Sam Taylor Wood’s Still Life (2001) is a 3m 40s film which documents the decomposition of a bowl of fruit over several weeks. The initial frame shows a fairly tight view of a flat wicker bowl on a wooden table, piled with various soft fruits in hues of gold and red against a rustic shaded wall. If not for the blue biro pen in the foreground, one might mistake it for a Dutch Masters-era painting.

This piece is a modern day momento mori, showing the viewer what past artists only alluded to. The medium of film allows Taylor Wood to add a new layer of ‘life is temporary and fleeting’ symbolism with the inclusion of the entire lifecycle of organisms in this short timespan; various molds bloom then die before our eyes. These growths unexpectedly, and uncomfortably, spread outside the bowl and far onto the table. The temporary nature of organic matter is accentuated by the plastic pen, which is untouched by the decay that moves across the frame.

‘Still Life’ is not typical of Taylor Wood’s work. She filmed a similar piece, ‘A Little Death’ in 2002 which depicts the decomposition of a hare, but most of her work features the human figure, candid or posed, the subject often a well-known actor, or herself.

Other artists dealing with decay include Tacita Dean, ‘Prisoner Pair’ (2008) is a film of two pears in alcohol, breaking down in sunlight. (accessed 10/01/20)

Kathleen Ryan explores the subject in a different way, recreating rotting fruit using precious stones. The resulting work repulses from a distance but is beautiful up close.

Bad Lemon (Creep), 2019, Kathleen Ryan. (accessed 10/01/20)

‘Serpentine Flurry’ 2019, Kathleen Ryan


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