Norman McBeath & Robert Crawford: Body Bags / Simonides (3 stars)

This article is from 2011

Norman McBeath & Robert Crawford: Body Bags / Simonides

Mournful collaboration between photographer and poet

Scots translations of epitaphs by the ancient Greek poet Simonides, coupled with black and white photographs, adorn the high-rising walls of two lofty Edinburgh College of Art studios. Joined by tall vases of white lilies, classical casts from the College’s collection and a line of body bags lain in sand on the floor, it’s fairly obvious that we’re meant to think of these galleries as mausoleums. Further, the aspect of the rooms – pouring directly out onto the rock face of the castle and its army barracks – heavily enforces not only thoughts of loss, but considerations of loss through conflict.

While Robert Crawford’s texts are elegant, translating epitaphs composed for civilians and soldiers killed during the Persian Wars, in battles such as Thermopylae and Salamis, a certain nuance is lost through their pairing with the photographs of Norman McBeath. Square-format studies of scenes from contemporary life, it is easy to appreciate that the collaboration intended the relationship between text and image to be tangential. The texts, however, speak as eloquently of today as they do of their historical birthplace. Coupled with the overbearing symbolism of the deathly gallery setting, McBeath’s poignantly commonplace images become strangely illustrative.

Edinburgh College of Art, 221 6000, until 9 Sep, free.

Body Bags / Simonides

Simonides was the Greek poet who wrote one of the classical world's most famous epitaphs, for the Spartan dead at Thermopylae. Here some of his epitaphs appear in translations by poet Robert Crawford alongside evocative, square format, black and white photographs by Norman McBeath.

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