The Art of Bereavement – Conference UCA Farnham

After visiting the exhibition the day before I was really looking forward to exploring ideas and thinking within the area of dying and bereavement.

Brian Dillon opened the conference as the first speaker. I had bought his book In the Dark Room (Penguin, 2005) prior to the conference knowing he would be speaking at it, and had almost finished reading it. A fascinating memoir about the loss of both of his parents during his teenage years that incorporates literary, philosophical and visual art references. He spent some time talking about the need for repetition, sorting and touch as aids to healing, primarily with photographs and questioned whether the use of digital imagery will deny us this valuable experience.

Charles Lambert explored the art of obituary writing and how this has changed over the generations.

Dr Myna Trustram used the act of picking a different flower every day for a year and writing about it in a diary, as a way of exploring the grief of loosing her daughter. She referenced a poem by Don Patterson that has a line ‘trampled the meadow of your loss’ I have tried to find the poem but with no luck so far. She talked of the act of picking the flowers as a way of grounding her thoughts (Freud talked about the act of a repetition impulse as a way of grounding our thoughts) and giving herself another focus as ell as a way of giving her grief a form. I found this idea particularly interesting, I think visual and creative people do have a need to produce something to aid healing.

David Slater couldn’t be at the conference but had recorded a video presentation about the multitude of photograph albums that were washed away in the Japanese Tsunami. The importance of photographic imagery within Japanese mourning process as well as the requirement for these photographs in the search for loved ones and those that had died in the disaster.This resulted in an exhibition of the photographs that were so damaged as to be unrecognisable to highlight the loss of the disaster. You can read more about the lost and found project here.

Paul Grace is researching Traumatic potential and counter representation for his PhD at Teeside University. He explained how our perception of trauma is often diluted by overexposure to visual imagery, as soon as an image becomes iconic it stops our interrogation of the subject, it becomes and empty symbol. Iza Genzken used iconic imagery of the twin towers on 911 and re empowered them within her work.

Kathryn Beattie explored our disassociation with death and the corpse and the fact that we do not see or talk about it these days. Using the work of Sally Mann she explored this subject in a very direct way which I think was quite shocking for most of the delegates. Sally Mann is a photographer who created a series of work taken at the body farm in America where scientists analyse the decomposition of human remains.

Dr Paivi Miettunen gave a talk about the sculptural funerary monuments by Leonardo Bistolfi.

Scott Ramsay Kyle discussed his personal work surrounding the breakdown in his relationship with his mother. For me his talk was rather unclear.

His 75 second film Linen message was included in the talk

Lise Bjorne Linnert performed a piece of work which involved a spoken piece of work with video, about the undulating process of grief.

The day was a really valuable insight and exploration of thoughts and ideas surrounding death and dying. It was also a fantastic opportunity to talk to a number of delegates about their work and their particular interest for being there.

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