December 1st 2014 marked the first meeting of CAFÉ MORTE – A non hierarchical research group made up of senior lecturers and undergraduate students from Falmouth University. It was established to create a platform through which we could discuss death within the context of our creative practice.
Adopting the model of the recently popular Death Café’s, which have sprung up worldwide as a meeting place in which to discuss death over a cup of tea, raising awareness of issues relating to the often tabooed subject of death- CAFÉ MORTE focuses on the themes of death found in art and literature. It is a way for us to develop our thinking through discussion with others working in art, writing, performance on death related concepts. The blog was created as a place where we could document our meetings, discussions and share our body of research.
I believe that everybody dies twice; the first death when the body dies and the second when the last person remembers you...
Chris Slesser: My relationship with death concerns an obsessive fear of being forgotten after I die. I constantly reference the realm of death in my work as a way of furthering the state of living, in acts of transformation to bring awareness of mortality. I use the abstract idea of death to create a reflection of one’s own limit of control in regards to their own mortal existence, while dually creating events of personal healing and release.
I just want to cause no pain by my death. Every time I go to another funeral I am reminded of all the ones I have been tobefore that, there is a stronger sense of loss each time.
Tabitha Tohill Reid: I have always been fascinated by death and “dead” objects and collected them from a young age. I am interested in what the term itself can mean, it’s connotations and different types of death; death of self, sexual deaths and the more literal death. I am interested in how death allows us to truly see something and focus on it and the illusion of life in dead things created through taxidermic practices and the uncanny sensations that can arise from such things.
There’s an alienation with death in relation to that, 1 is a tragedy, 1 million is a statistic.
Andy Ross: My interest comes from personal experience. I want to make death a comfortable permanent presence that is not in a miserable or morbid dialogue. By permanent presence I mean that death is such a transient thing, it is an event, not a thing, it only happens once in someone’s life and after that, death doesn’t exist to that person, as they aren’t living anymore to die.
I use metal and solid materials to create a permanence that I can control and handle, to confront what the taboo is that I feel is hanging over me. I am interested in making work that is relatable to everyone, be the person a millionaire or a homeless, the subject needs to be familiar to as broad a spectrum of people as possible, Life and Death is one of these subjects.
There are huge cultural differences when it comes to death. I imagine a lot of them are to do with religion.
Jess Russell: I don’t directly address the theme of death in my practice, but there are certainly many areas of the subject that interest me and feed into my work. I have always been drawn to the aesthetic of decay, of aging and degeneration, where nature overrides all. I think my artwork deals with life, more than death, but with a view that everything is cyclical; growth and decay are one and the same.
I am also interested in participating in these conversations because death is such a powerful subject that prompts people to discuss their deeply held emotions, and beliefs about the nature of the world. My pursuit of art is perhaps also a pursuit of this sincerity and open inquisitiveness about life. There are few platforms in society where talking openly about death and philosophy is encouraged besides art.
Take something as transient as dust, for me highlights the absolute extremities of death and the process of dying.
Kerry Foster: I am interested in why we are scared of death and the psychology behind that fear. We are not born with this fear, so where does it stem from? Is it born through a culture itself not wanting to speak of it, the way death is portrayed through TV (murder dramas) or because it is an unknown thing that is out of our control, in a somewhat control driven world.
In Christianity death isn’t the end. We have spiritual bodies that don’t decay. I find it really difficult to understand why people fear death.
Polly Maxwell: In my art I work with death in a metaphorical sense, in the ‘small deaths’ of life. La petite Morte for example referring to semi consciousness after orgasm, is a small death. Loss of innocence, elevation to experience. The things we ‘kill off’ in order to grow/progress. The death of the self. Death itself as an end is not something I explore, as a Christian death is not finite in my beliefs. That’s not to say it doesn’t affect my work because I believe it is hard to make the work I do without every element of my experiences seeping in somehow.
But we die all the time, as we grow a different part of us dies and we have to “kill off” our parent’s views in doing so.
Joanna Hulin: I am interested in death based on my own personal experiences but this is not reflected in my work. My work is inspired by the media and reports on death. I am interested in how people confront their own death. It is a fragile and inevitable thing and there is a lack of acceptance around it but it can be beautiful.
I’m taking these deaths and using my work as a way to “repair” them or the situation, like a coping mechanism.
Mercedes Kemp: My work deals with mourning things that have past: industry, community. It deals with the similarities of mourning the loss of a person and the loss of a way of life. It looks at how these are similar through people and place and how that which is gone is remembered or reconstructed. I feel everything has two deaths; the first the literal death and the second the point when the very last person remembers that thing or being.
Some people believe in life everlasting and to them that is beautiful and others believe in death being the absolute end and to them that transience is beautiful.
Lucy Willow: I have always been fascinated with death and dead materials – Dust for instance and how it relates to death. Later in life I had my own personal experience with death, which furthered my interest as regards to trying to make sense of how life is reconstructed following loss. I believe that visual art allows us to navigate those things, the ideas of transience vs. permanence.
It’s the interesting thing about a creative practice. It allows us to question these things and understand how our personal experiences as well as our subconscious feed into our work.