A Firework for WG Sebald

Four framed colour photographs (each 40 x 50cm); silkscreened text upon wall

Chapter four of W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn opens with a photograph of the lighthouse in Southwold, a town on the Suffolk coast to which the author walked from Lowestoft, further along the coast, in August 1992. One can also find the same lighthouse in the opening scene of Peter Greenaway’s 1988 film, Drowning by Numbers, which was made in the town and its environs.

A meditation upon death, also, the film concerns the amorous entangling of a local coroner, Madgett, with three women — a mother and her two daughters — whose husbands all drown in quick succession, and in mysterious circumstances. Sharing Madgett’s inquisitive nature, and his delight in arcane information and games of bewildering complexity, is his son Smut, who accompanies the coroner on the increasingly compromised investigation.

One of Smut’s more extraordinary rituals — of which there are many — is to mark each death that he encounters with the lighting of a firework, whether it is a drowned husband or an animal in a hedgerow; even his own eventual suicide.

In memory — and celebration — of the extraordinary life and work of W.G. Sebald, a firework was lit by the side of the A146 in Framingham Pigot, the place in which he was killed in a car crash on 14 December 2001.

This work features in the film, Patience: After Sebald (2012) by Grant Gee.