James Holcombe’s film Tyburnia revisits the site of Tyburn Tree, a place of execution for over 700 years at the junction of Edgware Road and Oxford Street. Here political, religious and judicial transgressions were punished with hanging, burning and gibbeting for public entertainment and instruction.
The film explores parallels between contemporary and historical notions of crime in relation to business and property, the spectacular nature of punishment, and the use of the body as a site for political control. Shooting on 8mm and 16mm film, James Holcombe gained access to numerous artefacts associated with the Tyburn; reliquaries housing the remains of Catholic martyrs, body parts preserved by surgeons, the bell that tolled on the eve of executions, and the eventual resting place of the gallows themselves. Using hand processing and archaic chemical techniques the scenes forming Tyburnia bring forth a film that is both visually and thematically engrossing, demonstrating that despite the gallows having long since vanished, we still stand in the shadow of its punitive ideology.
James Holcombe began researching Tyburn Gallows during a three month residency with the Edgware Road Project in 2009 as part of the no.w.here’s Free Cinema School.
The film premiered in London at the Carpenters Arms Pub. There is a popular belief that the wood from the gallows was taken to build the rests for beer barrels in the cellar when public executions ceased at Tyburn in 1783.
The screening featured a live soundtrack developed and performed by Dead Rat Orchestra. Featuring songs that were composed by or for those condemned to 'dance the Tyburn jig', bringing a new understanding to the broadside ballads that have become a staple of folk music, but here presented in close association to their original context.
As part of the premiere, Dr Una McIlvenna sang a selection of execution ballads from early modern Europe and discussed her research on this song-form in conversation with James Holcombe and Dead Rat Orchestra.
Between May and July 2015 The Tyburnia Tour visited market and county towns around the UK where assizes, gallows, and gibbets were a feature of everyday life. To explore this rich and melancholy history, Tyburnia will be screened and performed as close to the location of various regional gallows as possible.
James Holcombe's practice merges a deep engagement with re-discovered historical, material and social processes of photochemical film production through single screen and expanded performance works.
Dead Rat Orchestra is formed by Daniel Merrill, Nathaniel Mann and Robin Alderton.