COMPART MENTAL ISATION
An interrogation on grief & loss
Supported by The Arts Council Covid Fund.
Grief is such a small word with which to encompass a complex set of emotions. The unraveling map of feelings is never the same for any one person. Individual journeys through the landscape of grief vary, influenced by the circumstances of death and the relationship to the person who died. The topography is determined by so many different factors that within a small roomful of people grieving for the same person, all will have wholly different experiences.
Irish funeral traditions form an important part of the grieving process and allow us to reconcile different facets of a person’s psyche. Perspectives are shared and stories are told, revealing previously unknown aspects of a loved one’s personality. Grandchildren hear stories for their first time that are long familiar to the generation above. These shared stories form the narrative of a person’s lifetime. Respect for the dead dictates that the public version of this narrative is sanitised, the rest we hold back for private examination.
Part of the human condition is to have failings, and part of the grieving process is to come to terms with this – celebrate the good and put away the bad. Charismatic / cruel, mischievous / quick-tempered, generous / spoiled. Compartmentalisation is a process of putting the negative feelings toward someone, or some event, in a metaphorical box and storing it away – but always knowing it is there somewhere in the background. In mourning we compartmentalise the person we have lost. Sifting memories and the emotions they evoke into smaller sections or categories to make them more manageable. Complex relationships are separated and simplified. The accepted narrative becomes about the good in a person and the less palatable aspects of their personality are put away.
This body of work in response to the death of a loved one interrogates this complexity, celebrating the person while acknowledging that the reductive nature of grieving rituals.
This installation in the Blackchurch Studio’s Curiosity Cabinet represents the first part of an interrogation on grief and loss by artist Monika Crowley, supported by the Arts Council of Ireland Covid Fund. An artifact with one thread of the narrative of the departed’s life is displayed, in the other boxes are the stories we only mention in private.
The dichotomized artworks embody the love of a tight family unit for the person leaving, who is represented here by the scene from his sickbed window. In the days he lay dying, viewing the murmurations of starlings beyond his bedside window gave respite to the family – watching the cloud of little birds swoop and soar, distracting from the barely discernible rise and fall of the body in the bed. A lifetime ago he used to watch the birds from the downstairs bathroom, but with mal-intent towards the little creatures. The printed artifact is the mirror that hung in that bathroom and reflected. The little boxed birds we don’t talk about.
A small body of work that acknowledges the notion that even the process of cleaning leaves behind it’s own marks.
Solo show at the Molesworth Gallery September 2018.
Printmaker Monika Crowley is not the first artist to draw inspiration from the kitchen cupboard, Andy Warhol’s 1962 Campbells Soup Cans kickstarted an entire genre of art that pays homage to commercialism and branding. For Crowley it has become a visual language in and of itself, exploiting the ability of nostalgic brands to tap into the emotions these references conjure.
A previous body of work appropriated images of domesticity to reflect on the traditional structure of the home and changing expectations of modern motherhood. This current series is also rooted in personal experience, this time executed through the prism of a personal journey of illness and recovery.
Musing on our relationships with food, illness and love and how these have changed over time, yet remain so familiar from childhood, the artist plays with the Irish tradition of expressing love through food: cooking for family, stocking the freezer for births and bereavements and the random foods considered acceptable and palatable for the sickbed.
The work also explores what happens during illness when your own body turns against you and rejects all sustenance. The answers are encoded in the colour palette of each piece: blue is a colour of pain and nausea, pink expresses both emotional trauma and notions of femininity while orange and yellow are healing however the overall tone of the work is optimistic and each piece is titled with a wry humour that encourages the viewer to look deeper.
TREATMENT – orange series
Solo Show at the Molesworth Gallery June 2012.
This series deals with motherhood, rite of passage and advice passed from mother to daughter. They serve as a ‘memoir-cum-warning’ about current nostalgia for retro culture and a time when mothers were not expected to juggle jobs and families.
Many women who work long hours out of financial need, yearn for more time at home and distance has lent enchantment to the traditional structure of the home where the man goes out to work and the women is home-maker. But for every working mother now who fantasises about giving up work there was surely a ‘captive wife’ then, trapped and frustrated by full-time domesticity.
These images deal with hopes and aspirations, as well as fear and loss and the anticipation of change. A Mothers letter, the empty bowl, the old babyfood tin that holds baking soda and the closed box of eggs with one missing. They contain memories from the artist’s own childhood and evoke the constant and creational nature of baking but hint at the unrelenting demands of providing for a family.