Plague Pit

Plague. It manifests as a pathogenic tsunami that spectacularly consumes the condition or constitution or the very continuance of life. But on the flip side, and perhaps with even more abominably morbid allure, it flourishes as an untimely and unholy mass resurrection. We don’t only need the scenographies of our contemporary zombie apocalyptic to describe such an outbreak. This prospect materialises dramatically when skeletal relics are today unearthed from a medieval plague pit—the grave into which countless virulent corpses had been tossed by survivors desperately attempting to dispose of the contaminant as much as dispose of its victims. This is just the sort of grotesquerie that can be encountered during excavation for the found-ations of a contemporary metropolitan corporate skyscraper. Picture this, as it happened several years ago in London’s financial district. When human bone abruptly juts out of the clay floor or wall of a quarry carved into the city grid, an economic seizure capsizes the Platonic geometric volume that we otherwise routine-ly recognise in the spectacular negative of earthworks footing any construction. Excavation—an engineered and determined ploughing up and displacement of matter, realised in a carved abstraction of the site’s eco-nomic potential—is drastically amended in this situation to become exhumation. 

 

Terry Taylor, Terror Touches Us All, 2016, oil on linen, 175 x 175cm. Exhibited Frank Schlag Galerie Essen, Germany, 2016. from the series The Five Senses. 

Edward Colless is Head of Critical and Theoretical Studies at the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne. Aside from education, he has in the past also worked in theatre, film, broadcasting and architecture, been a curator, occasionally worked as a travel writer, and dabbled in fiction—but mainly he writes art criticism. In this field he has been an arts reviewer for The Age and The Australian, and associate editor and features writer for Art Collector. He is currently editor of the journal Art+Australia, with its associated publishing program. He also shamelessly uses any opportunity to write on arcane topics, the more obscure the better: heretical theology, art historical marginalia, crypto-zoology, dark tourism….