Speaking to the dead: images of the dead in contemporary art

O'Neill, Mary (2011) Speaking to the dead: images of the dead in contemporary art. Health: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine, 15 (3). pp. 299-312. ISSN 1363-4593

Full content URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1363459310397978

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Item Type:Article
Item Status:Live Archive


In this article I explore works by three artists in which we can see images that relate to bereavement. In the work of the first two, Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook and Andres Serrano, we can see photographic images (still and moving) of human corpses, which have been criticized as morbid and unhealthy. However I argue that it is not in fact images of death or the dead that are problematic but those images which present or evoke evidence of the emotions associated with death, and create a situation where we imagine the circumstances of our own deaths or the death of those we love. Images of the dead are acceptable as long as they do not cause pain to the living, as in a video game fantasy or a fiction, or are seen as other and distant. In the second group of works, by Gustgav Metzger, The Absent Dead: The Surrogate Body, the body is not present either because the death has taken place at a distance, either in time or geographically, or both, and a new site must be created. In this section, I discuss Metzger’s auto-destructive art and argue that these works, through their ephemerality, embody a form of ‘meaning making’ and a possibility of the benefits of grief as described by Parkes.

Keywords:art and mourning, meaning making, Metzger, Rasdjarmrearnsook, Serrano
Subjects:W Creative Arts and Design > W100 Fine Art
L Social studies > L300 Sociology
Divisions:College of Arts > School of Fine & Performing Arts > School of Fine & Performing Arts (Fine Arts)
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ID Code:4479
Deposited On:19 May 2011 09:44

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