The Gardener’s Daughter by Charles Conder – Gallery 12
Charles Conder The Gardener's Daughter 1902-1903 © Manchester City Galleries
Mary had tended the girls all their lives, watching them proudly as they thrived and grew, flowering into womanhood; pretty maids all in a row. It was a pity that she’d had to weed out the weaker ones. Still, that was her job. And her father always said a bit of blood and bone was good for the soil.
An Island by L. S. Lowry – Gallery 16
L.S. Lowry An Island 1942 © the estate of L. S. Lowry
The neighbours all sold up but old Mr Grindell held out. Without his land, they couldn’t start the new shopping centre.
“This is my home. I’ve lived here all my life. I’m not going to move now,” he declared.
“Why not? You can have a brand new flat. All mod cons,” the man from the council said.
“I have my reasons,” was all Mr Grindell would say.
After Grindell’s death they found out what they were.
Five of them.
Buried in the cellar.
The Student by Gwen John – Balcony
Gwen John The Student 1903 © Manchester City Galleries
Papa entered the drawing room dressed like a Devil from an Italian opera; a portrait of porcine pandemonium.
“Why aren’t you ready? We shall be late for the Halloween Masquerade.”
“But I am ready, Papa. Three guesses as to what I am,” I said, running my finger over the book on the table. “You’ve been afraid of us for millennia, but it is as much our world as yours. We are everywhere, even though you won’t see us and, if you do, our reflections are turned against us.”
He gave a dismissive huff. “You’re a vampire, then?”
I sighed. “No, Father. You have two guesses left. Some of you think they can bind us with charms to do their bidding. Those they can’t, they attempt to banish back into the shadows where we can’t be seen. But we’re always there.” I lowered my voice to a whisper. “If you listen you can hear us.”
Papa’s brow furrowed with impatience. “Bind? Charms? Some sort of demon is my guess.”
I shook my head. “Last chance.” I offered up my final clue. “They fear what we might change into. Once a month – “
“…when the moon is full and bright. The old wives’ tale. You’re a werewolf,” he declared, his voice like pumice, his patience worn through. “Enough. I’ll not tolerate this anymore.”
“Oh, I’m aware of that, Papa.” I drew myself up. I’d made myself appear less threatening, more docile. But not tonight. Tonight was Halloween, when nightmares walked abroad, and I was his.
I picked up the volume from the table, clutching it to my chest. “The thought of us fills you and your ilk with dread. Afraid of what we know. Of what we might come to know - and what we might do with that knowledge.”
He seemed less sure of himself now. ”You... you’re a witch!” Ah. There it was, the first flicker of fear.
“No. You know what I am, Papa. In your heart. Listen to it, just once.” I smiled. He often said I’d look pretty if I just smiled. From the look on his face, I don’t think I did. Not that it mattered. “Just the idea of us scares you. I don’t need a costume. All I need is this,” I said, tapping the book like the portent of a Death-watch beetle.
“A book of magic?”
“Of a kind.”
Papa staggered back, sweat prickling his brow. “I… I don’t understand. How… ”
“Mother taught me well.”
He shook his head, attempting to dislodge the seed of fear that germinated there. “No!” he said, his breath coming in ever sharper gasps. He sank to the floor, clutching his chest and stared at me in horror as his fattened, calloused heart failed him.
“Yes, Papa. I’m a girl. With an education … and doesn’t that just scare you to death?”
The Desert // Christopher
There is a lot of white lies we have to tell in interpretation, mostly in attempt to retain our audience’s lulling attention for just a second more, jazzing up the story in forgivable ways. However, sometimes these lies are to mask inconvenient truths about the art. One of the most commonly observed lies we have relates to Sir Edwin Landseer: The Desert (1849); the image that allegedly inspired the one on Lyle’s golden syrup. The one with the odd fuzzy markings above the lion often explained away as a “stylistic choice,” a mascot of both the syrup and of British spirit. Whenever I hear a teacher explain that connection, the teacher will often say that the lion is resting or sleeping, but the reality is slightly more sinister. You see, the reality is, the lion is actually dead, both the one in the gallery’s painting and the one on the can, and those odd fuzzy marks I mentioned aren’t a stylistic choice in the truest sense of the phrase, they are bees, feasting on the lion’s carcass.
Edwin Landseer R.A. The Desert 1849 © Manchester City Galleries
We tell kids that the dead lion isn’t actually dead because that’s supposed to be easier on the child’s mind. Although we have a difficult relation to the colonial pride the lion represents and their violent nature, we have a somewhat odd attachment to them both. Seeing a dead lions is rather grim, whereas a sleeping lion is usually perceived as sweet and innocent.
Lyle's Golden Syrup © 2017 The Big Picture
There’s something romantic about sleep, it's a respite from a troubled world; a bastion from the harshness of reality and being so earnest and vulnerable is always very empathising. I take umbrage with this interpretation. Sleep may seem rather safe, but the reality is sleep is a bigger predator than those lions could ever hope to be, though I suppose they hope for naught now they are dead.
If death is going to come for you, the chances are it will come to you while you are sleeping. Death takes the vast majority of people in their sleep and don’t think your age or relative good health is going to make you an exception. When you sleep your heart rate slows, your breathing slows, and your brain activity goes through periods of high activity and extremely low activity, all things that increase your chances of dying. You're also pretty ignorant to the outside world, to the point where a skilled murder could hang over you while you sleep for hours, just waiting. One in eight die in their sleep, it's so common we actually know most sleep deaths occur at four in the morning, as your body exits deep sleep and starts the process of waking up. From this perspective dreams are less of a bastion against the horrors of the world and more of a mask to cover death’s roulette wheel. Sleepiness is like a siren, calling you to the comfort of your tomb.
L.S. Lowry The Bedroom, Pendlebury 1940
For me, the most scary fact is not a surface statistical detail, but something deeper, buried in the nature of sleep, hiding abstracted in the realms of possibility.
Our sense of identity is based mostly on evidence and continuity. I know that I am the same person I was this morning because I remember it; I have continuity with that person, therefore I know who I am. Our continuity isn’t perfect however, it is flawed, it has gaps, we don’t remember everything and if someone was to plug your memories into a clone of your body they wouldn’t be you, rather a reproduction. Now imagine if someone was to take you as you are right now, slowly kill you, then reboot your body with the same personality and memories. You would experience the slow loss of consciousness, the pain of passing on, and then someone else would get up in your body, carrying on as if nothing had happened. The thing is, if that happened in your sleep tonight no one would ever know. Sleep itself could be the end of your very existence, only to replaced by a mental clone tomorrow morning, and there is nothing you can do to stop it.
I always found the curatorial methods in Gallery 5 particularly convenient when it comes to the Landseer. All of the surrounding paintings are strenuously connected to The Desert, opposite is “Samson Betrayed” by Richard Pickersgill, which aside from the obvious connection of Samson being betrayed in his sleep, it’s connected as the lion used for Lyle’s syrup can is the same lion that Samson killed. In The Bible, Samson went back to the Lion’s carcass and found that bees had started feasting upon it. Also in Gallery 5, to the left of the Landseer you will find “The Sirens and Ulysses” by William Etty, in which the sweet song of the sirens called out to Ulysses, tempting him onwards, inviting him to his death.
William Etty The Sirens and Ulysses 1837 © Manchester City Galleries
Are you feeling tired? I hope not. Not because I care for you, but because if you are tired then you won’t be giving these words the attention they deserve. If you are sleepy, might I request something before re-reading this properly? Might I request you drink a little coffee, do a little workout, or do something to push that impending sleep back. Better yet, why don’t you have a little sleep? Either I will have a conversation with a version of you that is less sleepy and therefore better than the current you, or you will be gone completely, both of which suit me.