An invitation. To awaken, observe, visualise, feel, contemplate, reflect upon and challenge our human fabric: body and mind, flesh and blood, bricks and mortar, air-fire-earth-water. It’s the death thing. It saturates me. How could it not? Meditations on all its transgressive, morbid, melancholic macabreness, draw my attention to its sacred, spectacular, mythical, transformative beauty: its emotional truth. And it’s through the process of ‘drawing’ that the physical, cognitive, emotional and spiritual facets of ‘nature morte’ are witnessed, touched, recorded, reflected, witnessed again. I use words here, but drawing trumps literary language. Drawing is not just an act for our oculus, it’s wholly sensorial. I adopt drawing in its most embodied sense: the process is a conduit between emotion and experience, and with each mark, I feel it all.
Journeying through the fields of anatomy, human sciences, pathology, medicine, healthcare, social sciences and philosophy in search of answers to the big questions (mostly rhetorical), I am reminded of the value of introspection, of experience, and the requisite to examine my own mortality. The human cadaver, the rodent corpse, the aging man, the dying woman, the grieving partner, the suicidal spouse; I draw to awaken my senses to their corporality, creating a space for confrontation, contemplation and consolidation. A continuous flow between thought and action, using my pencil as a scalpel, to dissect and examine the anatomy of this stuff we call LIFE. Each mark (each cut), re-enacts desire and loss, joy and sorrow, hope and pain, faith and fear: a lamenting with lines. This process of drawing is not so much about arousing emotions, but reining them in, giving myself permission to experiment with the discourses they create.
And have I mentioned death is taboo?
Or rather this is how we prefer to regard it. The historical trajectory of death and dying in western culture has been extensively researched and debated, and has its roots firmly in religious doctrines. We could blame scientific advancements for turning the process of ageing and dying into medical experience, but it wouldn’t capture the whole picture. Because we humans are aware we exist, we also know we are going to die, and we are afraid of it. Awareness of death is the pitfall of human intellect; we pay a hefty price for being self-conscious. It is our fundamental biological imperative, to stay alive. And thus, death is the enemy.
It is time to reclaim our experience of mortality and what it’s like to be creatures who age, suffer, die and decompose, but also as beings capable of empathy, compassion and care giving. To explore what it is to live this mortal coil, to ‘shuffle off’ and be food for the worms (and so much more). We must confront aging, illness, dying, death and bereavement not simply as our inescapable realities but as messengers disclosing new dimensions of meaning. And it is creativity that provides the perfect tools for this life work. Combining practice, research and service as visual artist and carer, I create space for verbal, visual, sensorial and energetic conversations between human bodies and beings, and the time to exchange ideas, experiences, perceptions and beliefs about what matters most, what is so very human.
It’s not just the death thing. It’s the love thing.