Walks Four and Five returned again and again to the site and story of John Horwood’s death – and began with a visit to the macabre and fascinating object that is what remains of it all.
Cutis Vera Johannis Horwood.
‘The Real Skin of John Horwood’ is a book in the collections at MShed. It is also a work of abject documentation, a true corpus, a kind of poetic object. The book is bound in the skin of Horwood who was flayed after the execution that was ordered by the trial that is documented in the pages of the book by the surgeon who sketched the deceased and coincidentally also operated on the murderer’s victim’s fractured skull before her death. Horwood was the first man to be hanged at the New Gaol on Spike Island, on the theatrical gallows at the end of what is now the car park of the very same museum that holds his skin. The story folds over and over.
Along the way, we searched for Trin Mill, a buried mill pond outside of the city which now gives its name to a small housing development on the very edge of Spike Island, and looked through maps of the city that drew out a sequence of imagined islands, one over the other. We could almost navigate with this 1750 map by John Rocque, if we squinted long enough. Eventually canal boats became galleons and we could take a short ferry across to Prince Street to reach Arnolfini. It seemed every corner we turned took us to another turning: a man turning into a book, a thrown stone that turned to murder, a gate house that turned into gallows that turned into a garden at the end of the car park of a harbour warehouse that turned into a museum for a city that turns itself over and over.
Pauline Masurel led a mapping project that would have challenged Rocque himself. Using index cards and arrows we drew out a direct line that charted our walk in a series of translations from this to that. We then reworked this as a single sentence that moved us through each transformation in turn, sometimes propelling us through the vibrating changes of a single word. The “flawed” city that opens this piece, for instance, arrived out of an encounter with the room-sized floor map of Bristol at MShed and a discussion of Spike’s Island’s fractured narrative. In amongst vital conversations about the nature of collaborative work for writers, a strange wheel of fortune rolled in. You can read the sentence here.