Art of Grief
The Museum houses an ongoing collection of objects and artworks based on mourning memorabilia, shrines, graveyard debris and contains bones, mummified rats, cats, frogs, taxidermy birds, haunted dolls, extinct animal sculpture, ritual pots, drawings of dust, ex votos, poppets and folk horror zines amongst other things.
DUST the collection explores the multitude of ways in which bereaved people express loss, often drawing inspiration from global, multicultural traditions ranging from a belief in reincarnation to animism and participation in the Day of the Dead. The project is interested in how people make visible their loss through an interaction with objects and how this interaction often involves artistic creativity, or the crafting of memory onto objects, materialising loss.
A popular stereotype about British culture is that talk of death is repressed, and forms of the visible and collective expression of grief are absent. The stories and objects in the shop and museum will explore through creative practice the on going relationship we have with the dead and how they continue to influence our lives. DUST investigates the role that contemporary art practice has to play in negotiating grief and encouraging a space for active communication to take place between the dead and the living.
The collection of objects and artifacts act as prompts to encourage conversation around death and dying. As many of our death rites such as caring for the body in the home have been lost over the years perhaps we can draw inspiration from the rich and varied way global cultures grieve for their dead.
All kinds of stories emerge from the shadows.
During the past nine weeks of Covid lockdown while the shop has been closed I have been arranging objects that are part of DUST's collection into small shrines as a dedication to things that we hold dear. Each week the theme is slightly different, the objects placed together to tell a story that might provoke a feeling of loss and how that can be addressed.
We build spaces in our lives for remembrance. A shrine is often an external representation of an interior space of something precious that we wish to communicate with in some way. They become a private space of communication. Through the careful placement of objects that hold meaning we are inviting the presence of something or someone we wish to speak with, creating a space that invites communication to take place.
Once the Covid restriction have been lifted artists will be invited to respond to the collection in DUST to create their own shrine and story to accompany it.
As part of the forthcoming program of talks DUST will start with a lecture on temporary shrines, their meanings and the need we have to commemorate sudden and tragic deaths with objects and memorabilia in this way.
Roadside shrines appear throughout the world to mark the spot where someone has died suddenly and tragically. In Chile as the short documentary below explores it is widely believed that the soul is separated from the body at the site of death. Houses for the soul are created where community can leave a message, a flower, object to continue a direct relationship with the person who has died.
The weekly shrines that I have been making in the shop invite you to contemplate the relationship we have with the world and the things that we are losing, to question what we hold dear reflect on that.
Talking to the Dead
There is a white ghost like telephone booth in Otsuchi, Japan. Inside the booth is an old black dial up telephone. It is connected to nowhere but is a place where anyone who has suffered a loss can go and speak to their loved ones. It was built in the gardens of Itaru Sasalu in 2010 after losing his cousin. The year after in 2011 the area was hit by a Tsunami that killed 15,000 people and the telephone was opened up to the public. Mourners can dial up an imaginary number and say the things that they wish to say holding a belief that the wind will carry their messages to the spirit world. Over 30,000 have used the wind telephone and replicas have started appearing all over the world.
The power of the imagination to connect us to the deceased and rituals such as this help to keep our loved ones part of our lives in meaningful ways.