I went to many exhibitions yesterday; one last flurry before I started back to work after half term. I am just about to plan some lessons for tomorrow, but I must write first about La Petite Muerte as it is well worth a visit before it closes on 11th November.
The last show on my tour was located in a pub cellar off Kingsland Road, which is great as it is open 6-9pm – Thurs- Sunday, so you can get a beer at the bar too. The curator is an artist called Kirsty Harris, who I first encountered at Matt Robert’s Alas exhibition. Some of the 38 selected artists are contacts she gathered from the Alas residency, but many are artists she knows personally and admires.
The theme was to coincide with the Mexican Day of the Dead festival that happens in Mexico at the beginning of November. The artworks exhibited related to this festival “exploring contemporary notions of mortality, sex, rituals and icons.”
Where to start, as there was much to see with really interesting stories behind the exhibited artworks. Lets begin with a taxidermy piece by Ruth Bartlett; a tender scene of a sleeping squirrel curled upon a stack of walnuts, that would indeed offer sustenance during the coming winter months. The piece is arranged in such as way to conceal any brutality of the act of death itself, as the squirrel is of course not really sleeping and that this ‘squirrel utopia’ is indeed a fabrication. The artist seemed to have prepared the squirrel for the afterlife in a kind of respectful anti ‘burial’ ritual.
I guess this ‘sending off’ is what the artists in the show were dealing with. Mexicans celebrate their dead in a particular way, which involves a colourful and joyous ceremony and probably why it is so well-known throughout the world. Yet all cultures commemorate the dead with complex traditions and etiquettes, some of course more sombre than others and the exhibition alluded to many of these personal interpretations. Death is both a collective, shared experience which happens to everyone of us and also a very deeply personal and unique experience.
The diversity of artwork in La Petite Muerte, goes someway to illustrate these sensibilities, with artists focussing on the wider themes of rituals and belief structures. Artists explored the impact of death upon the individual by incorporating personal and touching memories; artworks attempted preservation and embodied concepts of renewal, absence and loss; all mixed up with equal measures of humour and melancholy, starkness and sensitivity.
Three artworks which explore the journey to the afterlife or the sensations of a near death experience which is sometimes described as a light at the end of the tunnel.
I would like to mention Caro Halford’s art work. I don’t think I have ever seen such a personal artwork in a gallery before. The piece includes a photograph of her father and an image of where some of his ashes were scattered. In the box below, his actual ashes are encased. This to me is a simple but powerfully poignant piece. I wondered where the photograph of the rocks were taken and what it meant to the artist and her father. A very thought-provoking tribute, remarking upon our personal associations with places and memory; how life and death can become mentally and physically connected to the environment.
The curator, Kirsty Harris, had included a small painted panel resting delicately on a ledge, depicting an image of a friend, 8 months pregnant. So as antithesis to death, there comes renewal and new life.
An acrylic reworking upon a Victorian cabinet card by Tom Butler. A calling card, or carte de visite was often left at an address, to say that a particular person had visited. The cabinet card was a larger version of this craze that was popular in the 1860 and 70s. This is a beautiful and delicate artwork and although the face has been obliterated, it has been painted with such care, the act is not a destructive one. This reminds me how through time, the individuality of the person diminishes; they become unexplained, unidentifiable and lost, belonging to no one.
A photograph which illustrates a carnage of body parts, threadbare soft toys, ‘Andy Goldsworthy gerbils’ or a pile of ginger root, by Peter Ainsworth.
Hugh Mendes meticulous transcription from a newspaper, detailing the death of a dear,yet unattractive comrade.
A phone sim card sculpture by Paul Stanley, entitled ‘every text she ever sent to me‘ and cast in a resin block. This paradoxical attempt to arrest time, renders the sim card unusable and is therefore a futile and destructive act, but perhaps a necessary ritual to move forward, or it could be seen as a preservation of love?
La petite Muerte is a visually exciting exhibition, showing a diverse range of contemporary artworks. I wanted to write more and also about every artist, as this review only touches on a fraction of what is there, but my camera Raw plugin tutorial for tomorrow awaits. Go see before it is too late.
All artists exhibiting can be found here, with images and website links.