This Thursday, I opened a show of artwork, which was very meaningful to me – work made of the remains of an art installation called Ars Moriendi, which is Latin for the Art of Dying. Ars Moriendi was a labor of love, born when six artists and more than one hundred and fifty community members came together to reflect on our mortality. The project was designed to evoke feelings and thoughts revolving around our society’s attitudes towards death and dying. The participating artists were honored by the experiences, memories and emotions that people were willing to share with us.
Ars Moriendi was a living installation that focused on death. I wanted to create a sacred and quiet space for reflection, in the form of a two chamber tent. Participants entered into the first chamber where they met with artists André Elias or Damon Vecci (contingent on the time they passed through). Here, they sat for a consultation, conversation, and series of prayers. After the session André and Damon punched their time cards, symbolizing the end of one’s existence on this plane. Community members were then left alone in the chamber, where they could write any last words for those who came after and pin their time card to the wall.
Participants then moved into a second chamber where they played dead and sat for a post-mortem photograph, modeled after the Victorian tradition of documenting the dead bodies of loved ones. Depending on the evening, the deceased were photographed by myself or Mark Verner. As people exited and entered the installation they were greeted by a video inspired by the strange and beautiful ways the living express grief, created by filmmaker Alex Berry. Participants could also read poetry about death, displayed on the exterior walls of the tent and curated by James McHendry.
I collected the time cards and photos to create an installation I call “In Memoriam”. This work consists of a Flag of The Dead – a large-scale American flag, filled with 241 of the post-mortem photos we took. I draped the time cards from Ars Moriendi on the walls in the style of Tibetan prayer flags, and inserted all of the photos from Ars Moriendi into a Book of the Dead – just another way people could engage with the portraits.
Your heart is now still –
no warmth to your skin.
Do not be afraid,
everyone before you has died.
You cannot stay
anymore than a baby can stay forever in the womb.
Leave behind you all you know –
all you love.
Leave behind pain and suffering.
Take a breath into the depths of your body.
Let it gather your soul.
Allow it to rush from your lips.
This is your death.