirit was being disrespected. I wished I had the opportunity to speak to her about it as I wondered if the stretching out of his wings had been the most upsetting. When I moved the shroud installation to a new site only suitable for less abominable decompositions, such as birds and small rodents, there was another complaint due to the nearby creche and an inquisitive child. This new site is conveniently outside my studio under a majestic healthy eucalyptus tree who I hope bleeds sap generously and possums and birds defecate from regularly. This is my first shroud at this new site. I love the result and hope to build up a collection of smaller shrouds for those who prefer to see the images unstretched. I prefer the practicality of a stretched work. Maybe I could even push it with some fish and reptiles although large mammals would be out of the question as I am sure there would be louder complaints. I am yet to create a large installation site in the bush for ambitious tarpaulin works.
I found a dead black snake on the way to Booderee and thought of my illustrations for Pauline McLeod about the Little Black Snake who conquers the giant goannas and becomes poisonous by stealing their poison. I placed the partly decomposed snake (nayin) on canvas to continue disintegration. I also placed shrimp leftover from my dad’s fishing trip with my kids. It would be better to stretch the paper first in my sacred waterhole.
It was a very windy cold day for summer and we arrived at the farm to see Steven and Tony. We had the trailer as we had decided to pack up the installation with the idea of setting it up on top of Tumbarumba Mountain. A long time ago we bought shares in the land to save it from logging so it is original forest with large gums. I intend to include more plant matter on these next sets over summer.
The second spring set was exquisite. It had been left for 6 weeks in storms and wind and the colourful birds had melted with their feathers neatly placed. I would have liked to have sewn them on, but it would have to be done on site as they would fall apart, another reason for Tumbarumba as it is a great camping spot to spend time. We could set up a processing area too using eucalyptus and having a line undercover so I do not have to process on my washing line at home. If there was a small shed installed I could have bodies drying out inside too.
One of the possum pairs had been stained a beautiful yellow from the tree and I imagined a lot more staining in a eucalyptus forest.