Speaking to the dead

O'Neill, Mary (2006) Speaking to the dead. In: Constructions of Death, Mourning, and Memory, October 27-29, 2006, Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey.

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Paper)
Item Status:Live Archive


How can we speak of grief and mourning? There are things; events, horrors, places of sorrow and love, for which we have no words. Grief can leave us mute, it can paralyse – there is nothing more to be said, nothing more to be done. However, grief can be very eloquent. Rather than presenting us with a privileged view, which excludes those who have not shared the experience, works of grief can provide a vehicle for understanding. In this paper, I will discuss ephemeral art works which embody the experience of mourning, I will consider how these artworks evoke the presence of the dead as well as highlight the necessity of speaking to the dead. Focusing on four works - Untitled (Portrait of Dad)(1991) by Felix Gonzalez Torres and Strange Fruit (for David)(1992–1997) by Zoe Leonard, Collecting Displaced Bones (2005) byDadang Christanto and Reading to Corpses (2005) by Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook I will explore how the circumstances leading to the production of these works has influenced the engagement with transience that they represent. In ephemeral artworks, there is a form of sacrifice; the artworld is deprived of the durability that enables art to fulfil its role in creating the myth of immortality. However there is the greater gain of an understanding of the role of permanence in art as contributing to our death denying cultural worldview and why transience challenges that function. There is also the possibility that when a culture no longer provides adequate forms of mourning, these works can act as a means of engaging with bereavement, disenfranchised grief and ambiguous loss.

Keywords:Contemporary Art, mourning, ephemeral art, transience, Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, Zoe Leonard, Dadang Christanto, Felix Gonzalez Torres
Subjects:W Creative Arts and Design > W100 Fine Art
Divisions:College of Arts > School of Fine & Performing Arts > School of Fine & Performing Arts (Fine Arts)
ID Code:4066
Deposited On:22 Feb 2011 21:39

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