Many cultures hire mourners to participate in funerals. They are a chorus, they are decoration, they are guides to the underworld and guides to the range of feelings that come with grieving. In Matthew Dickman’s poem Grief, grief comes as a purple gorilla. He writes: “We sit for an hour / while she tells me how unreasonable I’ve been, / crying in the checkout line, / refusing to eat, refusing to shower, / all the smoking and all the drinking. / Eventually she puts one of her heavy / purple arms around me, leans / her head against mine, / and all of a sudden things are feeling romantic. / So I tell her, / things are feeling romantic. / She pulls another name, this time / from the dead, / […]”.
In Gustav Klimt’s Beethoven frieze grief also comes as a gorilla, with scales and fins and reflective eyes, but this exhibition is not about grief, it is about reflective eyes, and the shimmering gems and decoration that are the witnesses to mourning, the incense, the frankincense, the gilded and shining.
In this exhibition, Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt types drawings of time. Anna Betbeze changes carpets to portholes, Freek Wambacq visualises things where sound is supposed to be, magnetic tape is rustling grass, potato starch is footsteps in the snow. Elena Narbutaite shining and staring lamps are blinding empsthetic strangers that speak in toungues. Penny Slinger’s collages are maps of an inner life, they can be read both as a representing and mapping a “dance of death”, or “repentance” while Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili’s photographs recreate time of day / time of life with in the capsule of the dark room, one exposure is the morning, one exposure the dead of night, it is not the negative that has the time of day in it, it is her hand, like a magician, telling you: not that, this, over here, I have invented a new hour.
Grief is not an idea, that is the weight of it. Grief is the way that life interferes with life — the breath on the window, an outgrown shoe. The hired grievers are the barrier between grief and the idea of grief. Strangers that guide the family and loved ones who are suffering the loss of one of their own, and are the hired grievers the strangers that usher the dead into death. The juxtaposition between being the focus of mourning to the anonymous body that is being mourned.
The Hired Grievers curated by Jason Dodge
Galeria Madragoa, Lisbon