Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man
(The Willows)

Silicone; fibreglass; hair; clothing; mixed media.

An important part of my practice is the bringing together of different elements into a new work; sometimes these elements are placed side by side, such as the images from the Warburg Institute and Chris Marker’s La Jetée in The Man Who Looked Back (2011), whereas in other works the elements are combined in order to make something new. It is this latter approach which can be found in this work.

As the title may suggest to some, this work is an assemblage of two prior works by other people: the photograph Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man (1840) by Hippolyte Bayard, and ‘The Willows’ (1907), a short story by Algernon Blackwood. In this story (considered by HP Lovecraft the greatest supernatural story ever written) a man is found drowned and marked with small funnel-shaped indentations — ‘That awful mark!’ — made by an unknown supernatural being; the title of Bayard's photograph (considered by some the first conceptual art photograph) suggested the identity of the unfortunate victim.

The sculpture was made by Grant Watson, a film special effects technician in Glasgow, and required the making of a life-mask of my face; the clothes are my own, and typical of what I wore at the time. The entire sculpture has been treated so that it always appears wet, as if only just removed from the water and laid within the gallery. The work was commissioned by CCA, Glasgow, for my solo exhibition there and caused a great deal of controversy in the city and its press; it later received even more international attention when shown at Turner Contemporary, Margate, when the now Princess of Wales was photographed looking at it, an image which appeared in newspapers around the world. Such is the level of detail in the sculpture that during both exhibitions there were rumours that it was indeed either a corpse, or a performance piece in which I lay on the floor unmoving. It was also included in ‘The Horror Show’ at Somerset House, an exploration of British counter-culture from Punk until the present day.

With thanks to Grant Mason FX, Glasgow. Commissioned by CCA, Glasgow.

Installation photographs from the exhibition ‘Resemblances, Sympathies, and Other Acts’, CCA, Glasgow, 2011, and ‘Self’, Turner Contemporary, Margate, 2015 (Suzanne Plunkett | AFP/Getty Images)