Curate 757


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.

AIRED: December 06, 2017 | 0:08:07

(mellow music)

- 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.

(upbeat music)

- 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.

(upbeat music)

- 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."

(upbeat music)

- 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)

(lips smack)

("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.

(mellow music)

- 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.

(mellow music)

- 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.

(upbeat music)

- 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)


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