Cru­ci­fixes for Vari­ous Amphi­bi­ans, 2000

Recon­struc­tions of ori­gin­al cru­ci­fixes made in 1972 by Mar­cus and Duncan Coates
Lolly sticks, elast­ic bands, paperclips
Each: 20 cm high
Pro­duced by Grizedale Arts

The stream ran along the edge of the wood, bor­der­ing the back gar­dens of the houses on the estate where we lived. The gar­dens were long and green and stretched up to patios and big glass win­dows. Behind the win­dows you could see the shapes of people mov­ing around their homes. They had no idea we were there, play­ing by the stream and watch­ing them. The backs of their houses seemed so private and dif­fer­ent to the fronts. Dark­er, lar­ger and quieter.

Most of the toads we caught in those days were big, gnarled and brown. They lumbered across the earth and rarely seemed to hop. This made them easy to catch. The banks of the stream were the best place to find them but they also turned up deep into the wood, liv­ing wherever it was dark and damp.

I don’t know when the cru­ci­fix­ions star­ted but they prob­ably grew out of our work as dam build­ers. The twist­ing course of the stream made it a per­fect place for dam­ming. By scoop­ing mud and form­ing com­pact walls rein­forced by sticks we could hold up the flow of the water, flood the stream’s banks and cre­ate deep pools. It was hard work and you had to concentrate. 

Once the toads had been caught and gathered togeth­er we would hold them cap­tive in the dam pools. We made the cru­ci­fixes by lash­ing togeth­er sticks and dig­ging them deep into the mud. The toads were heavy and the crosses had to be strong enough to carry their weight. With one per­son hold­ing the cru­ci­fix and my broth­er keep­ing the toad in pos­i­tion, I would bang four small nails through its feet. If the nails didn’t work we would have to use wire, which was always more fiddly. We would usu­ally build a row of crosses down both banks of the stream so that we could cru­ci­fy up to five toads at a time.

With the toads on their crosses we would return to my house. From under the sink in the kit­chen we gathered bottles of bleach, wash­ing up liquid and Dettol. In the gar­age we mixed these up in a buck­et with Castrol GTX, paint, pet­rol and white spir­it. It was dif­fi­cult to get the toads’ mouths open and we found it hard to tip the pois­on down their throats. We used match­sticks and bits of twig to prise their mouths apart and then prop them so they wouldn’t close. Not that much mix­ture went in. Some of the toads would wriggle and shake. They would go all twitchy. I think some of the oth­ers were already dead.

Duncan Coates, Cru­ci­fix­ion, recol­lec­tions from 1972’, 2001

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