In the Wake of a Deadad
Andrew Kötting University College for the Creative Ar
Andrew Kötting's In the Wake of a Deadad is a book like no other. It is a memoir, a demented exorcism, a mad travelogue, a compilation of different writers' meditations on death and a series of tragicomic elegies in the form of doodles and photos as well as prose. It is that rare thing: an art book that is not merely eye candy to be gawped at for a few minutes and then consigned to the coffee table, but a deeply moving work that merits several rereadings.
Kötting is better known for his visionary films. Gallivant (1996) is a road movie about a coastal trip he made around Britain accompanied by his octogenarian grandmother and his daughter Eden, who suffers from Joubert's syndrome. The material, potentially so melancholy, is transformed by his use of found footage, time-lapse photography and striking sound design, as well as its larky humour.
Like Gallivant, In the Wake of a Deadad deals with memory and family. More specifically, it deals with Kötting's father, who died in 2000 aged 65. Kötting Senior was born in London and later lived in Sidcup and Beckenham in Kent. He had five children, sold belts and braces, and in later years had poor health. His life was largely without incident - except for those occasions when his rage got the better of him. He yelled at people, including police officers. He beat his wife senseless, and once locked her in a refrigerator.
After his death, Andrew Kötting made copies of four photos of him - as a boy, as a young man cradling one of his children, as a middle-aged man sporting a rather scary grin, and lying in his coffin at a chapel of rest - and posted them to 65 writers, artists and friends, asking them to conjecture about the kind of person he was.
Some of the people to whom he wrote were too busy or too spooked to reply. Among the archbishops, philosophers and fellow film-makers who did respond, a number included photos of their own "deadads". Cumulatively, obliquely, the book becomes an essay about a generation of men who lived, as Fay Weldon puts it in a letter to the author, "in a pre-Freudian world, where there were no models for fatherhood or any acceptable by our contemporary world".
For all the levity of some of the correspondents' responses, the first half of the book is a relatively sober obituary compared to what happens next: Kötting commissions an outsized blow-up doll of his dad, who looks like a manic Roy Hudd, and then carts it - or should that be "him"? - on a sentimental journey around Europe: to Regent Street (where he worked), to the road where his son was conceived, to the beach where his son lost his virginity. With his skeleton-costume-clad daughter in tow, he also takes his "Deadad" to the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico.
Kötting is much more than clown-pilgrim; his playful, free-associative methods are far from frivolous. Their spry humour helps to neutralise the anger and violence of the book's subject, the "rage that might quickstep around his head". Travelling with a blow-up doll is at once a quirky tribute to his father - it inflates him to the size of his ego - and a way of deflating and reckoning with him: not only is it used as a bouncy castle, but it's a subtle reference to the porn collection that was found after he died.
In the Wake of a Deadad is stuffed with visual gags, photomontages, scans of the author's heart. Its formal messiness is strangely life- affirming, distinct as it is from the dry-autopsy mode of most father-son memoirs. The most un-English of books, it appears to be a series of bad-taste japes, but is in fact an exceedingly affecting and serious challenge to our received notions about how best to deal with death - and life. Only 1,000 copies of this beautifully designed and produced artefact have been published; snap one up while you can.
Sukhdev Sandhu is the author of "London Calling: how black and Asian artists imagined a city" (HarperPerennial)