How I found my fellow deathies... a blog by Hayley West
My artwork directly relates to a lived awareness of death and memorial. I work with sculpture, video, performance and installation. I am also a Masters by Research candidate with an Australian Post-Graduate Award scholarship, my topic: ‘Remnants of the dead and demands on the living’. While my practice continues along I have also willingly become a Deathie and staunch death literacy advocate.
Deathie is a term that is becoming increasingly applied to describe someone who is interested in and likes to openly discuss anything death related. I personally identify with this term. While initially concentrating my research on a very personal account of deaths in my family, it soon turned into a need to be involved in a more public discussion. By immersing myself in all things death related I have amassed a considerable amount of knowledge. I have attended symposiums and conferences in and out of the art field, learnt taxidermy, hosted Death Cafés, become involved in the Green Burial movement, and networked with health care and funeral industry professionals.
When I unexpectedly stumbled across a Death Café in the Blue Mountains in 2013, the joy of finding fellow Deathies was colossal. I have now participated in, co-hosted (with Kerrie Noonan) and hosted many Death Cafés. We meet and discuss anything related to death and dying. Main subjects of discussion have focused on palliative care, advanced care directives, wills and benefactors, education in schools, suicide, rites of the elderly, death of family and/or friends and all the emotions and grieving processes that come with these major life events.
The outpouring of grief is seldom publicly displayed in modern Western societies, emotions are restricted to locations like cemeteries and events such as funerals where such emotions are rationally accepted. I too have self-imposed restrictions on the time and place of my own reactions, yet the rules have somewhat broken down. Since having a child succumbing to tears has increased exponentially. I no longer watch the nightly news on television and seldom press play on video footage online. Graphic images of natural disasters causing the deaths of thousands or a rescued old dog can bring on a rush of emotion.
As an artist I find that galleries and art spaces have always been fantastic places for emotional responses including the explosion of grief. Such spaces have been referred to as transitional spaces, a place for the contemplation of loss and life. My practice considers the space in which it is shown, the experience of viewing my work is as important as the work itself. I was recently invited to show my video work 1 million years and a series of sculptures Holding Space at the curated exhibition DEATH at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre in Western Sydney. It was an extremely well received exhibition with 17 artists exploring the topic of death and sponsored by a local funeral company. Watching people react to my work in the dimly lit gallery was so fascinating. I can only hope that they took away something for themselves, a little memory that was resurfaced or a suppressed emotion let loose.
This Dying to Know Day, Gareth Thomas (a youth social worker, artist and new recruit to Death Cafés) and myself are hosting Death Café Blue Mountains in the pop-up shop ‘Music Hunter the Experience’ in Katoomba. I’m also encouraging friends to consider something they could do just for themselves on this very important day, as many of them are still not ready for a Death Café J
- Being with Dying Workshops | Wauchope | July 16/17
- Information stall | Armidale Farmers Market | Aug 2
- Dying to Know: A Nowra Conversation in word and SONG |6th August
- Multiple information stalls | Parramatta | Aug 7
- Byron Bay Writers Festival discussion| Aug 7
- Death Cafe | Redfern
- Penrith Council Information stall | Council Foyer during Aug
- Movie night | Bulli
- Open Day at Joseph Medcalf Funeral Services | Belmore
- Community Forum Q & A | North Kiama
- Dying to Know Day at Rookwood Catholic Cemetery
- Death Cafe | Katoomba
- Advance Care Planning | Aug 12 | Umina Beach
- Stuck for worlds - talk | Mayfield | Aug 21
- Death Cafe / Playback Theatre | Mullumbimby | Aug 29
Hayley is a member of the D2Kday leadership group in NSW.
See more events in NSW here.
Dying To Know Day is August 8th.
Go to www.dyingtoknowday.org for more details.
Read the big list of death literacy builders HERE.