Ruth Barker

The Great Release



Commissioned to accompany the exhibition 'The Great Release' by Kendall Koppe and Douglas Morland in Intermedia Gallery, Glasgow.


'Rage, horror, despair, anguish and ghastly smiles united their hideous expression in the dead murderer's face, surpassing far the wildest representations of a Fuseli or a Kean. At this period several spectators were forced to leave the apartment from terror or sickness, and one gentleman fainted.' 

                                Peter Mackenzie's contemporary account of the macabre electrical reanimation of Matthew Clydesdale's hanged body, Glasgow University (1818) 


From wherever you stand – from whichever position you start from - it is impossible to ignore the abyss. A chasm into the crowded void of premature burial, clothed in cheap satin and hardboard, it is fringed with a bleak illumination that paints its centre ever darker. The black hole gapes bad sex and the shock grimace of a dead man, abhorrent in a way Fuseli never knew.   

Why does absolute darkness make us claustrophobic? Perhaps because in darkness we can ask ourselves ‘what is the worst I can imagine?’ And then we cannot help but strain in blackness to glimpse the thousand unseen monsters conjured by that sleep of reason. This is the feathered edge of hysteria. 

Tension is a strange and energetic quality. The tension between living and dying is the tension between sex and the hysteric. The friction between repetition and imitation is exactly the sensation felt by somebody’s wife at the moment when she wakes suddenly from a dream and fears that she has died and gone to heaven while she slept. 

The light we wait for in the darkness will be the colour of dipped metal on a slim paper wand. It might have the glister of a quiet metamorphosis.