Art of Dying: John Wadsworth
This week we explore art that embraces mortality. Our featured 757 artist is Norfolk photographer John Wadsworth, and his exhibition The Art of Dying.
- One of my favorite quotes was
by this 15th century German monk and he said,
"He who dies before he dies, does not die when he dies."
This show is very positive and it's all about seeing
the death experience from a, you might say,
from a life centric perspective.
You're seeing how much creative
power death awareness has.
How much growth fertility comes out of loss.
- About a year ago Brother Rutter asked me
to curate a show for the gallery here.
And at that time I'd just come out
with Art of Dying magazine and I asked him
if I could do a show on the Art of Dying
and that wasn't, I think, quite what he expected.
- My wife and I always partner on this
and do everything together so we had
these conversations with John,
we just said right across the table,
"We really want you to do a show."
But truth be told, we went home that night
and we're like, uh-oh.
What's an art show about dying going to be?
Is it going to be creepy?
Is it gonna be morgue-ish?
And it's not at all, because it's not about dying at all.
It's all about living.
And it's all about the importance of living
that we realize, through thinking about,
living is gonna end at some point.
- Going over all this stuff and reading John's magazine
and having all these conversations
about what he's going to do with the show,
it just made complete sense to me.
If you think about what we do
as biological farmers, you depend on the life
and death of things constantly.
That's just how it works.
- To have an opportunity to show your piece
in an environment that's death centric
and not an oddity or not type of a whimsical type
of adjunct to another exhibit.
This is a death centric exhibit.
And you don't see many of them.
- You'll see in the show, the Art of Dying show,
that several artists created their work
from a inspiration of grief and mourning.
There's a woman, Mellissae Lucia, who's husband died
and she went into the subterranean caves
in New Mexico, stripped naked, and painted herself
with different identities that came
from her collective unconscious.
And she photographed herself in these states
of expression of grief.
And she came out, she said, "Reborn."
- The piece here in this exhibition is called 21 Grams,
referencing some work that a scientist was doing
where they're trying to figure out the weight of a soul.
So they were actually weighing a body
before and after death.
And the assumption is that when somebody passes away
21 grams is lost from the body,
which is presumed to be the weight of the soul.
This project is an hourglass which is a form
I've been toying with for years,
thinking about time and the passing of time.
And it has 21 grams of Amy Brandt's ashes in it.
Amy Brandt worked at the Chrysler Museum
as a colleague of mine from 2010 to 2013
and she was a contemporary curator.
And she passed away and her family gave me
some of her ashes to do some work with.
I think of this as a collaboration with Amy
and she had just had her daughter
and she passed away very soon afterwards.
In fact, her daughter was about Beau's age.
Full circle. (voice cracks)
("Northern Lights" by Death Valley Rally)
- It's a pretty personal piece for me.
It's something I was really happy to make for this show.
But it also relates to a recent loss of my father.
It's called Solace.
The basis of the piece is what brings
the living solace; these ideas of
what might happen after we die.
I would be working on the piece
and go outside and take a break
and reflect and there's the beautiful clouds
and he was there with me so it definitely played
a role in my grieving process.
- This is what John and I coined
a Dream Documentary.
It's kind of a theorial documentary
with no words, just music,
that kind of follows the entire two day celebration
of the Day of the Dead in Mexico.
- The ofrenda is a traditional altar
that during Day of the Dead,
folks that practice create these altars
to attract the spirits
of their loved ones.
And so they'll place photos of them,
they'll place things that they loved in their life.
And the idea is that by reflecting
on the mortality of the ones that you've lost,
you're also reflecting on your own mortality.
- I come from southern Europe and southern Germany,
it's a very Catholic environment.
Beautiful churches, beautiful ceremonies,
but it's always very solemn.
And what I found on my first trip to Mexico,
which happened to be during the Day of the Dead,
was that it was a completely different approach
to the death and to the dying and the awareness
of such, and there's much more of an open embracing
of life and death.
- That's the other thing.
I think in our culture a lot, things like this,
the idea of mourning, the idea of the dead,
they're very dark.
It's a sad thing and it's not that way
at all in Mexican culture.
It's a celebration of those lives.
- I love to look at some of the ancient myths
and some of the stories that have been passed down
through thousands of years and see how
they would apply to today.
How they would be...
If you look at the River Styx and Charon or Kharon
ferrying people across the River Styx,
what would that look like today?
And so I chose a cruise ship with people
that have this subliminal draw to jump off
the ship and swim towards this light.
("Walk Away" by Death Valley Rally)
- This is when we were younger,
six, eight, 10 years old.
- [Woman] Okay.
- The green leaves, right?
So that spring of our lives, right?
And then the fall of our lives, right?
And now, we're starting to enter
the winter of our lives.
And so it was kind of interesting to see
that highlight of, it's a natural process, it's okay.
And that body of work from John that's in the show
puts a fine point on it.
When you treat death in a beautiful way
through art, it would get you thinking about it,
it widens your aperture on how you can think about death.
("Walk Away" by Death Valley Rally)