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A Magazine for Sheffield

Mausoleum: Witnessing the End of the Giants

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A sign tied to a lamp-post gives notice of the planning application to turn the abandoned Eye Witness Works, the spiritual home of knives and scissors, into a mix of commercial units and 97 apartments. We wait for 40 minutes, alternately bathed in sunshine and sluiced by wintry showers. Then the tired wooden gates open and we are ushered in.

The artist Phlegm has a distinctive palette that will already have seeped into your subconscious. Sorrowful, spindly beasts and birdmen in clothing spun from feathers and chainmail inhabit a parallel, monochrome world where Terry Gilliam, M.C. Escher and William Heath Robinson are the chief architects. It's a kind of whimsical nihilism. When life has no meaning, we may as well spend it in fairytale castles guarded by owls, magicians and monsters.

Eye Witness Works faced a choice: slump into the decay that brings first the squatters, then the weeds and finally the bulldozers; or be reborn, its old face restored but its innards purged of their backstory. It chose to survive and today we have a last chance to see it before the change comes.

We enter through a dark corridor into a bright, top-lit space surrounded by small ante-rooms. In each small room, Phlegm has installed a separate scene. In one, a long-beaked bird has crash-landed through a tunnel and ploughed into a small house. In another, a creature waits, its forked tongue rolled out like a party horn wheezing its last. In another, a proud old owl stands guard over a crowd of owl heads that might be its family or the building blocks of a totem pole. In another, a beast has collapsed onto its knees and elbows, sinking into mud, holding up a skull like a ritual offering.

But it's in the central room where the real drama is to be found. Here are two giants, both too big to move in such a confined space. One is lying in the foetal position, exhausted. The other sits on the floor, its head and knees up in the roof lantern, constrained by the steel girders and brick walls of the factory. It holds a small house in one hand. A goat-like animal accompanies it watchfully.

These giants are ancient and they're dying, but why have they come here? Did they stumble in and find themselves trapped? Were they here all along, waiting for the building to be abandoned? Is the Taylor's Eye Witness logo a sacred symbol for them, telling them where they should come to die? Why are they all dying together? Have we brought catastrophe upon them?

The human visitors to the exhibition become part of the scene. The death throes of these beauteous grotesques are so slow, so quiet, that people can move among them, behind their heads, between their legs, taking photos, posing, feeling the papery flesh.

We are invited in in small groups to pay our respects for a limited time. We spend a while working out how we should behave in their presence. Are we guests or are they imposters? If only the other humans would leave or be silent, perhaps we could tune into their frequency and learn from what they have seen in their thousand-year lives.

But our time is up and we shuffle out respectfully, trying to hold a memory of what we have just witnessed.

Andrew Wood

Mausoleum of The Giants runs at Eye Witness Works on Milton Street until 6 April.

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