This is my first time visiting the Heathcote Cultural Precinct, who have just reopened following recent renovations. The building is a former mental hospital (there is a small exhibition of its history in a side gallery) which has successfully been transformed into a welcoming, contemplative space: repurposed without still feeling institutional. Patrons lingered thoughtfully over the installations, open to discussion and sharing their own experiences.
Hours before I walked through the doors, into Marijke Loosjes’ new exhibition, mourners had gathered in Hagley Park in Christchurch for Friday prayers to remember those killed in the terror attacks the week before. Underneath the anger, disgust and debate, grief had been simmering all week – images of public mourning and solidarity were shared many times over across the world. Grief, if not a taboo topic, is an experience seemingly often untouchable by word and ritual. However, in every haka, in every makeshift memorial, in every simple action of solidarity this week, there was a deep desire to heal and to remember.
Drowning Stage Three (2018) – print on Linford smooth cotton, 84.1 x 59.4cm
Marijke Loosjes’ None of Us Are Getting Out of Here Alive, explores grief as a central theme. Loosjes is a Perth-based multidisciplinary artist (and Curtin graduate!) whose oeuvre spans performance, photography and sculpture. Performance underpins everything in this exhibition as it explores how the deeply internal experience of grief is mediated, and aided, by action and ritual.
The textile works demonstrate the influence of Victorian Era mourning rituals; practices that were often so socially regulated as to seem detached from the personal reality of grief. A part of me died that day is a black chiffon veil that spills onto the floor, a reference to black mourning attire. The veil’s meaning is symbolic in two ways: it represents a desire to conceal and hide, as well as an ever-present feeling of detachment from lost loved ones, the self, and others. I would argue that it’s literal use as a simple garment, albeit one with multiple meanings, is important to this exhibition; this is a body of work that values the action and simple signifier as much as it does the internal mechanisms of grief.
Action and expression are examined again in What Remains. Mourning cross-stitch samplers were generally a rather arbitrary composition of Christian motifs and Romantic imagery (visual codes which were easily recognisable for their spiritual or sentimental significance), often featuring poetry or proverbs. Performative perhaps – maybe slightly impersonal – but in the act of creation, hopefully cathartic. For this piece, messages to lost loved ones have been embroidered in black thread onto black fabric and it is mounted onto the wall so that the underside is exposed. The writing is rune-like and almost unintelligible – their obscurity makes meaning inaccessible and private. At the same time, there is a commonalty that binds them – a strange new language of shared experience.
What Remains. Photo: Emily Green.
Drowning is based on a performance work of the same name that appeared at the Perth Fringe Festival last year. Marijke will also perform this work during the exhibition on April 13 and 27 (I highly recommend if you’ve never seen performance art before!). Drowning documents the four tasks of grief proposed by the psychologist J. William Worder, and alludes to the internal experience often untouchable by ritual or other means of outwards expression. Each subject performs one of the four stages – acceptance, processing, adjustment and endurance – thus the portraits are deeply personal and engage the audience differently across the series. They are all vulnerable, but also defiant, graceful and strong. There is a common visual language too, which are comprised of a swathe of delicate textiles, roses and bandages, and a neutral colour palette broken by crimson red, representing pain. Though there is an underlying process of healing; the repetition of visual elements presents a process marred by sadness, emptiness and guilt. These emotions become a source of connection to the lost loved one: to endure is not an act of forgetting.
Drowning Stage Four (2018) – print on Linford smooth cotton, 84.1 x 59.4cm
Towards the back of the gallery two smaller rooms have been set aside and transformed into private chapel-like spaces, in which the audience is invited to engage in small acts of reflection and remembrance (the converted hospital’s aesthetic and acoustics really come into their own here). These rooms are to be entered alone but bear the traces of those who had entered before; the installation reflects the tension between solitude and solidarity that forms the basis of the entire exhibition.
Drowning Stage Two (2018) – print on Linford smooth cotton, 84.1 x 59.4cm
Sometime during the week, a friend shared the video of some schoolkids performing the haka in a street in Christchurch. I watched it three times, transfixed by their ferocity contained in voice and movement. The silence and serenity of Loosjes’ work seems at odds with this much more physical expression, but both are acts of catharsis and a means of healing.
None of Us Are Getting Out Alive is exhibiting at Heathcote Cultural Precinct until April 28! Visit this website for more information.