The Fragrance of Death

There is a corpse in the room. It is swathed in black chiffon and wears a white oxygen masks with large, dark ovals for the eyes. It lies on a bed of dead, dry leaves and they rustle when I kneel on them. Wilting white lilies in a vase give off the overpowering odour that fills the room- it is the odour of death. It is not the putrefying stench of decay, but is just rotten and sickening enough to be redolent of death.

Several pictures are crowded onto one of the walls, packed closely together- insecure, clinging? A film plays on the screen, showing maggots, black-veiled women, dead birds lying upturned with their claws in the air. The ‘body’ on the ground in front of us is in the movie too. She wears the mask as she walks through a dead forest, past nothingness, picking her way over dry branches. There is an apocalyptic air about the entire scene. It is chilling.

This is what the exhibit Into the Void, at the media students’ exhibition at University, looked like. The atmosphere was as morbid as could be, and very powerful. Imagine being the last creature on the planet, somehow left to die slowly, all by yourself, while everything else is consumed by the greedy appetite of a nuclear holocaust or a merciless winter. Dusk merging with dawn merging with dusk, no sunlight, no warm rain, just cold waves on a pebble beach and grey skies.

More than anything else though, it was the lilies- they drooped, the white edges of the petals turning brown, their strong, once-pleasant fragrance taking on a sinister tinge. You wouldn’t ordinarily associate flowers with unpleasantness. However, put them in a room with a funereal air, and they change character. They are no longer lively bulbs bobbing in a garden; instead, they are decapitated and lifeless, reminiscent of the dried petals found between the mottled pages of a long-forgotten book, unleashing odours and disturbing memories put to bed.

I don’t know what the void is about. Who knows if there is actually a void there, or bunches of wilting flowers?



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