Contrary to the usual non-committal and light tone of summer
group shows, If Love Could Have Saved You, You Would Have Lived Forever reaches out to the raw and fundamental emotions
within us in its focus on death and commemoration. Ranging from dismal to
humorous, the works and artifacts display diverse methods of memorializing loved
ones in various cultures.
Some works are highly personal and specific, as in the case of Tammy Rae Carland’s homage to her mother in My Inheritance (2008)—a photographic collage of several of Carland’s mother’s items that she removed from her home following her passing. Patricia Cronin has created a bronze grave marker with nude portraits of herself and her partner Deborah Kass, frozen in an intimate embrace, for future use in their cemetery plot.
The most intriguing works in this exhibition are the straightforward cultural ritual items that have been produced by family members and friends to immortalize their loved one. One such striking example is the 18th century Victorian hair floral wreaths delicately composed of a deceased’s hair. Ghanaian fantasy coffins are shaped in an elaborate structure or item in tune with the deceased’s life or desires, in this case – a replica of a slave castle by the esteemed coffin maker Paa Joe. Most striking perhaps is the colorful wall of Joss paper effigies that aptly reveal the merging of East and West cultures as the result of globalization. Perceived as gifts passed on to the dead once burned at the funeral, the traditional Taoist effigies have recently taken on new forms of Western objects such as electronics, designer bags, and cigarettes.
The various collections of objects displayed in the exhibition (others include Becky Smith’s catalogue of grave markers and Rob Hauschild’s snapshot archive of roadside memorials) demonstrate the business of death in all its glory, yet also the means by which we are able to exert similar control over our passing, as we do in the course of our life.
Images: Rob Hauschild , While Passing I noticed Your Passing, Detial 1 (2008); Patricia Cronin, Memorial to a Marriage (2008); Paa Joe, Fantasy Coffin, Replica of Fort William-Anombau, Britain (2008). All images courtesy Bellwether Gallery.