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  • Susan Elaine Jones

Corpse work

This week there was a really interesting conference on "Corpse work", hosted by DaCNet in York. It is a sort of interdisciplinary get together of academics, artists and authors that merge all sorts of sources of knowledge into a weird, unexpected but tasty stew.

The day started with Dr Jennifer Wallis from Imperial describing the early research into resuscitation techniques and stillborn babies - and added an aside of Silverster's method of floatation by making a small cut in the skin and blowing air into the subcutaneous layers!

It ended with Polina Ignatova giving a thoughtful comparison of stories of the medieval "restless dead" and their similarities with modern zombie films. Checking my notes, reasons that the medieval you might be cursed to die and then not rest in your grave could include:

  • committing murder

  • black magic

  • spying on your wife

  • not paying your tithe

  • violating a saint's shrine

  • fleeing from your lord

  • perjury

  • usurpation of powers

  • provoking a cleric

  • keeping a concubine (if you are a cleric)

  • unspecified sins

Unfortunately, I am fairly sure that I have already committed some unspecified sins, but so far, I think I have gotten away with it.

Some of the other notable talks included (and I apologise to the authors of the talks if my memory of the main point of interest doesn't always reflect the main message of their presentation, so I won't name names):

  • The researcher looking at how we display human remains in museums, and our obsession with "diagnosing death" in the dead - as if somehow finding out what killed this person (now skeleton) can give insight into a whole ancient society

  • The artist who created the "future medicine" opportunity to remove a tooth from a leg teratoma to then implant in a human jaw... and her sister who made beautiful fractal images from her great uncle Jack's ashes

  • The researcher who highlighted the beautiful poetry of Jim Crace's novel "Being Dead" (and a wonderful aside rant about Patricia Cornwell)

  • That crematoriums may have to spend £300,000 to £1 million on chimney mercury extraction techniques because of pollution from tooth fillings (and that we're just squeamish as a society to pragmatically handle the problem by pulling out corpse teeth before cremation - though I hope it comes back to being discussed as a practical solution)

  • The young researcher who highlighted how often comic book heroes are inspired to works of good or evil by horrific deaths of predominantly female characters, and so how comics and graphic novels have moved so far from the safe space of alter-egos and hidden identities of jewish authors.

  • The author who introduced me to the concept of the personal, bespoke, porn/death movie houses like WAVE, who produced the notable title "Most Gruesome Quicksand Deaths 2" (in case the first compilation video didn't have enough graphic female quicksand deaths for you) (follow the link at your peril, NSFW, Late night browsing and not guaranteed to stop you disappearing into a wormhole of "I would never have known that there was a market for films - plural - about slaughtered secretaries/cannibal roommates"). And the rest of his presentation, which prompted the question from the floor "Why? I mean... but why?"

I also know I happened to have enough breadth to weird knowledge that I handed on some useful information too:

  • bone china is made with real bone

  • most intact pottery vessels in museums are cremation pots (otherwise they'd have been used until they were broken)

  • that decap burials might have their head placed between their knees not as a anti-witchcraft/disrespect/punishment statement into the afterlife, but it just stops it wobbling about in an inconvenient way inside a shroud or a body bag when moving it around, and maybe no one thinks as a less step before burial to open it up and move the head back to its normal position.

This may summarise exactly why this is such an interesting area of discussion for me - it draws in such diverse aspects and viewpoints and knowledge, all to help tackle our mortality.

I'm just sad that the presenter on the reanimation of Bob Ross wasn't able to attend. But it means I have found his twitter feed. (Reanimated Bob Ross's, that is. Almost worth joining twitter for.)

Skeleton from behind - Susan Elaine Jones new work 2019

I just hope as many fun people come along to my Cambridge Open Studio in July to chat about - anything that comes up! Also, there's a lot of new work going to be revealed... here's just a teaser

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