Ricarda Vidal - Visual Culture

The Carnival of Death

Curated by Maria-José Blanco & Ricarda Vidal

Jessel and Court Room, Senate House, University of London 24-26 February 2011

sponsored by the Office for Cultural and Scientific Affairs of the Embassy of Spain in London

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Hendon graveyard 1

For this exhibition we brought together a variety of artists who each deal with death in their own particular manner, from the serious to the hilarious, from the fictional to the documentary. However, in all cases, art seems to stand between us and death. It becomes a protective veil. For the artist the camera or the pencil (and in one case the very plywood of the coffin itself) become tools which allow them to approach death, to document it and abstract it, to make it fictional and hence to dominate it. As viewers we can stand closely behind the artist and enjoy the fiction presented to us. Mediated through art, death can touch us deeply but we can always choose to look away.

The works in the show explored bereavement, grief and leave-taking, folk traditions and believes, death and consumerism and the irreverence of black humour.

The films The Dad Project by Briony Campbell and 2010, diecisiete de agosto, por la tarde by David Glyn are about saying goodbye to a dying beloved person. Both films are gentle and quiet, full of grief but also full of the beauty and joy of living. Both artists use their way of looking at the world through their cameras. Campbell’s film and photographs document the last months of her father’s life from the moment he was diagnosed with terminal cancer till his death. Glyn’s home video shows a brief moment of the last hours in the life of his father in law José Luis. While the old man lies in his bed breathing through the oxygen mask, life around him continues as always. The sound of children playing in the street and the bright light coming through the net curtain contrast with the stillness and quietness of the dying and those waiting around him. The closeness to the subjects being filmed or photographed and the objectivity of the camera lens are intertwined in all these images.

Laurie Lipton’s drawings of skeletons engaged in all walks of life from dancing to selling sweets are inspired by the traditions of the Mexican Day of the Dead as well as by the medieval dance of death. Drawn in pencil with an almost obsessive attention to detail, the works look disturbingly realistic. With their energy and their fine sense of humour they are perfect memento mori which remind us to use the day. Sarah Sparkes’s installation You are Here invites us to look across the threshold and to glimpse the tunnel of light which is so familiar from myths and stories about near-death experiences. Seen through the peep hole in the coffin which Sparkes has built to fit herself, death is no longer the end but the beginning of infinity. Matt Rowe’s mixed media installation, too, takes its cue from traditional believes, though these take a more sinister shape in the form of a screaming skull.

Where Sparkes plays with popular believes of a post-mortal reunion with the divine, Rowe’s work evokes the more human, if not humane, notion of the revenant – the anthropomorphic ghost who returns from beyond the grave. Stuck between life and death the revenant in some sense indicates both the existence of life after death and the fallibility of death itself. Ossa, a stop- motion animation by Colette Copeland also explores the disturbing notion of a life beyond the grave that is not altogether as peaceful as one would hope. Playing with traits from the horror film genre Copeland creates a sinister tongue -in-cheek dance of death in a kingdom of animal spirits. Caroline Leaf’s sand animation The Owl who Married the Goose, is based on an Inuit folk story with a harsh morale, which shows death as a constant and very real threat to those who dare challenge their boundaries.

Earlier we wrote that art can be a means to overcome and dominate death, to make it into something controllable. Some use humour, others abstraction and fictionalisation. However, the most effective way to counteract the fear of death could be laughter. When Spiros Jacovides’s Dr Mori advertises the novel automatic Hara-Kiri-Kit on Dr Mori’s Teleshopping we don’t mind the violent beheading of the three models who demonstrate the machine. In the happy teleshopping world death does not really happen. Like the violence of horror films and Hollywood thrillers, from which Jacovides takes some inspiration, it is essentially unreal – just an obvious stage trick. Death becomes a laughing matter. With their fast-paced animation Bungee Jump Skeleton Man Rune and Erik Eriksson make a similar point about violence, commercialism and the basic unreality of death in an entirely consumer-driven world of make-belief. Finally Colette Copeland’s mydeath.com invites us to choose our method of burial – accompanied by happy music we can select anything from a brightly-coloured coffin to a shiny urn or even burial in space. Death becomes a commercial venture, sold by funeral homes as your final adventure. As one website advertising space burial writes, “Launch your loved one into space” – and get on with life.

We would like this exhibition to open a dialogue between the different approaches to death. It was also conceived as a visual companion to the three-day conference “The Carnival of Death: Perceptions of Death in Europe and the Americas” at the Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies.

Go to Carnival of Death conference

 

 

Drawings by Laurie Lipton

death and maiden

Death and the Maiden, 2005, pencil on paper, 43 x 34 cm

 

 

amor eterno

Amor Eterno, 2007, pencil on paper, 97 x 54.5 cm

 

 

The Last Dance, 2005, charcoal & pencil on paper, 53 x 40 cm

The Last Dance, 2005, charcoal & pencil on paper, 53 x 40 cm

 

 

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reunion

Reunion, 2008, charcoal & pencil on paper, 55 x 62.5 cm

 

 

The Sweet Seller, 2008, pencil on paper, 61 x 91cm

The Sweet Seller, 2008, pencil on paper, 61 x 91cm

 

 

The Queen of Bones, 2009, charcoal & pencil on paper, 131 x 78 cm

The Queen of Bones, 2009, charcoal & pencil on paper, 131 x 78 cm

Laurie Lipton was born in New York and began drawing at the age of four. She was the first person to graduate from Carnegie-Mellon University in Pennsyl- vania with a Fine Arts Degree in Drawing (with honours). She has lived in Hol- land, Belgium, Germany and France and has made her home in London since 1986. Her work has been exhibited extensively throughout Europe and the USA. Lipton was inspired by the religious paintings of the Flemish School. She tried to teach herself how to paint in the style of the 17th century Dutch Masters and failed. When travelling around Europe as a student, she began developing her very own peculiar drawing technique building up tone with thousands of fine cross-hatching lines like an egg tempera painting. “It’s an insane way to draw”, she says, “but the resulting detail and luminosity is worth the amount of effort”. Selected shows include The Freud Museum, London, The American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland, The Giger Museum, Zurich, Switzerland, The Grand Central Art Center Museum, Santa Ana, California, The Contemporary Urban Art Centre, Liverpool, The Saatchi Gallery, London, The Chamber of Pop Culture, London, The Cervantes Institute, London, as well as a variety of Interna- tional Art Fairs and galleries around the world.

 

 

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Installations

Matt Rowe

Matt Rowe, Screaming Skull, 2010, projection and ceramic installation

Matt Rowe, Screaming Skull, 2010, projection and ceramic installation

 

A screaming skull is alleged to relentlessly harass the culprit who is responsible for removing it from a designated resting place. The projection of an animated veil onto the surface of a blank porcelain skull activates the screaming skull’s wail in infinity. Matt Rowe begins to investigate the morbid curiosity present in the human condition that compels us to seek talismans, relics, and spaces that offer contact to other worlds.

Matt Rowe is an artist based in Kent and the London area. His work investigates re- gional myth, traditions and identity in a quest to distill an essence of folk culture. Selected shows include: Fan Fair at Transition Gallery in London 2008, Vernacu- lar Spectacular in the Folkestone Funicular Lift (Folkestone Triennial Fringe Events 2008) and Extra at Espace Le Carré, Lille 2010.

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Sarah Sparkes

Sarah Sparkes, "You are Here", 2006, coffin built to fit the artist

Sarah Sparkes, “You are Here”, 2006, coffin built to fit the artist

 

You are Here is a coffin built by the artist to fit herself. Made from ply, this is a simple coffin, paring down the western death symbol into its basic structure. Resting on two trestle legs the viewer is encouraged to kneel down and gain a glimpse of a tunnel of lights disappearing into infinity, viewed through a peep hole at the foot of the coffin.

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Sarah Sparkes is currently undertaking a research residency at the Library of Magical Literature. She is interested in magic in the domestic and everyday, both as supernatural force and as legerdemain. Her work explores the belief systems we adopt and the powers we invest in the material to protect ourselves from our deepest fears. She co-runs the arts and interdisciplinary project “GHost” with Ricarda Vidal and runs an annual art and performance event “The Chutney Preserves”. Recent exhibitions include: “GHost” at the Folkestone Trien- nial Video Booth London Art Fair, “The Infinity Box” a site-specific work made for the Belfry of St John Bethnal Green, London; “Witch Night” curated with Sarah Doyle for Frog Morris Presents, The Montague Arms, London; “Cult of the Har- vester at Supermarket Stockholm” collaborative work with Simon Neville for “The Evidence” Stockholm, Sweden; “Fate and Freewill” at Riverside Contempo- rary Art Space, California, USA.

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Works on Monitor

David Glyn

David Glyn, 2010, diecisiete de agosto, por la tarde, 9’ 22” Valdepeñas: La Mancha, 2010/11

David Glyn, 2010, diecisiete de agosto, por la tarde, 9’ 22” Valdepeñas: La Mancha, 2010/11

 

David Glyn is a group analytic psychotherapist, who currently works as Deputy Head of the Student Counselling Service at City University London. In a previous incarnation, he was an independent film-maker.

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Briony Campbell

Briony Campbell, The Dad Project

Briony Campbell, The Dad Project

 

Briony spent the last 6 months of her Dad’s life photographing and filming their relationship, before he died in August 2009. The DadProject is her attempt to say goodbye to her dad with the help of her camera. The process gave her a new perspective on the value of story telling, and the power of the personal perspective. She was on the masters course during her Dad’s last year, and the support she received there was integral to the completing project. In 2010 it was exhibited and published internationally, and provoked a response she never anticipated.

 

Briony Campbell grew up in London, where she has been a freelance photogra- pher for 5 years. She works across a variety of disciplines, from arts to portrai- ture, for non-profit and commercial clients. Last year she completed a Master in Documentary Photography and Photojournalism at London College of Communi- cation, and has since been recognised in four international photography awards. This year Briony plans to continue shooting a long-term project on young urban Africans.

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Caroline Leaf

Caroline Leaf, The Owl Who Married a Goose, Canada, 1974, 35mm, 7:30

Caroline Leaf, The Owl Who Married a Goose, Canada, 1974, 35mm, 7:30

 

The Owl Who Married a Goose is an adaptation of an Inuit legend about an owl who falls in love with a goose and is overwhelmed by the events that follow. Clearly, to the Inuit, the foolish owl has broken an important rule of the North: don’t try to be something other than what you are. Survival depends upon following closely the rules of nature. The story is told with sand animation. Old Inuit women who remember mimicking animal sounds to help with the hunting have made the soundtrack of voices and effects.

 

Caroline Leaf has had a long career in animation starting when she was a stu- dent at Harvard University. Her films are renowned for their emotional content and graphic style, which derive from the innovative handcrafted animation techniques she uses: she animates with beach sand, with wet paint, and makes films without a camera by etching images in the soft emulsion of exposed film. For 20 years she worked as an animator/director at the National Film Board of Canada in Montreal. She has received many film awards and honours including an Oscar nomination. She has travelled widely giving workshops and has taught at Harvard University, Konstfack in Sweden, and at the National Film and Television School in England. She lives in London, England.

 

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Colette Copeland

ossa

Colette Copeland, Ossa, USA, 2009, stop-action animation, 3.13 minutes Produced by Christopher Dunkle & Colette Copeland, Music from River Weeds composed by William Harper

 

Gifted with a box of small animal skeletons, I envisioned creating a magical, but dark world, where the skeletons came alive, enacting primal rituals. Animator Christopher Dunkle shared my vision and together we collaborated on this short video inspired by the Quay Brothers and Tim Burton’s “Corpse Bride”. (Colette Copeland)

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mydeath_acbe0e2fb8

Colette Copeland, MyDeath.com, USA, 2007, artist film, 1.50 mins

 

The video,” Mydeath.com” (a.k.a. how to plan a funeral in 90 seconds or less) humorously asserts the Internet as the ultimate commodified marketplace. Recontextualizing images downloaded from various ‘death’ websites, the work celebrates the bombardment of visual information questioning the point at which we reach saturation and how we decipher what information is accurate

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Colette Copeland is a multi-media visual artist and cultural critic and Senior Fellow in the Critical Writing Program as well as a lecturer in the Visual Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania. She says: As my mother will tell you, my obsession with the macabre began in adolescence. To my husband’s great dismay, my most cherished possession (which unfortunately is not a gift from him) is a mummified bat received one Christmas from a friend who understood if not shared my obsession with death. Now I am frequently gifted with all forms of dead things from well-intentioned friends. Throughout the years, my artistic practice continues to delve into the theme of death. In 1994, I spent a year pho- tographing roadkill. Since 2000 — present, I’ve collected ‘dead’ things, scanning and memorializing them. My 2004 video project entitled Media Murders ex- plored how history is recorded/preserved and what is forgotten/erased. My most recent video Ossa animates small animal skeletons. Some may feel that humor is not appropriate when discussing death. (But only those who lack a sense of humor.)

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Spiros Jacovides

Spiros Jacovides, Dr. Mori's Teleshopping, Greece, 2008, madvertisement, 6 mins

Spiros Jacovides, Dr. Mori’s Teleshopping, Greece, 2008, madvertisement, 6 mins

 

Dr. Mori, a Japanese psychologist, is selling his brand new, Hi-Tech, revolution- ary, completely automatic, state of the art HARAKIRI-KIT for the whole family! It is a sophisticated and beautifully designed suicide device that ends your life honourably and painlessly! Were you fired from work? Are you drowning in debt? Were you cheated by your wife? Are you fed up with your miserable life? In these dark and difficult times of economical and ethical world crisis, this is the ultimate product for you and your family….only from Teleshopping, at a surprisingly low price! CALL NOW!!

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Spiros Jacovides studied Opera (baritone) at the National Music Academy in Athens, Greece. He was a complete failure and never graduated. Through a close friend he found his first real job as a writer on ads for Telemarketing Greece.

 

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Erik and Rune Erikson

Erik and Rune Eriksson, The Bungee Jump Skeleton Man, Norway, 2006, music/ animation, 3 mins

Erik and Rune Eriksson, The Bungee Jump Skeleton Man, Norway, 2006, music/ animation, 3 mins

 

A fatal bungee jump shows the not so pretty side of commercialism. Hard-rock, hard rocks and hard-core.

 

Rune and Erik Eriksson are two animating brothers from Norway. Rune has a BA degree in animation from Edinburgh College of Art (2001), and Erik has gained his animation skills from his brother.