Cornford and Cross
The Man Who Sold the World 2009

Two Georgian pennies hidden in the crypt
For Invisible Cities curated by Emma Somerset Davis and Mark Metcalfe
The Crypt, St Pancras New Church, London

Built during the Georgian era, a period of population explosion, economic turbulence and social unrest, St Pancras new church was the most expensive in London since the rebuilding of Saint Paul’s. Beneath its grand neoclassical architecture lies the vaulted crypt, a place of burial for wealthy and privileged families of the parish.

Perhaps because the eyes are a locus of identity and recognition, for centuries it has been customary to place coins over the eyelids of the dead, allowing the living to see the face of the dead without looking into their eyes.

For our contribution to Invisible Cities, we bought one George III and one George IV penny, and hid them in the crypt. Displacing coins in this way may change their status from commodity to discovery. But because their presence in the church is plausible, the coins’ tenure as art is vulnerable. Side by side and heads up, the coins bear profiles that allude to the emperors of classical antiquity; father and son face each other across the generations, though their eyes never meet.

‘The Man Who Sold the World’ is the title of a song by David Bowie, which envisions a metaphysical encounter centred on the gaze. The song was written soon after the 1968 Apollo mission to the moon, which resulted in the first photograph of the whole Earth from space. Embraced by the environmental movement and multinational corporations, the iconic image became an ambiguous symbol of fragility and power.