Quietus: the Vessel, Death and the Human Body
by Julian Stair
Somerset House until January 26th
Beneath Somerset House's famous neo-classical courtyard - used for film sets, fashion shows and currently as a glamorous ice skating venue, is the Deadhouse. It’s a web of underground passages punctuated by cells and alcoves, with memorials lining the walls, each grabbing your attention with their true life stories. The one below is triumphant. One Edmund Fortescue Esquire, third son of a Worcestershire Knight, "exchanged this life for immortality" on May 7th, 1674, while in his 70th year, which sounds like a bargain.
On the right, spotlighted on a dull lead plinth, is a round white matt cinerary jar This too is celebratory. Reliquary of a Common Man, 2012 is an artefact executed with astonishing originality.The jar is made from the cremated remains of Lesley James Cox, the artist’s friend and uncle-in-law. An accompanying Super-8 film, a slideshow of portraits and the murmur of Lesley James Cox’s recorded voice tells his life story. This time there is no mention of resurrection, no promise of eternal life. Instead the artist has literally transformed the mortal remains of a man into a testimony to the worth and merit of that unique person.
It’s the final exhibit in Julian Stair’s Quietus exhibition where his works range from monumental life-sized sarcophagi to tiny burial jars. Containing the human body in death raises emotionally charged issues. At the core of Stair’s practice is the belief that pottery, as one of the oldest mediums, can encapsulate the most complex of ideas, through elegant simplicity.Click here for Shane Enright's excellent review