Callous to Misfortune


This work explores the notion of the final performance that many of us might choose not to make. It looks at the theatre of the last words we may utter and places them in a context of capital punishment, both contemporary and ancient.

The state of Texas in the USA is one of the most active users of ultimate deterrence. Through an unblinking policy of capital punishment it has carried out 349 executions since 1982 and has assiduously documented the legal and penal processes of these executions. One aspect of this process is the recording and publication of the last statement of each of these death-row inmates. The statements, often terse, often religious, offer a chance for a brief insight into the choice that few of us is likely to have, namely to choose carefully the last words we utter in this life.

This piece used a number of these final statements as a starting point and places them in the context of some of the writings of the 18th Century Italian philosopher Cesare Beccaria, one of the most eloquent writers on the state’s relationship to crime and punishment. It positions these texts, both visual and spoken within the last views that may have been taken by those making a one-way trip to Gallow Hill in the remote Angus countryside.

The piece comprises a simple digitally projected slide show of landscape images overlaid with the texts taken from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. It was commissioned by CRATE as part of the National Review of Live Art at the Tramway in Glasgow in 2006.

Text about the work by Chris Byrne

Text used for the work - On Crime And Punishment by Cesare Beccaria


© Clive Gillman