Presence and Decomposition

My initial source of research is the UK missing persons database. At the time of writing there are 569 unidentified people listed.

Each is listed with a generalised location, description and any potential identifying features and/or belongings. Images are included if these are available/possible. These items and details are often incredibly poignant but not necessarily complete enough to enable identification, but the belongings do often show a small picture of the end of that life.

By conceptually exploring the unintended final resting spaces of the unidentified dead, I am looking for a liminal presence. Some of the remains listed on the database are discovered after bodies have been skeletonized and, as explained here in an article about human decomposition, in The Guardian ‘A decomposing body significantly alters the chemistry of the soil beneath, causing changes that may persist for years. Purging releases nutrients into the underlying soil, and maggot migration transfers much of the energy from a body to the wider environment. Eventually, the whole process creates a ‘cadaver decomposition island,’ a highly concentrated area of organically rich soil. As well as releasing nutrients into the wider ecosystem, the cadaver also attracts other organic materials, such as dead insects and faecal matter from larger animals.’ (Costandi, 2015)

Through this idea of a ‘decomposition island’, I began to consider the surrounding plant material from sites where human remains have been found. Without preservation, our bodies become nutrients, feeding the soil and nourishing plants that often begin to flourish because of the raised nutrient levels. Plants here appear to be the observers of these deaths. The conceptual absorption of decomposition continues indefinitely within plant material. As plants die back they enrich the soil once more.

Water too is an important aspect of this process. Our bodies are made up of more than 70% water. Water has always existed on earth in the same quantity, continually recirculating. Water has been a fundamental part of everyone who has ever existed, so it is in essence all the people who have been before us. The water and nutrients within our bodies become part of the surrounding environment, the decomposition island. This circular process of renewal creates a physical continuation of presence within space.