From the noise and extravagance of our soundsuit-inspired Kick-About No.64, we’re striking a more melancholy mood this week, as we meander our way past the silent crypts, effigies and monuments of the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. With All Hallows Eve but a few short days away, what better time to ruminate on the gossamer veil between the living and the dead…
“Wherever you go in Japan you are never too far away from an encounter with the various spirits, ghosts, symbols, and gods that are guardians of the Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines you can find in nearly every neighbourhood. Luckily for me they are all quite wonderfully visual and emotive, often sporting an unintentionally sinister and stony (pun intended!) smile, weathered by years of exposure to the natural elements. Layering on some murky fog and lighting effects made for some suitably eerie imagery!“
“I’ve never been to the Père Lachaise cemetery but I feel like I know it well from countless gothic horror films and TV shows I’ve watched over the years; it looks like it should have Vincent Price’s evil laughter piped through the mournful paths and mouldering mausoleums. So, my contribution this week is a death-themed image – well it is Halloween this week! I have a big box of old children’s building blocks in the basement I used for a project a few years ago. For my Kick-About contribution this week, I made a bridge construction crossing an imagined River Styx – from the light over to the dark of the Underworld… (cue Mr. Price again).”
“Lately, I have been absorbing a lot of German expressionism in my own work, the monochromatic shapely designs of the set dressings are unparalleled and always leave me wanting more. With that in mind, I wanted to do some black and white angular paintings inspired by German expressionism.”
“When I was in my early teens, a group of us from the church youth club used to go once a week to visit old folk living alone in local sheltered housing. We would go in pairs and would be assigned people to visit. My friend Jan and I used to visit Mrs Munday, the sweetest, apple-cheeked, white-haired little old lady you could ever wish for. She was in her late eighties, and of course, the inevitable happened. One day, we had a message from the warden to say that Mrs Munday had died, was due to be buried the following Friday, and would Jan and I like to attend the funeral? Though neither of us had been to a funeral before, we thought we should go
We turned up at the local cemetery at the appointed hour, dressed in our soberest clothing. It was early January, bitterly cold, and tipping down with rain. The warden was there to meet us and led the way through the main part of the cemetery, up the hill where the graves were less closely packed and much less decorated, to a distant corner up on the brow of the hill. As we walked the warden explained that Mrs Munday had had no family and no savings. It would therefore be a pauper’s funeral, paid for by the council, the burial rites to be carried out by an officer of the Salvation Army. The burial itself would be carried out by the single undertaker and the cemetery groundsman. She had asked Jan and I to attend as she knew of no one else Mrs Munday had any social contact with.
I tell you now, it felt Dickensian. It was wet, it was cold, the wind blew the rain in our faces. The Salvation Army guy did his best, but I couldn’t blame him for rattling through the service at some speed. The undertaker and the groundsman lowered the coffin into the grave, then stretched a tarpaulin over the gaping hole, and with a nod to the other attendees and a hurried goodbye, everyone scurried away to get dry, warm and on with their lives.
Since that day I have attended many more funerals, of people I have known and loved a great deal better than I did Mrs Munday, but none of them has left me feeling quite as desolate as that first funeral did. I have often thought about that day and wondered why it matters so much that people should be mourned. After all, the dead person is not going to lose any sleep over attendance figures. Does it matter if no one remembers us? I think most people would say “Yes!”
So whenever I find myself in a graveyard – not an everyday occurrence, but a frequent side event of visiting churches, historic sites etc. – I always spare a thought for the mounds with no headstones, no monumental masonry. And sometimes, as I walk around the older pathways, where the grass grows a little longer, I come across a piece of broken masonry, a fallen headstone, a shard of sculpture – and I stop to look. Because I might not know which grave they belong to, or the name of the person buried there, but someone, sometime, cared enough to want them remembered. And so I think of all the Mrs. Mundays, throughout the ages, who seemed to have no one to remember them, but lived a life amongst us and left as quietly as they came.”
“A few weeks ago, my Beloved and I spent an afternoon mucking about making a plaster cast of our clasped hands. To be honest, it wasn’t a roaring success – somebody had difficulty with the instruction to “Just Keep STILL”), but it didn’t feel right to just bin the finished object. So it sat on a shelf for a while. And then this Kick-About came along, so I dusted it off, painted it with rather fusty yoghurt and rubbed dirt all over it… “
“I have not forgotten the impression Père Lachaise cemetery made upon me in the early 80s, it being an extraordinary place. Late 90’s, straddling a motorbike and touring Normandy, our adventure included regional cemeteries, which are fascinating too. Upon return, this drawing at 58cm x 78cm was produced, which since has been face to the wall. Thanks to the KA prompt, I’m revisiting this puzzling representation.”
“I suddenly remembered my idea this morning – and the fact I had not actually made it – so I rustled this up whilst still in my dressing gown. Cemeteries gross me out and my experiences have been grotesque and disorientating. I’ve lost two loved ones to the cold empty box of the same French grave. The absurdity of putting bodies into boxes into little stone houses. A conveyor belt of bodies. Trapped in boxes. In stone houses. The voice says: Dans une boîte / Perimé / Tous ensemble / Détaché : In a box / Expired / All together / Detached.”
“I was reading an article about the proliferation of certain butterflies this year, particularly in graveyards. They think this is due to the policy of leaving areas wild and untended, allowing a more sympathetic environment for wildlife… With this in mind, I decided to create a ghostly mutant using a butterfly and the tiny skull of a vole (I think?) taken from an owl pellet. That clear wobbly call of the tawny owl being echoed and answered through the woods is both spine chilling and comforting, depending where you are, i.e. in bed! I like the idea of strange, unnatural creatures haunting the tombs… an uncharted world that ends at the gates.” Cyanotype. Butterfly and skull.
“Our kitchen has an angled glass roof running the length of our side-return. Internally, it’s constructed so there is a narrow ledge at the top of the wall, on which the glass panels rest, producing a series of impossible-to-clean compartments. These same compartments are where too many be-winged things go to die during the summer months, as they first fly into the kitchen and then up towards the glass roof in a fateful bid for freedom. We rescue as many as we can, but not every butterfly and bumble bee is as lucky. So it is we have something of an insect necropolis this short distance above our breakfast table, and while it’s true I pressed their exquisite remains into the chalky embrace of some filler for the occasion of this Kick-About, no living bee or butterfly was harmed in the process.”
“Please indulge my mind bouncing from Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris – home to Jim Morrison – to Riders on the Storm, to a long country road trip, to a series of photos I took while driving past a huge truck – long vehicle as it was labeled. I combined them with a few cemetery, landscape, texture and other photos I had taken and featured the colour red. I ended up placing the 15 truck photos over 5 images and encased each image in a frame composed of chopped up gothic letter forms. I’ll let you come up with a narrative for the images, but I don’t want a ride from that truck driver (do you remember the old movie Duel?).“
“There were so many interesting graves and memorials. I spent a long time looking at them and reading about the people buried there. But I kept coming back to the Holocaust Children’s Memorial designed by sculptor, Casto Solano. Children who were not lucky enough to have graves with gravestones. I did two watercolors and embroidered similar figures to Solano’s metal outlines over them. Before I was finished embroidering, I took one of them and taped it to the window, photographing it with the light shining through the needle holes. None of the photos of the entire painting showed the pinpricks of light very well, but two of the close ups got the effect I was looking for.”
matter merely a vessel
for luminous spirit–
did you find what was lost?
the spiraling center
returned to elemental form–
in life but not of it–
opening into dreamtime,
orbiting the moon,
spinning to the fartheset away–
matter merely a vessel
empty spaces crossing
wings sailing oceans
of luminous spirit
a welcoming heart, a gentle touch,
warm arms to enclose you
in peaceful sleep–
did you find what was lost?
When I was a child, the first few days of November always associated with Vesuvius – not the actual eruption that laid waste to Pompeii, but the rather rubbishy conical firework that often laid waste to my giddy expectations of giant sparks and shooting colour… and so, for your consideration and inspiration over these coming days, Turner’s 1817 painting, Mount Vesuvius in Eruption. Boom!