/Mortality explored in ongoing exhibition and upcoming workshops
“Columbarium: A Consequence of Life” by Barbara Brown and Cynthia O’Brien

Mortality explored in ongoing exhibition and upcoming workshops

Returning is a joint collaborative exhibition at the Agnes Jamieson Gallery which deals with mortality. The exhibition speaks to what many people are thinking of today – death. A global pandemic and mass extinction from climate change will have that effect.

The joint work in this exhibition blends the use of photography, the Witness; and clay, the Fragility. The theme throughout is the use of natural items, like dried leaves, flowers, and seed pods, to create images that imitate a human form or represent a sense of passing, transiency, and mourning. Each are thoughtfully made based on the artists’ experience of working with elderly people with art therapy.

The artists, Barbara Brown and Cynthia O’Brien, compare the work to the artistic theme of memento mori, meaning ‘remember you will die.’ Artwork in this theme historically was created to remind the viewer of their mortality and of the shortness and fragility of human life. By implementing the imagery of plants and nature into these pieces Brown and O’Brien emphasize the idea of growth, living and decay. 

Death is a common topic in art. In the 18th century the Dutch created the Vanitas paintings with elements that were symbolic of life and death. Often done as a still life, these paintings were arranged items where a wilting flower meant death, as did smoke and a skull. A poppy represented mortal sin and a tulip naivety. A lit candle was the human soul and a mirror meant truth. A key could mean a number of things but was considered a symbol of resurrection. A peeled lemon reminded the viewer life is attractive to look at but bitter to experience.

Consider the role an apple has been given in human culture. Is it wisdom or the temptation of original sin? Tomatoes and grapes were also used to represent a number of virtues. Peaches meant truth and salvation.

The Grim Reaper is thought to have been first created in the 14th century Europe during the worst pandemic, the Black Plague. In the Victorian age, tombstones were engraved with elaborate images, giving meaning to those buried below. A broken column or chain meant life cut too short. A weeping willow, an ivy or a laurel wreath meant victory, peace and paradise.

Symbolism allows for personal interpretation. Piecing together the meaning is a way of resolution. Compared to how death is ever present in the media today, symbols are a subtle reminder. Viewing art that peacefully and meaningfully conveys death as a passage that is a part of all of us is appealing. It falls in line with classic antiquity where Greeks looked upon death no different than life. It is a cycle – a regeneration.

Works by Andre Lapine have been included in this exhibition. These pieces speak to symbolism and commemoration. The painting “Farewell’ is an example of how a certain composition of objects and colours can symbolize meaning. Two figures are centrally located along a shoreline, watching a setting sun as birds fly overhead. The figures are of a man and a woman, the man is dark and realistically illustrated, the woman is fainter, almost transparent, in white clothes. She has an ethereal feeling to her. The birds are flying in a ‘v’ formation, possibly heading north, migrating in preparation of winter. One may interpret the symbolism here as the birds representing moving on, the woman someone who had recently died and the man coming to accept the reality. The sunset is brilliant and vibrant, symbolizing a sense of heaven.

At this time in our history seeing our mortality symbolized as fading flora, a human figure within grass, and a mound of earth, is oddly comforting and lends us a reasonable explanation. It may be an answer to look upon and reconsider our past cultural ways of dealing with death and embrace more of this fragile, ethereal life we have.

“Earth Memories” by Barbara Brown and Cynthia O’Brien

Haliburton County’s average age is 65. There is more thought towards mortality here than perhaps other places. This exhibition allows for methodical thought and consideration. One installment in particular, Columbarium: A Consequence of Life, is meant to be a place of solace, to commemorate those who have died by writing a message to them and inserting this into the artwork. 

The gallery will be offering two workshops that speak to the theme of mortality. Fay Wilkinson, Registered Expressive Arts Practitioner, Storyteller and Artist will be guiding sessions on “Personal Loss” on November 6 and “Grief for the Planet” on November 13.

“Personal Loss” will focus on remembering those who have died, inspired by the ‘Columbarium’ in the exhibition. This will be an opportunity to represent your relationship with the death of a loved one, a cherished companion, or a dear friend. Participants will create a container for their grief and gratitude to help represent who that person was, and how they impacted their life. Participants are encouraged to bring copies of photos and items that are symbolic of the relationship you would like to remember. 

“Grief for the Planet” addresses the theme I am made of the planet, and the planet remembers me. Participants will explore the physical and emotional connections we have as humans with the environment. There will be an opportunity to embody the grief you feel for the future of the planet as well as representing a call to action. Participants will need to bring copies of photographs taken or found that represent literally or metaphorically how the planet is in trouble (e.g. deteriorations, decay, disintegration), or photos that show a lack of respect for the environment that is a detriment to the future and natural materials (leaves, sticks, flowers etc.)

Both workshops will involve some writing. For this participants will need to bring a notebook & pen. There is no need for artistic ability or past experience in the arts. This is a workshop where you set the pace and level of comfort. You will have available to you a wide variety of art supplies. 

Each workshop will be offered from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a short break for lunch. The cost per person is $25 + tax. Registration is required, please call the gallery at 705-286-3763. Space is limited and COVID-19 public health measures will be in place.

Agnes Jamieson Gallery is located in the town of Minden at 176 Bobcaygeon Road. Hours are Tuesday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is by donation.

– Submitted by Agnes Jamieson Gallery staff