This past Friday Summa opened at the Royal Scottish Academy highlighting the work of the twelve artists who were awarded Royal Scottish Academy Residencies for Scotland in the last two years. For me, this represents the first time work from my passing places project (see blog "Art for the End") has been exhibited and is also my first exhibition as a visual artist, versus an artist working with glass. I am showing five films: Drift, Nyx, Last Light, Am I Dead Yet?, and Fin.
Art for the end poses the question:
What kind of sensory environment might be compelling as a place to die?
We are all going to transform in the same way at the end of life. We are deeply invested emotionally and often financially in the memorialization of our dead. We toil to make the place and circumstance of memorialization beautiful, dignified and meaningful for both ourselves, and the memory of our loved ones. Less effort is spent on the environment in which we die.
My work in this exhibition explores passing places: sound, film, performance, and installation works based on the physical, social, and metaphysical events of death. As the work develops, it will include performance, film, installation, and mobile environments that can be set up in hospices, hospitals, and homes. Drift and Nyx are environments for dying. There will be a solo show of another of these environments at the Veste Coburg, in Coburg, Germany in 2018.
A key resource throughout this project is Gone From My Sight, The Dying Experience, by Barbara Karnes, R.N., a widely used booklet within hospice in the United States that explains the signs of approaching death. One of these signs is a sudden surge of energy that often expresses itself as a desire for social interchange after days of disassociation from the outside world. The films Last Light, and Am I Dead Yet? address this intensity in behaviour emanating from the dying person.
The last sign, the one that happens moments before death, is breathing like a fish out of water. The fish in Fin was temporarily taken from a bucket on a boat of a friend who was catching bait for his lobster pots. The music is derived from the German hymn Herzlich Tut Mich Verlangen. I selected it nearly randomly as it seemed perfect for the film; only later did I discover that the first line translates as “I do desire dearly a blessed end”.
Hearing is believed by many to be the last sense to go before death, and sound is very important to these works.
The residencies took place at North Lands Creative Glass, where I made the glass that is swinging inside a boat in the centre screen of Drift, and also worked with text, water, ice, and atmosphere, using words spoken by people on their death beds. Thanks to everyone at North Lands for such a productive time, with special thanks to Michael Bullen, otherwise known as the A Team rolled into one person. More thanks to the wonderful Patricia Niemann, the performer in Last Light, who was a great help through out the residency. And deep thanks to Douglas Sutherland, who took Patty and I out on the boat where I filmed Fin. That was the most formative boat ride of my life.
The centre screen of Drift was filmed during the second residency at Hospitalfield Arts, where I spent most of the time at Arbroath Harbour. Huge thanks go to Harbourmaster Bruce Fleming, who procured the only possible boat to install the sound installation on, and to Angus Council, who provided not only Bruce Fleming, but the venue for filming Am I Dead Yet? Great thanks also to Laura Simpson at Hospitalfield for helping to procure that same venue, and thanks to Duncan and his amazing doves at Doves Above. It is a pleasure always to work with the lovely and hilarious Rob Page, who shot the footage of Am I Dead Yet?, and the left and centre screens of Drift.
The last residency was at Stills in Edinburgh where I learned so much about video and sound editing. Thank you so much to Evan Thomas and Cheryl Connell.
I'd like to thank the RSA for the wonderful opportunity of having a long multi-venue residency, where there is time to think and develop the work that went before, with each residency building upon the prior one. And deepest gratitude to Creative Scotland for their support.
I'll be giving a talk at the Royal Scottish Academy abut the work on Saturday June 3rd, 2017 at 2pm. I hope you can come along.