Three Plates of Food


This project began as I became aware of the heat of the compost heap in the garden and an eventual real understanding of the beauty of the decomposition process. The heat in a compost heap became a metaphor for overcoming bereavement. The heat is caused by Thermophiles. These are microorganisms that live and grow in extremely hot environments. They work efficiently, to raise the temperature high enough to destroy any disease. High temperatures also generate humic acid, which enables plants to use the nutrients in the compost.

This microbe that kills disease but enables life, becomes for me an expression of grief: tears shed to halt the pain and to allow survival. A true metaphor of the minutiae of life’s remnants expressing deeply held emotion, attempting to convert anger and grief into cathartic release.


Top of the Heap

The week’s kitchen waste, the left-overs, the remnants. Presented, deliberately arranged, on a “plate”. A metaphor for sorrow, placed on view, giving the deeply held emotion a small platform, for all to witness. Both rotting and mouldy and partly encased in jesmonite, a natural process, a strong natural odour as the process continues, expressing a complex and layered emotion.


Middle of the Heap

Before the heat of the thermophile, the waste (the sorrow) is broken down by mesophiles. Microorganisms that really do love a mess. A metaphor for coming to terms with grief (a messy process!) and presented, partly encased (to halt the process of decomposition and renewal) in jesmonite (a cement like casting material) to allow us to appreciate the process of grieving and converting anger and sorrow into experience.


BOTTOM of the HEap

Kitchen waste from the bottom of the compost heap mixed in with garden’s autumn fall, fully encased in jesmonite. The thermophiles have done their job and created an enabler for life. Now enshrined and glorified and served on a “plate”. A metaphor for taking the minutiae of life’s remnants to express deeply held emotion, attempting to convert anger and grief into cathartic release and allowing life to flourish after loss.



I chose to offer these pieces for assessment in consideration of the limited space available and the ease with which they are installed. As I expected it was a simple task for the curator to place the three plates towards the end of the install.



Helen Chadwick’s Carcass

Carcass (1986) was a glass case, two-and-a-quarter metres high, containing a column of rotting, stinking, vegetable matter. It caused the entire gallery to be filled with an overpowering smell. It required topping up as the vegetable matter rotted down. It leaked and was eventually removed without consulting the artist. Future reincarnations of the piece took into account the extreme process of decomposition and the glass case was replaced by a covered perspex case with “breathing holes”. Chadwick calls the collected waste “visually exquisite”. She expected to create an “emblem of death and mortality, a tower of corruption and decay”. She had not expected the decomposition process and so it “ironically became a metaphor for life, more so than The Oval Court stretched out like a corpse in the room next door. There was this complete about turn.”

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Aerobic composting combines air, moisture and heat to decompose organic matter.  In a compost pile there are billions of microbes, mostly bacteria, who love the conditions of air, moisture and heat. Thermophiles are microorganisms that live and grow in extremely hot environments. Thermophiles do the "hot" composting work at the end of the process. They work efficiently, devoting their 3-5 day life span to raising the temperature high enough, hopefully, to destroy any sneaky disease germs or weed seeds. High temperatures also generate humic acid, which enables plants to assimilate the nutrients in the compost.

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Kneebone creates delicate figures in an attempt she says to “make permanent an emotion that is always fleeting… a desire to communicate.” She is known for finely sculpted white porcelain works of various organic forms merging ambiguously into human body-parts. Her work has been described as depicting an "erotic state of flux" and "celebrating forms of transgression, beauty and seduction." (White Cube, November 2008 )