As we looked at her straw bag, filled with balls of wool and an unfinished piece of knitting, and at her blotting pad, her scissors, her thimble, emotion rose up and drowned us. Everyone knows the power of things: life is solidified in them, more immediately present than in any one of its instants.
Simone de Beauvoir, A Very Easy Death
Everyday objects and personal possessions can end up in unexpected places. The broken object psychologically and geographically can trigger feelings of trauma whether collectively or our own. An object that has lost its original integrity, function and original purpose becomes nomadic tracing the journeys we make from one place to another. The continuity of our identity becomes firmly rooted in the objects we have in our lives- even if they are broken. Objects often outlive people confirming the materiality of things is more permanent than the materiality of the body. We draw comfort in the immortality of objects.
We invited artists, writers, academics, undergraduates, museums and member of the community to contribute by writing a short narrative and submitting a photograph of a ‘thing’ that holds a memory, story or attachment in their lives. The responses have ranged from the deeply personal relationship with an object belonging to someone lost to writing triggered by a broken object from a museum collection. Working with Penlee Gallery and Museum in Penzance gave us an opportunity to explore the forgotten object within the context of a museum collection exploring what was hidden in archival boxes, broken and lost. This inspired a collection of short writing in relation to the museum collection.
An object is something through which a subject projects itself in order to procure a sense of substance and a sense of dwelling and enduring externally, beyond the body. Objects of the Dead. Mourning and Memory in Everyday Life. Margaret Gibson.
We recognize ourselves in objects building memories through our relationship with them and from the experience of seeing them endure in peoples lives. Our experiences of loss is reflected back at us by holding the broken fragile fragments of a broken object.
Mending became a part of the exhibition. On the opening night artists Polly Maxwell and Lulu Richards Cottell set up a darning station to mend a collection of holes in blankets. We also showed documentation of a ceramic antique being glued and repaired by a local artist Nickie Carlyon.
The collection titled ‘Tears of things’ reflects the melancholic association and love we have of fragments and remains.
The exhibition Tears of Things will remain in the Engine Room at The Exchange Gallery in Penzance until March 10th 2017
OPENING EVENT FRIDAY 10TH FEBRUARY
7pm – 9pm
ENGINE ROOM: EXCHANGE GALLERY PENZANCE
Join us for an evening of performance, video, objects, narrative and stories generated by Café Morte to celebrate the life of a broken object.
The Tears of Things is a growing collection of broken objects that will be exhibited in the Engine Room, Exchange Gallery 10th February – 10th March. All the objects collected for The Tears of Things, have lost their original integrity in some way. The collection will form the beginning of a growing body of research relating to death and our attachments to broken objects.
EVENT: SATURDAY 11TH 10.00 – 4.00 BROKEN WRITING OPEN INVITATION
Members of the public are invited to participate by bringing a broken object to the gallery to be documented photographically and to write a short piece of text that will be added to the collection. The collection will form an online museum of broken objects reflecting the power that these objects still hold.
Cafe Morte looks at the way in which visual culture represents death and dying, mourning and grieving through art, dreams, desires, imagery and poetry.
THE TEARS OF THINGS
The Tears of Things is a growing collection of broken objects initially exhibited as part of Newlyn Art Gallery and The Exchange Christmas makers market on 10th and 11th December 2016 in Penzance. The title is borrowed from a publication by Peter Schwenger who examines melancholia in relation to the object. The broken collection was installed alongside a market of beautifully made and crafted objects creating a juxtaposition between the old, discarded and broken object and the desire for something new. The stall was set up to generate conversation and dialogue around the emotional value and attachment we have to something that is broken in our lives. All the objects collected for The Tears of Things, have lost their original integrity in some way.
Members of the public were invited to contribute to the stall by bringing in a broken object and piece of text. The collection grew over the course of the weekend to become an antiques road show of broken objects often with no material value.
The collection forms the beginning of a growing body of research relating to mortality and what the broken object signifies. The project will be continued in February 2017, led by Mercedes Kemp, Lucy Willow involving current students as well as alumni from The School of Art. The collection is being extended to reach a wide range of community groups in various settings.
CAFE MORTE is a research group led by Mercedes Kemp and Lucy Willow, undergraduate and postgraduate students from Falmouth University, curators and artists. Its central focus is to create projects enabling audiences to discuss the rich and varied themes of death found in art and literature. We have adopted the model of the recently popular Death Cafes, which have arisen worldwide as a meeting place in which to discuss death over a cup of tea.
The Broken Object/The Tears of Things
Café Morte are beginning a collection of broken objects, of things that can’t be put back together and would like to invite you to respond by sending a photograph and short piece of text (100 words) by December 8th to email@example.com or visit us with your broken object on 10th or 11th December at Exchange Gallery in Penzance.
It is thought that objects absorb the life of their owners, the psychic life of the person they belong to. Our sadness and loss gets transferred into the objects we have in our lives containing the ghostly trace of emptiness. What does it signify when they get broken? We often hold onto the broken object, the fragmented pieces. Perhaps we see our own fragility and mortality symbolically reflected in what is broken?
The Tears of Things collection of broken objects and text will be initially exhibited as part of The Exchange Gallery Christmas makers market on 10th and 11th December 2016. Our intention is for the broken object to initiate conversation and dialogue around the emotional value and attachment we have to something that is broken in our lives. The collection will form the beginning of a growing body of research relating to death and our attachments to broken objects.
EVENT: AFTERNOON TEA with CAFÉ MORTE
Sunday 11th December 2.00 – 4.00
Members of the public are invited to bring in a broken object that they are attached to- an antiques road show of broken objects often with no material value. The objects will form the basis of a discussion led by Café Morte research group.
CAFE MORTE is a research group led by Mercedes Kemp and Lucy Willow, undergraduate and postgraduate students from Falmouth University, curators and artists. Its central focus is to discuss the rich and varied themes of death found in art and literature. We have adopted the model of the recently popular Death Cafes, which have arisen worldwide as a meeting place in which to discuss death over a cup of tea.
As our exhibition Lost for Words drew to a close this Sunday, we said goodbye with an afternoon of poetic and acoustic performances as part of our SQUARES & Café Morte’s collaborative event. In the absence of the exhibition, we are able to bring you a selection of recordings from the afternoon.
Squares Collective- https://www.facebook.com/groups/1427423310855621/?fref=ts
The team at Café Morte would like to say a big thank you to everyone who visited Lost For Words at the Falmouth Project Space last week. We had an incredibly positive response, and look forward to hosting more events in the future.
Though we are working to create a physical copy, you can now view the online catalogue of all exhibiting artists below.
The title of William Basinski’s 2001 composition ‘Disintegration Loops’ might refer to the rolling course of corroded magnetic tape from which the audio was made, but it also reads as a statement. Disintegration loops: the growth and decay of the world is cyclical. This theme held up throughout our discussion as we spoke of ageing and the body, the poetics of human hair and how bodily materials become relics. I let Basinski’s piece play as we spoke.
The week before, as she was saying goodnight to me, my Granny had mused something that I couldn’t help referring back to as it was such a stark comment about the body dismantling itself in age. Granny commented that by the time she’s taken her glasses off and her hearing aid out and her false teeth out, there’s not much of her left. Terrifically bleak and characteristically random, to me her observation had a compelling connection to my recent work involving contact lenses. I have been curating pairs of my old and damaged contact lenses in museum style displays along with captions such as ‘Six Months of Sight’. Echoing Granny’s question, what would I be without those small, now redundant circles of plastic? A curious point was raised about how glassses, contact lenses, hearing aids and false teeth are all ‘identity objects’, personal in their intimacy with the body, in their particularity to a person, and in their conservation of aging and changing identities.
I’ve always had a fascination for and a sensitivity towards decay, whether in small everyday encounters or in an awareness of the Earth’s impermanence. While away at university, and only seeing family infrequently, the changes that occur on a human scale have become more evident to me. When I do go home, everyone is that slight bit older, that slight bit slower than my memory had them preserved. These changes were magnified this year when my mum was diagnosed with lymphoma and began chemotherapy. Mum herself suggested I use her hair, which she had collected as it fell out, for an artwork – it was perhaps some comfort to us both that this loss would not go to waste. The topic of hair seemed to resonate with many in the group, and we discovered that there is a vast amount of ritual and myth concerning the subject. It was suggested to me I look at other artists who use hair, including Annette Messager and Alice Maher. We discussed how women’s hair is particularly charged, and how there are many poignant connotations to it being cut. If I were to make an artwork with my mum’s hair, the material will therefore always transcend the personal story and take on other associations
The conversation moved on to how bodily objects are kept and displayed. We spoke about Victorian mourning jewelry, made from the braided hair of the dead. It was mentioned how religious relics are often kept in extremely intricate protective cases; the more covers and layers of concealment, the more important the object. This resonated strongly with my investigations into how to display objects to ‘elevate’ their value. How might I display my mum’s hair meaningfully and respectfully? I posed the question to the group about how to deal with making very personal work because there is a lot of pressure that accompanies ideas so close to the heart. Is it always the right thing to do? Is it necessary for the audience to know what the work is about? How to manage this proximity seems to be one of the key inquiries to which Cafe Morte discussions return. This time we came to the conclusion that it is very important to wait until the work feels right to make, and that when it does it is a very valuable thing to do.
I recently read that newborn babies cannot see properly until they are at least 12 months of age, and that as adult eyes grow old they gradually return to this state of obscure and imperfect vision. With all the inherited sincerity of my lovely 89 year old Gran, I might observe that this growth towards and then detachment from the world is another example of how life and death and disintegration loop.
Author- Jess Russell (Café Morte)
Despite being a bold title ‘death: the human experience’, in all of the exhibition’s branding, omits the use of capital letters. Perhaps this is a nod towards the universal nature of death and its (nonhierarchical) relevance, which is very much the focus of the exhibition. ‘All eligible, everyone welcome’ a further subheading might read. Alternatively, it is an invitation to review the word ‘death’ without the established connotations that accompany known and capitalised nouns; familiarity is dismantled and interpretation is set free. There is certainly the sense of the open-ended and unresolved to this exhibition, compelling to an extent, but at times leaving me floundering.
The exhibition contemplates five key human experiences of death, each with its own space and display style: symbols of death, stages of death, attitudes to death, human remains and science and ethics. It is a comprehensive survey, objects and images relating to every aspect of the subject are presented alongside engaging interactive features and a selection of thought-provoking quotes. The curators have been careful to warn visitors about the sensitive nature of the exhibits and I am gently informed as I enter that there are human remains in one room that I might choose to avoid if I wish.
Such is the presence of death in society that metaphor and connotation are unavoidable, but maybe this one should have been avoided… Walking into the first, corridor-shaped room of the exhibition is like entering a huge and gaudy coffin. Luxurious pink material drapes from the walls with a pronounced but distracting opulence. In front of this magenta mass, exhibited in glass-domed displays are objects symbolic of death: a taxidermy vulture, a funeral wreath of white lilies, the fragile orange and brown frame of a Death’s-Head Hawk Moth and the exquisite, delicate skeleton of a small Horseshoe Bat. Here, and throughout the other rooms, the exhibits range from recognisable articles, commonplace in British mourning ritual, to the more obscure and unfamiliar objects of other cultures and ages.
One glass cabinet of familiar objects catches my eye and I am met with an array of traditional and popular ‘grave goods’ that are left with the dead in British burials. Cigarettes, jewelry, mint imperials, letters from loved ones, dancing shoes and other favourite items are among the displayed, together with a mobile phone. I am intrigued and slightly unsettled to read the accompanying quote:
‘Requests for mobile phones to be added to the coffin are common, and often come with a comment about “at least they can get in touch if they aren’t dead”. I hear this fear in a lot of my work. The phone is a bit like the Victorians putting a bell in family mausoleums, just in case. I have had families who make sure it is fully charged so it will last as long as possible and regularly text the phone after burial.’ (Su Chard, independent celebrant, 2015)
As someone wary of the most escapable of enclosed spaces, the thought of being buried underground unnerves me to say the least. There is also a poignant sense of futility to this tender, almost hopeful act. In my opinion, highlighting these very personal and very human responses to death are where the exhibition is most successful. It poses the question to the viewer, about what we would wish for our own death and burial. How do others see us, and how might this be summarised in the objects left with us when we die?
One further explanation for the title’s lowercase type is the associations it has with learning. When a child first encounters the alphabet they begin with the simplest form of letters possible and build on their understanding from there. It makes sense to assume from the information describing some of the artifacts, that the intention of the curators was to present a simple and essential insight into death. One caption, positioned alongside a small model of a black hearse, reads:
“A hearse represents death and funerary rituals because it’s seen at the time of a funeral. Even an empty hearse is associated with death”.
It is at points such as this within the exhibition, that it feels necessary to question the purpose of museums and the intentions with which they display their artifacts. Aside from collecting and cataloguing, the most obvious function of the museum is to impart knowledge; while this display is certainly educational, it is with a sense of something lacking. As many of our Cafe Morte members make work involving found and made objects, the notion of conceiving death through tangible artifacts seems very relevant to our collective research. Our upcoming show ‘Lost for Words’ could likewise be titled ‘death: the human experience’ and we are likewise exhibiting objects and images with a broad and encompassing scope on the topic of death. However, where I feel art may have more of an emotional and meaningful impact is the freedom it allows viewers to interpret the matter with their own sensitivities and experiences. Where the museum is informative to the point of being problematic, the art exhibition illuminates with the bounds of the viewer’s imagination as its only limit.
Author- Jess Russell (Café Morte)
We can now officially and very proudly announce the exhibitors for Café Morte’s ‘Lost For Words’ Exhibition. There will be a series of events and discussions running alongside the exhibition from the 6th-10th January which will be announced closer to the time, so make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates from the Café Morte team.