Living with Loss: An Enquiry into the Expression of Grief and Mourning in Contemporary Art Practice

Horn, Sheridan (2018) Living with Loss: An Enquiry into the Expression of Grief and Mourning in Contemporary Art Practice. Doctoral thesis, Birmingham City University.

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In a secular society, religion no longer dictates the manner in which death and dying is rationalized, nor sets the precedence for observances of grief; how individuals grieve has changed. This thesis formulates two central hypotheses: that a new phenomenon is emerging of the contemporary cenotaph in art, erected either as physical manifestations or digitally on the Internet; that encapsulated within these cenotaphs is a wealth of information concerning the deceased and aspects of artists’ unique grieving processes - the symptoms of loss and trauma are actualized in their work. Artists are reconfiguring religious forms of commemoration and producing secular variants.

The aims of this research are threefold: to investigate ways in which artists are forging new approaches to the portrayal of grief and mourning; to explore how these have arisen in an increasingly secular society; to explore through my own practice in response to loss, how art might assume new forms and meanings in a contemporary context.

The research aims are investigated through interdisciplinary means including practice-led research, a corpus of wide-ranging artists and artworks, a new methodological approach and theoretical discourses in grief and mourning. The core artists studied are Hannah Wilke, Jo Spence, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Zoe Leonard and Sheridan Horn.

Wilke's and Spence’s work is reviewed as the documentation of grief and mourning rather than as feminist polemic. Practice-led research consists of three sculptural expositions. Here-and-Now; Then-and-There was produced to explore how loss registers both overtly and covertly in practitioners' work. It revealed artists embodying experience in materialized forms by mimicking the symptoms of loss, grief and trauma. D(e)ad comprised organic matter ‘performed’ by continuously changing state, actualizing grieving processes. This work was compared to the cenotaphs by Gonzalez-Torres and Leonard and the historical vanitas, itself currently re-emerging as contemporary cenotaph. Grief Shadow represented the dynamic process of grief and mourning in a static work rather than through changes of state. Counterpoint references include the digital cenotaphs of Briony Campbell’s The Dad Project (2009) and the new social phenomenon of extreme embalming.

In a society without customary guidelines for grief and mourning, cenotaphs in art are crucial in offering alternative forms of discursive and commemorative practice.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Additional Information: I would like to thank, my supervisors: Henry Rogers, David Cheeseman, Darren Newbury, David Burrows and Stuart Whipps. I am particularly indebted to Henry Rogers and David Cheeseman who have been consistently patient, kind and supportive. I would also like to express my gratitude to the following for their generosity and time - without them my research would have undoubtedly floundered. They are Douglas Atfield (photographer), Tony Jopia (film producer), Sheila Fawkes, Ian Alcantara and Noah Lukehurst (models), Laura Mackeigh, John Hirons, Francis Gerrish and Jason Blood (technicians) and Gill Jopia (artist teacher). I have been humbled by Briony Campbell, Helena Godwin and Sally Tissington who allowed me to interview them about the death of a family member and how it affected both them and their art practice. I also wish to acknowledge the contributions of my family and friends, especially my mother, Eileen Webb, who as my cheerleader said, ‘Let’s face it… you don’t get a PhD free with a packet of crisps!’ Thanks also go to my sister Melissa Webb and daughter Laragh Horn who debated and challenged many of my ideas and thoughts as my research evolved. But most of all I would like to thank Barbara Kirkby, who has been the first reader of my scripts and has diligently proofread all of them several times over. Throughout my research, she has listened to the minutiae of my investigations and concerns and supported me unconditionally. Sustained by a ‘dream team’ I am grateful for having gained the priceless gift of personal enrichment and growth through my research.
5 November 2018Completed
Uncontrolled Keywords: Grieve, Mourning, Death, Dying, Illness Narratives, Ars Moriendi, Abject, Terminal, Cenotaph, Art Practice, Contemporary Artists, Loss.
Subjects: CAH04 - psychology > CAH04-01 - psychology > CAH04-01-01 - psychology (non-specific)
CAH25 - design, and creative and performing arts > CAH25-01 - creative arts and design > CAH25-01-02 - art
Divisions: Doctoral Research College > Doctoral Theses Collection
Depositing User: Kip Darling
Date Deposited: 19 Mar 2019 13:07
Last Modified: 12 Jan 2022 16:50

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