Death - Exhibition at Corbans Estate Arts Centre, Auckland 

Saturday 26th of September,

Auckland

Are you familiar with the frightening sensation of melting, the feeling of dissolving into a flowing river, in which the self is annulled by organic liquidization?[1]

 

Naturally not! The very fact that you are reading a passage from the Romanian philosopher’s life-long obsession with the theme “death” means you are still breathing and contemplating this wonderfully strange existence. Although the concept of death is socially constructed, based on language, culture and religious traditions, it changes nothing to the fact that we eventually, in "beautiful" or painful ways, return to the ashes of the earth.

 

So why would we need to move to a level of acceptance and dialogue about death? Why avoid the reality of the naturalness of death? From a young age, we tend to see ourselves as invincible superheroes, as indestructible charisma bombs that, one day, will change the world. At one particular stage in life though, we start becoming self-conscious about our own existence: we could die at any moment. From that moment onwards, we realise how death hurtles across this world, how it wrecks a family, how it alters our ambitions, how it undermines a civilization, how it gnaws on the individual and how it fascinates the making of culture.

 

With the emergence of digital technologies, death achieves new levels of exposure, both accidentally and intentionally. Today, as a peculiarity of our networked culture, both death and the act of dying have become closely intertwined with our everyday life. The revelation of death has become so strong that its shapeless, invisible presence tends to destroy all naivety and enthusiasm. The poetry of life, its seductions and rewards, suddenly appears like a bucket filled with tears and regrets.

 

Despite this knowledge, the worst thing about death seems to be the unbearable uncertainty and not the act in itself. Fear leads the monologue of human beings’ mortality. The question of fearing death, in its contemporary forms (terrorism, pandemics, cancer, food safety, overpopulation, migration, etc.), has become a political one. Not a day goes by without being confronted with the symptoms of the disease of our time. Luckily, one of the remedies against fear can be found in art. As art takes its inspiration from deciphering the ambiguities of our intermediate position (being and not being, darkness and light,...), finding solace in art is a way to experience nothing, to be freed from this blindness and to become aware of something. So besides personifying fear, art tends to make the unbearable bearable. Art enables us to show that death is about beginning as much as it is about ending. 

 

So whilst both exhibiting artists and ourselves as gallery hate to reveal it to you, spectator: the act of dying is unfortunately not something external to life.  Living and dying are inherently connected; there is no yin without the yang. 

 

The exhibition “Death” juggles between materiality and immateriality, presence (paintings & sculpture) and absence (digital art) to question actual and virtual experiences of “being dead”.  This exhibition strives to determine the meaning of materiality in contemporary art, within the notion of temporal proximity. It also aims to shed light on the importance of physical versus immaterial experiences of artworks, whether these manifest themselves as an object (e.g. painting or sculpture) or as an experience (e.g. installation and digital art).

 

Inga Fillary’s architectonically layered images and corresponding installation mimicking the materials used in her oeuvre effectively extend and question the notion of painting. The aesthetic experience itself, not the artwork, is the allegory. Using random materials (human air, clay, soil, rust, dirt …), as building blocks in her mark-making, results in an exhilarating tension. All these components of breathing form are transformed into formless paintings accentuating the battle between sanitary order and despicable anarchy. This stylistic symbolism (very much related to the rough German neo-expressionistic paintings/objects of Anselm Kiefer and conceptual materialism of Eva Hesse) and limited color pallet based on earth hues act as temporal signifiers of utter destruction. Fillary is an alchemist showcasing materials in their natural form and the fragile honesty of her work contrasts with the stark subject matter in her paintings. The textural and visually tactile work alludes to the heavy burden of sorrow and corroding dialectic between the spiritual formless and anarchic material. In the end, it offers us an allegorical reading related to biology and breaking down social taboos around destruction and death. 

 

Delicia Sampero’s extra-material and conceptual artworks, consisting of transformed flashy traffic signs and reflective paintings, are so thought provoking that upon gazing nothing seems what it seems to be anymore. By appropriating, transforming and recontextualising symbols of power and authority, her works could be explained through existentialism and post-structuralist frameworks, implicitly playing modernism and postmodernism against each other. In both cases, Sampero seems to start a war with the viewer’s mind as her works evoke a sense of physical, philosophical and emotional. In life, signs matter, all the time. They have a universal power: they structure the world and give information. But they also awaken something anarchistic, usually deeply hidden, within us. That is exactly what post-structuralism affirms.  To build meaning around Sampero's work, one must assume that the definitions of those signs are both valid and fixed. So to attack categorization and existence of universal truths, we first need to learn what these “mean”.

 

A preoccupation of the relation between the digital and death materializes elsewhere.We feel as if in the digital world, which mimics a kind of absence, nothing really matters and that nothing lasts. We are sucked up in a liminal space devoid of physicality and feeling. However this world has gradually made it possible to actualize our obsession with not dying at all. Cemeteries are being immortalized through QR-codes, somebody that died becomes somebody that once lived. With a single scan you can live forever, fixed in an abstract continuum freely floating around.The QR-code of Celine Frampton, student at Whitecliffe, attached to our gallery’s door reshapes our ideas of what it means to mark the lives of the dead and especially the life of our gallery space. Her QR-code provides a gateway to her virtually-organized collection of soaring inorganic matter while revealing the ideologies and representations of multiplied molecular cells coming into being or disappearing into the void.

 

[1] Cioran, E.M. (1992),  On the Heights of Despair translated by Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston, The University of Chicago Press, p. 33

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