Beachy Head is area of profound nature beauty and forms part of the South Downs National Park. Just to the east resides Eastbourne and further to the west is Brighton, both towns are popular, seaside holiday destinations, though most definitely past their heyday. Birling Gap by Beachy Head is even used as a naturist bathing area. All this stands in stark contrast to Beachy Head’s high instance of suicide.

Many blame media coverage that serves to encourage and cement Beachy Head as a well known, worldwide suicide hotspot. The ONS report on suicide figures in East Sussex (2006 – 2013) states that one in three suicides occurs in Beachy Head, and four in every five of those deaths are non-residents. Clearly Beachy Head holds some allure for suicides, perhaps something is drawing people there.

One artist, who perhaps understands the gravity of the place, is Cornelia Parker. Object That Fell Over The White Cliffs of Dover is a silver teapot that Parker threw off the cliffs of dover. It speaks of the fall of British power, but also of survival, trace and action. The teapot is crushed and contorted, with flecks of chalk impacted into its crumbled carapace. The teapot did not fall, it was thrown. Perhaps a wry comment on suicide in this area, its under representation in mortality figures (see Surtees Suicide and Accidental Death at Beachy Head 1982) and society’s denial of its greatest taboo.

Cornelia Parker takes objects and transforms them allowing us to partake in their history, their materiality and their lives (objecthood). Bringing out the potential of objects as protagonists in a narrative allows us a view into the secret lives of objects and gives her work an air of the supernatural.

As part of Bye Bye Blackboard, an exhibition marking the centenary of Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, Cornelia Parker was invited to chalk on a blackboard the size of Einstein’s. The exhibition was so named in reference to the disappearance of blackboards from classrooms and meetings, and focused on the power of immediate and temporary communication offered by the blackboard, and its subversion by the blackboard relic i.e Einstein’s written theory. Beachy Head was both the medium and message of Parker’s blackboard. Blackboards are not simply communication but more specifically education, and give credence to what is written upon them. The only words that I can clearly make out are off, edge, cliff. Perhaps in relation to Beachy Head, these are the only words we need to understand.

 

 

 

 

James Sirrell

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