Partly inspired by the calcified ash encrusted body casts of Pompeii following the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE, The Presence of Absence examines our relationship with things past and present and the ephemeral nature of existence. 

Hollow human figures cast in coal stand passively in progressive states of decay. As with the hollow human casts in Pompeii, small poignant details bring into sharp focus the awareness that what we are observing is an almost tangible presence of a person who is now clearly absent. 

Viewed entirely objectively the Pompeii body casts are simply moulds - archaeologists have experimented filling the cavities with resin to reveal the hidden form of the person within. But we have an undeniable fascination with them, transfixed perhaps by the acute awareness of our own mortality and the understanding that, when we go, we leave in our place an absence - both physically and in the lives of others. Filling the mould becomes analogous to recalling the memory of someone who is no longer with us. With less fragile moulds, this can be performed time and time again until the mould finally wears out or the memory fades altogether. 

The iterative nature of this work reinforces the sense that what we are presented with is an impression - a physical memory of something that existed in a moment - something that can be recalled or re-cast. Each successive cast shows signs of further degradation, as if with each recollection the memory grows more vague.

The choice of material is significant. Coal is one of the purest forms of carbon, the fundamental building block of all living organisms. Citizens of Herculaneum, a town closer in proximity to the volcano were said to have been 'carbonised' by the heat of the eruption. This notion, though utterly horrific to contemplate, emphasises the cyclical nature of life and the ubiquitousness of carbon, in every stage of life and death. 

We also depend on coal for much of our energy, a reliance that simultaneously sustains and threatens our existence. This apparent dichotomy echoes the conflicting yet dependent bond between presence and absence and the duality of life.

Coal; steel; epoxy resin

Approximate dimensions of each figure

H: 1830 mm  -  W: 500 mm  -  D: 500 mm

H: 1700 mm  -  W: 500 mm  -  D: 500 mm


Photography: Jaroslav Moravec; Tom Price