Marking the celebration of death

Loss,  by Kay van Dyk.
Loss, by Kay van Dyk.

Death, at some point, is unavoidable for everyone, but Day of the Dead at the Refinery Artspace in Halifax St is as much about celebrating life. Anna Pearson reports.

Andy Clover remembers his grandmother's funeral as an event filled with loss and sadness, but it does not have to be that way, he says.

While death is a sad event, there's also room for "joyful remembrance".

For the Love of God - Gimme Head, by Mark Curtis.
For the Love of God - Gimme Head, by Mark Curtis.

Western culture could take a cue from other cultures in its approach to death, he says.

Dia de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a popular Mexican holiday, where people gather, pray for and remember friends and family members who have died.

The celebration takes place on November 1 and 2, in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day.

The Creationist, by Andy McCubbin.
The Creationist, by Andy McCubbin.

Dia de Los Muertos was the inspiration for Day of the Dead, curated by Clover and Anika Walker, at the Refinery Artspace.

"It [Dia de Los Muertos] is not so much about celebrating death itself, but the people involved," Clover says.

The works in the show are by Clover, Lianne Edwards, Catharine Hodson, Andrea Chandler, Jacqueline Aust, Craig Potton, Tomas Richards, Anthony Genet, Andy McCubbin, Candy Clarke, Kay van Dyk, Mark Curtis, Alida Harris, Sally Papps and Salina Sly.

They traverse a range of mediums, including painting, photography, jewellery, glass and light and sound works.

Clover says the exhibition, "aside from a few skulls, has taken a more abstract and possibly more conceptual route".

He put out a call for submissions in March and received proposals from around the country.

He says the brief was "quite loose", but worked around the theme of death, "which by definition encompasses life, loss and absence".

Clover says "the fun bit" about producing a show like Day of the Dead is "you don't know what you're going to get".

There is also the thrill of the work arriving, unpacking it, hanging it and establishing a relationship between the works around the walls.

"I'm really happy with what has turned up," he says.

Clover's own works, two glowing perspex boxes, grace the Refinery Artspace's inner gallery room.

The works face each other, as if in conversation.

One says: "You were born and you will die". The other: "All the rest is wishful thinking".

Clover says they reflect his take on death, as a self-described rationalist and atheist.

"You have your life right now. Make the most of it. Don't waste it. Don't spend it in pain and misery and guilt and expect to have a better one in the future. I think you may be disappointed," he says.

Clover was brought up in a fundamentalist Christian family, but says he doesn't believe in an afterlife.

"This is the conclusion I have come to - and it's actually wonderfully liberating."

Clover's works are joined by Curtis' glittering skulls, a work made from otoliths or fish hearing bones, van Dyk's ode to her brother and a work by Hodson made using bird wings.

Hodson's work, Nature Morte avec Canards et Citron, is inspired by the still-life tradition of trophy game paintings and cornucopian images of the 17th century.

The installation is composed of various exotic and indigenous bird wings, ranging in size from hawk to sparrow, and picture frames.

Loss, by van Dyk, is a cathartic response to the sudden death of her brother.

She described the works hanging on the gallery wall as "hybrid botanical specimens, neither living nor dead".

They incorporate elements that are representative of mourning and loss, yet also offer up hope and positivity.

"The objects are a materials-based exploration into grief, nostalgia and memory and make use of metaphor through the transformation of materials into symbolic objects that express these notions," she says.

Edwards' work, The Hearing Bones, uses bones from 380 hoki fish. Otoliths help fish orient themselves in water and are markers of a fish's age. Each fragile and unique pair was carefully dissected from a fish carcass.

"The nature of the sea means there are many unknowns and uncertainties regarding the abundance and health of the flora and fauna that occupy our waters, especially in response to human-induced pressures. The hearing bones highlight a fragile existence of transience in life and permanence in death, and a recognition that chaos is never far away - the unexpected, unimagined and unanticipated," she says.

Day of the Dead, Refinery Artspace, Halifax St, until November 30.