A Book About Death
26th November 2009
"I find it interesting and humbling. I work alone on my projects and this one experience has given me a new confidence".
"When the box arrived, I decided to open it that day, but did not. Then as time went on I found that I could not. These postcards involved many people’s feelings, pain and experience. Can I cope with that depth of emotion? A shared experience makes more sense to me than one person’s indulgence."
"I responded to the call for work, because I had been working on this theme for some time, but had not used much of it. What I had used was successful for me, in the way of sales and exposure etc. ( MOMA Cymru bought 'The Noose of Light’ for their collection). So, it felt good to be working with like minded people, having worked on my own for many years. I liked the concept of the project - that the work was accessible to all, no cost, given away and shared out. Thinking the Emily Harvey Exhibition was the only exhibition, I never imagined that it would continue, moving and growing. It is a testimony to all those involved.
MOMA New York and LA County Museum of Art Research Library, have acquired a set for their Art Collection, and The Mube in São Paulo will also hold a set, maybe it's a good move to get the work to Wales.
To date it is exhibited @ MOMA New York, River Mill Art Gallery, Westfield. New Jersey, Eclipse Gallery, Winsconsin, Otis School of Art & Design, Mobius in Boston. The Queens Museum of Art (NY) The Mube in São Paulo Brazil'' España La Sexta House of Music, Tijuana, Mexico, Baton Rouge Loiusiana .... and now there's a box here on the chair!"
The sprawling, collaborative unbound "book" on the subject of death at the Emily Harvey Foundation Gallery in New York opened on Thursday, September 10, 2009, one day shy of 9/11, bringing together hundreds of artists in a global exhibition that honors the late artist Ray Johnson (1927-1995), whose own work inspired this exhibition; Emily Harvey (1941-2004); and the artists themselves, who have presented their unique visions of the subject through combinations of art, photography, and text.
Conceived and organized by Matthew Rose, a Paris-based American artist, A Book About Death is comprised of artists' postcards from original art created specifically for the exhibit. These pieces collectively form the pages of the "book." While many of the artists involved in the exhibition are internationally known – Yoko Ono, Eric Andersen, Peter Schuyff, Rodney Alan Greenblat – all of the artists share the stage equally. Each artist has contributed 500 postcards to the exhibit, and visitors to the Emily Harvey Foundation Gallery were encouraged to take "pages" away with them to create their own book about death. The exhibit is thus designed to "disappear" on its own schedule as people attend the exhibitions.
"Between March 1963 and early 1965, Ray Johnson sent out an unbound 'book' in the mail one page at a time," explained Mark Bloch, one of the 13 speakers and performers at the opening night. "It was a largely unnoticed milestone in the history of books. To make things even more interesting, like much of Johnson's art, it took as its subject ‘death’. Now almost 15 years after the mysterious death of Johnson himself, a huge cross-section of international artists have been asked to revisit Johnson's original strategy by submitting one page each to a new 'Book About Death.'"
"The distribution of art and ideas was very much Ray Johnson's thing," said photographer Mark Sink, who contributed a photograph of his mother, a three-time cancer survivor, to the exhibition. "It's very exciting to see him and the concept honored in this exhibition." Mark Sink noted that when he first confronted with the project, he drew a blank on death. Then, with some time, the ideas came rushing in. "Life is all about death -- Freud's dissertation of the human drive – sex or death and 'the death of analog...the death of our culture…the slaughter of self-aware sea mammals, and of course, our dying earth. Now I can't stop thinking about it!"
"A Book About Death has become a book about life," added Joan Harrison, an artist and writer. "I have the strangest sense I can hear Ray (Johnson) chuckling over my shoulder every time I work on anything involved with this project!"
Back in the 1980's and early 90's the Beca group, most notably the brothers Paul and Peter Davies together with Ifor Davies (no relation) were involved in creating artwork through the ephemeral, expanded field of correspondence art. It is very interesting that this global event 'A Book About Death' now has an opportunity to be seen and experienced here in Wales thanks to Llanelltyd based artist Sonja Benskin Mesher's involvement.
So what is the story behind the painting that became your contribution to the 'Book About Death' project?
"OK. Phillip died, and I felt rubbish, and small, and scared, and his chair was there empty. And I was scared of that emptiness, so I drew it, and drew it and drew it, and painted pictures of it.
“Don’t be scared of the empty chair.
Sit on it.
Don’t be scared of the empty chair.
Stand on it.
Don’t be scared of the empty chair.
How did you get involved in the project?
"For the life of me I can’t remember where I first saw the call for artists. It drew my attention by the title. ‘A Book About Death’ I had a little sketch book I made about one of my experiences of death. I also had many drawings and paintings, my own ‘unbound ‘book about death.
While I had been drawing the chair, I felt I was wasting time, indulging in my feelings. The 'Book' project gave the work validity, so I had my cards (500) sent over to be a part of the exhibition. I felt strong enough to share the work".
How did your relationship with the project grow and why have you ended up with a package?
"Well, I sent the cards, and had no expectations. Matthew Rose the organizer is supportive of the artists involved, and this has led to a great feeling of camaraderie. A video link enabled the artists to watch the reception and performance, and ‘chat’ online, in many languages at the opening event.
After the Emily Harvey Foundation Gallery experience, again, I had no expectations. Then quickly the satellite exhibitions started and the news came of the Galleries in New York having been to the exhibition to acquire sets for their collections.
Mara Thompson in Los Angeles collected sets from the New York show and exhibited them @ the Otis College of Art & Design, and then offered spare sets to fellow artists.
I kind of feel proud of Matthew Rose for starting this in memory of Ray Johnson & Emily Harvey, and of all the artists that have bared shared their emotions and feelings".
How do you feel about the package and the prospect of opening it?
"The parcel is here, and is haunting me, a bit like the chair!
A project has as a sharing concept and should continue. It may be easier for me to open it privately, but I think the time has come to let the work speak out, here in Wales.
Let us reflect what is happening in other countries.
I should like the opening of the box to be an event, but it has yet to be planned………………………..lets see what comes."
What are your plans for it once it’s open?
"I would very much like it to be shown @ MOMA Wales, and Ruth Lambert at the gallery is very supportive.
Maybe artists and the community will like to add their work to the ‘Unbound Book about Death’. I shall like other people’s ideas and input.
Then who knows……………………"
Phillip with Annie the dog and Number 4 the tabby cat.
The package on the chair
A message about this News Item from Mara Thompson.
"Opening the box(es) for me was exciting because of the mass of creative expression that I would be able to see/touch. Also, because there were seven of them it was a job I could not skirt, it was necessary to dive in and get it organized and done. I had the strangest dreams after installing the Otis show... so many impressions gathered during the sorting and handling of the cards... it took me a few days to figure out why. Your reticence to open the box is a mark sensitivity and courtesy. xx mt "
Mara Thompson in Los Angeles took part in the project and collected sets from the New York show and exhibited them @ the Otis College of Art & Design, and then offered spare sets to fellow artists.
The chair today claimed by Sonjas grandson Wilfred who has taken posession.
Also See -
Sonja Benskin Mesher Profile