Office of the dead
John Reynolds


John Reynolds
Office of the dead
Production date:
Accession No:
variable (80 components)
Vinyl on aluminium

Collection Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth. Gifted to the Gallery by the artist in 2002.

Office of the Dead is one of John Reynolds’ collaborations with the late poet Leigh Davis. The work’s title is drawn from Davis’ poem of the same name, which itself refers to a lengthy series of prayers recited for the souls of the dead in the Roman Catholic Church. The central image of the poem is a yacht race, and an evocation of moving bodies dispersed over great distances. In Reynolds’ work, this imagery is combined with the memory of a road trip he took with Davis through the desert country of West Texas, where the highway was regularly punctuated by small signs on the roadside bearing reflective chevrons.

In Office of the Dead, these chevrons, the universal sign for ‘go this way’, take flight in a huge, dispersed swarm. Made from reflective vinyl industrially applied to aluminium, they combine the mundanity of road signs with a kind of vitality or transcendence. Like a flock of birds startled into flight but frozen mid-explosion, or that other kind of flock, a community of souls waiting for deliverance through prayer, they hover.

The signs all point to the right, with a certain my-way-or-the-highway relentlessness. Is Reynolds saying that this is the right way? Or is this a covert endorsement of the National Party? Either way, Office of the Dead’s directional demand starts to ring a little hollow when it becomes clear that the signs aren’t really pointing at anything, except away from themselves. Like their colourful reflective surfaces, they attract and repel simultaneously. Reynolds describes the work as a contemplation of passage. The signs indicate movement and clearly give direction, but any sense of navigational grids or coordinates has gone haywire and arrival is endlessly deferred.