Death And Transition

Hecate's Wrath - threads of healing II (793x800)


For the past few months my thoughts have focused on destruction, death and renewal as I have been looking at William Blake’s work in connection to the theme Death and Transition and also for the special event I am organising in The Crypt at St John’s Church, Waterloo on Saturday 25 April 2015, co-hosted by Southbank Mosaics ‘William Blake’s Lambeth’ – Blake resided in Hercules Road in the 1790s which is located close to the church.

The mosaic project pays homage to his genius and some of his greatest work. Southbank Mosaics artists worked with 300 volunteers over a period of seven years to research, design, plan, make and install 70 mosaics based on the words and paintings of William Blake into the railway tunnels of Waterloo Station, turning them from dark unwelcoming places into street galleries bright with opulent and durable works of art. This coincides with the group show I am co-curating and exhibiting with Ilinca Cantacuzino and Yolanta Gawlik at Gabriel Fine Art Gallery in Waterloo. Over 30 South London Women Artists come together to challenge the notion of death and transition by harnessing the force of life, rather than death, through the art process, and question through our work the finality of death.

I recently read In The Body of the World: A Memoir of Cancer and Connection by the activist, playwright and feminist, Eve Ensler. As Ensler was confronted with the possibility of death we experience connections to both her personal denial and our collective denial of global warming, the destruction of species and the use of rape as a weapon of war. Ensler is the founder of the centre ‘City of Joy’ a refuge for the survivors of mass rape in the Eastern Congo.

I think of William Blake as I paint and his insistence on the universality of creativity and as a starting point I have referenced his Hecate of Enitharmon’s Joy. I use myths in a personal and political way as I perceive and process complex ideas and emotions. I have made a series of drawings about my feelings of anger and sorrow, specifically for the Congolese women and children who have been raped and/or murdered – the tragic victims of war. Eastern Congo is known as the rape capital of the world and the worst place on earth to be a woman – confirmed facts by the United Nations.

The Greek Goddess Hecate – the Goddess of magic, sorcery and necromancy has always intrigued me. Typically known as the moon goddess who protected the earth, sea and sky – she is often depicted holding torches and had the ability to see in several directions at once – she is accompanied by an owl and dogs. In these works I draw on her power and imagine her use of sorcery to magically protect and nurture the female body; denying penetration and assault. Through this transformation a transitional and liminal state is perceived which leads ultimately to healing and renewal.

Making Connections With Miyako Ishiuchi

Memory is the Colour of Ash (2014) © Melissa Budasz

“I cannot stop taking photographs of scars because they are so much like a photograph. They are visible events, recorded in the past. Both the scars and the photographs are the manifestation of sorrow for the many things which cannot be retrieved and for love of life as a remembered present.”

Ishiuchi’s provocative and unsentimental bodies of work explore the ideas around identity, memory and death, finding the beauty in traces of wounds. In her photography the subject matter is straightforward – images of scars, skin defects on naked bodies, garments and objects that belonged to her mother and revisiting the town she grew up in Japan. She says her works are not archival documents but a created reality of lost moments and articles from the past. I think that a story or memory is more powerful than that of loss, but the abilty to frame loss in more ways than sorrow and anger is poetical.

Thoughts of lost moments and fragments from the past and present are at the forefront of my mind as I am currently making a series of drawings, photographs and assemblages of dead matter – human hair, milkweed, physalis, orchids and pussy willow. It is the links made between each object and their resonant energy that intrigues me – the silky, fragile, golden strands of hair that form strong, hardy plaits to the fibrous cluster seeds of the dried milkweed on delicate branches, the fragile and vibrant lanterns of the physalis plant, the phallus in the orchid and the furry soft textured buds of the pussy willow branches.

I am fascinated and intrigued by the myths that surround each object as they each become a symbol for something else – the orchid is a testament to the male reproductive organ of the savaged Orchis who was killed by beasts in his attempt to harm and rape a woman. The myth of Circe, who had willow trees dedicated to the goddess Hecate surround a cemetry where male corpses were left exposed in the tops of the trees for the elements to claim and birds to eat and the mythical story behind the milkweed plant (Asclepias) derives from the Greek God of healing, Asclepius, who was such a skilled healer that legend said he could raise the dead.

It is in the narratives that develop by placing them together, that new stories and re-defined myths can be made. They are also fragments of objects that have an intriguing beauty to me. I find this process to be conceptual, physical and psychological. In Ishiuchi’s work scars and pieces of clothing and worn shoes are mementos of life experiences, intimate ornaments of sadness and sorrow that are normally only revealed in the most private of circumstances. We know nothing of the pain or narrative that lies behind each image. I enjoy this ambiguity and openess I link with her work. By objectifying her subject matter by not revealing the whole and magnifying the part, it is this attention to detail that allows connections to be made.