Jordan Baseman, A Cold Hand on a Cold Day (2013)


It is all very well writing with a skull on your desk (I don’t). But you might still wonder how much thought the saints of old gave to the more practical aspects of death.

Now, however, American artist Baseman brings you right into that seldom-explored margin between death and burial/cremation, via an interview with funeral director Cara Mair.

Mair is a disillusioned embalmer who now runs a holistic service in Brighton. This means she and her team take a greener approach to the presentation and disposal of your loved one.

As might be expected, she is quite at ease talking about decomposition, leakage, physical trauma and sealing eyes and mouths to suggest her own deceased subjects appear to be at peace.

But one thing she cannot do is warm bodies up. Hence the shock many relatives feel when touch a lost family member and feel them as cold as the title of the piece suggests.

So much for the soundtrack. The footage here, running over Mair’s narration, might best be described as a time lapse cloudscape with plenty of visual noise on the film itself.

At times it looks to feature breaking waves. And both clouds and waves pass swiftly; their inexorable motion offers the chance to dream about death as abstraction.

It glows yellow and ends with an abrupt cut at the end of the narration, at which point Mair states in a manner of fact way that death is a termination; there is no afterlife.

The piece is site specific for deconsecrated fishing chapel Fabrica. And yet Mair says religion plays little or no part in her own life, but often plenty in the lives of people she deals with.

You might want her to tell you the opposite, to proffer a ghost story or two, to explain why she sounds so upbeat. But no, she is a realist. Perhaps such a thing is what death should make us all.

Jordan Baseman, A Cold Hand on a Cold Day, can be seen at Fabrica, Brighton, until 24 November 2013.

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