Cakes and corpses are two things that you might imagine do not mix well. However, last night the two walked hand in hand as death paid a visit to Salford.
Not nearly as morbid, and unhygienic, as it sounds, death is the theme of a brand new photography and community art exhibition, Encountering Corpses, opening in town.
The exhibition, running from the 28th March until the 10th April at Sacred Trinity Church, Salford, is the latest in a series of events hosted by Manchester Metropolitan University’s (MMU) Humanities in Public (HiP) programme. Featuring work from LA based author and photographer Paul Koudounaris, Sue Fox from MMU’s School of Art, as well as artwork and poetry from the Corpse Collective, a group of local community artists.
The grand opening came complete with extraordinary gothic cakes created by Annabel ‘Lecter’ de Vetten of The Conjurer’s Kitchen that tasted as incredible as they looked. The event, organised by HiP’s Helen Malarky, was a huge success, held in a packed Sacred Trinity Church that provided the perfect ghostly backdrop to the night’s proceedings.
The work on display included 12 large-scale photographs from Paul Koudounaris’ two books Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs and The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses. A series of truly astonishing photographs taken by Sue Fox for her book Post Mortem, in which Sue gained access to autopsies, mortuaries and crematoria. The exhibition also contained work from the Corpse Collective, not least that of Yvonne Carson and Helen Maguire, who both read examples of their poetry, inspired by the theme of death, to the crowd.
Paul Koudounaris revealed the inspiration behind his work, he told the audience, “The photos depict a time where death has a voice. I hope my work will help us decide what type of voice death will be allowed to have in our age.”
Sue Fox, whose work involves being incredibly intimate with death and the deceased, said “We are all here because we are intrigued by death, fascinated by our own decay and eventual disintegration. We are also shit scared.”
Despite being in demand, surrounded by fans, Paul graciously took time to answer a few of my questions.
HH: This is your first exhibition outside of North America. What brings you to Salford?
Paul: I have done several talks in the UK before but I have never been able to bring the photos because they’re so big. Helen Malarkey from MMU came to one of my talks. She told me about this event and that she wanted the photos. We were able to work out a system where we rolled them up and send them over in tubes.
HH: Will you be holding any other events in the UK?
Paul: I just gave a talk in London. However, I am also going on the continent now. I have a talk in Amsterdam and some shows in Sweden.
HH: How have you enjoyed your time in the UK?
Paul: I really like it here in Manchester. It’s funny, I have never been in the north of England before. When I was in London, my friends said “Oh well, you know you’re in for a surprise, they’re not like us in London,” I called them back and said “Yeah, they’re not like you – they’re nice!”
HH: Could you describe the thought process you undertook when taking the photographs?
Paul: Well that is the most difficult part of the process. Sometimes the technical process is very demanding but always the hardest aspect is the mental part. I’ve been doing this for so long now. I have had 10 years of taking pictures of dead things and I know how to take a good-looking photo but that’s not really what I want to do. I want to keep a naivety so it seems like I’m viewing something for the very first time.
HH: Finally, could you tell us what upcoming projects you have planned?
Paul: I have another book, called Memento Mori, which will be out next year. That will be strictly photography. Previously, my work has been 50% photos, 50% text and I have felt limited by that. I talked to my designer and we decided to work a different way and let the pictures tell their own story.
As the night slowly died down it was clear that the opening had been a huge success, enjoyed by all. One member of the audience said, “It’s gone really well. There is an impressive amount of people here and everyone seems to be having a great time.”
There was still time for live music as Canadian singer songwriter and author of Cold North Killers, Lee Mellor, played out the evening with a selection of murder ballads.
Encountering Corpses Art Exhibition is running from Friday 28th March until Thursday 10th April 2014 at Sacred Trinity Church, Church Street, Salford, M3 5DW. Viewing daily Monday to Friday from 12noon – 4pm, weekend viewing dependent on Church timetable. You can download the Encountering Corpses Exhibition brochure in PDF format here.
George is a third year MMU student studying Criminology & Sociology who aspires to become a writer. Torn between two cities, George spends half his time in Leeds, and half his time in Manchester. He is as northern as killing your brothers kestrel. Follow him on Twitter.