Please note that due to the subject matter of this project (death/grief) some of the images on this blog might be disturbing.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Project in More detail

In 2010 I am undertaking a research project as part of my Vis Arts Post grad study focusing on bereavement and grief with particular emphasis on the importance of certain objects post death.
When a loved one dies their personal belongings often take on a new or different meaning.
As you mourn the person you've lost, their possessions can remain as a tangible connection to the past.

In my case this was the hankerchief. It was something my father always carried on him, neatly pressed in his pocket. It didn't hold much significance to me until after his sudden death late last year when I suddenly became obsessed with collecting them.

As a part of my research into the universal emotion of death/bereavement I am asking interested people to take part in a collaborative project whereby an artwork is created using the humble hankie. Using the hankie as a canvas it can be drawn on, stitched, painted, folded, whatever and would respond in some way to your own personal experience of grief/bereavement. I would need to have the completed hankies back by easter.

All hankies that I receive back will form part of a collaborative installation which will be exhibited at the end of the project.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Hankie sewn through with fishing line by Monica Oppen, Sydney.

Monica said of her work "until I took the cloth out to stitch it for this project I always thought it was a hankie. I kept it in a drawer with other hankies but never used it because , being made out of linen, it is too rough to use on your nose. I always wondered why someone had embroidered it so much! Also making it uncomfortable! Because I have always thought it a hankie I shall continue to do so! So I have exaggerated the discomfort of using it to try and express the discomfort of grief." Monica Oppen Jan 2010

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Kathleen Mchugh's Hanky and Artist Statement

I learned about "Objects Of The Dead" through my participation in "A Book About Death" and "Um Livro Sobre a Morte" which are chapters in a continuing collaborative exploration about death by Matthew Rose. Both of those chapters in the "A Book About Death" evoked an artistic response in me which came from pure anguish and loss. Each work was created as an emotional response to some very hard deaths in my life.
When I thought about "Objects of the Dead" , " hankie", "Australia", and the people who are gone from my life, I felt the strongest creative inspiration coming from my Aunt Eileen. I was very close to my Aunt Eileen from young childhood until she passed away when I was an adult. She had a strong will, adventurous spirit, and independent mind. I imagined that she would be mortified now if I sent something to Australia that was created out of the angst generated by how much I miss her. So, I looked through her collection of things, picked up one of her linens to use for this painting, and wondered what she would like me to say in her honor. When I came to a stack of old passports, I smiled and knew that a passport would be the basis for this hankie image. I selected a passport she used on a trip which included stops in Australia and Japan as "the object of the dead" for this work. I know that this work is making her laugh to think that the remnants of a passport she used years ago are now retracing her trip to Australia as a post mortem art object. I know I'll be able to face her in the afterlife, and that this exhibit will be a good topic of conversation. When I held the passport in my hands, I thought about my aunt. She was the eldest of 11 children. Her parents immigrated to Seattle, Washington, U.S.A. from Ireland. She was bedridden with rheumatic fever as a child. She missed her grade school years doing all her school work in bed. She read many stories, had a great imagination, but also had no practical experience with which to compare her "book learning". As soon as she was allowed to leave the house, she took an umbrella, jumped off a bridge, and expected to float to earth as did a character in a story she read. She was lucky that she only suffered a broken arm. That accident didn't dampen her adventurous spirit. She managed to grow up, studied English literature in the States, and further her education by taking graduate courses in "Milton" at Oxford University. She would quote insights about "blindness" she learned from her English professors by forever identifying any underpinning of a tragic human event in which she perceived either collective or individual blindness to be a contributing factor. Having never married, she worked as a reporter for U.S. news media in Europe during the period leading up to WWII, taught literature, and traveled either alone or with friends. I spent a lot of time with my Aunt Eileen. When she became elderly, she called me to ask me if I could come over to her house to open a can of dog food for her. I had a sinking feeling that something was terribly wrong. I came right over and saw that the reason she couldn't open it herself was that she had fallen and broken her wrist. She fought against my insistence to immediately take her to a doctor. I had to do it. I finally said, "if you don't let me take you, I'm calling my father, "your little brother" and "your little brother" will be the one who does it. She gave me a long silent stare and told me to get her keys to lock her front door. We both knew that this injury signified that life as she knew it was over. It did, in fact, mark her decline. I visited her during one of her frequent hospital stays and she told me, "These doctors don't believe in leading anyone down a garden path. They don't have any positive news. I want to go home now". I took her home, and later that week she invited everyone over for dinner. An uncle who arrived first discovered her lying dead on a hallway floor. Her last achievement in life was that she was able to keep everyone at bay who wanted her to move to a safer environment. She was able to die in her own home. As I made the hankie, I thought of her dying and passing through to another place. She didn't need her earthly passport for this voyage.

Kathleen McHugh
Seattle, Washington

2nd Hanky Babette Angelle

Mono stencil print of greyhound; stamped actual footprint of greyhound
digital text, stitching, stamp and covered in bees wax.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Book of Death Exhibition in Brazil

I have just submitted two postcards to a group show in Brazil tited' Um Livre Sobre A Morte'.

For more info about this exhibition check out the blog on

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Printed hankie

Playing with transfer prints from photographs and rubber stamps. Unfortunately I had the iron too hot and burnt the transfer print. Had some trouble getting it off. Note to self..patience. I found a rubber stamp ink that is for fabric (colour fast). works well.
Here is the end result which is a bit of a mess really!! Yesterday I found 39 hankies at Lifeline (20c each). The photo is of these hankies all in a pile.

Cheating Death by Virginia Barratt

Some words written by my sister in the moments and days following our fathers death

my dad died today.
his head met the cement, blood pooling and drying, and there he lay, fighting/for/his life.
there was a nice lady (salty from her tourist day) with towels all red
and the boy from the boats, max, i think,
saying "c'mon you old bastard, do what you do best, don't give up!"
(he was a cantankerous old man)
my sister was with him. he called out her name.
"get these people away!"
and "nonononononononono!"
the ambos had to restrain him cos he wouldn't have the oxygen on his face

(just that day, some hours earlier, i had been sitting in the dentist's chair, ripping the oxygen off my own face...

he didn't want life at any cost.

it feels empty. this life without him.

i search for his energetic other.
i wish he would visit.
i try to reach him through the photo on the wall.
it's a great photo -
dad looking at a seal on a rocky outcrop
the seal looking back at him
each regarding the other, dad with the everpresent cigarette (until 70 at any rate).
it's like he might find there the answer to the question that has been bugging him for his whole entire damned life...

dad loved rocks.

francesca sent me a message last night:
"he's eternal" she said
"like the rock walls he built."
dry stone walls forever, from his cotswolds days...
see the long lines of them loping across english fields.

see my dad, a small baby in his arms, perched on just such a wall, another country, another time.

see the long lines of them reinvented with extra sweat in the tropics.
there's nothing beauteous about these raw walls, but they are so very beautiful.
they're labors of necessity, these rough hewn levees,
built to retain life
and stave off death.

so there they are. eternity. entropy and my dad. facing off.
no backing down.
i inherited a bit of that from my dad.
cheating death was a point of honor with him.
he had no love for grace and age, and gracefully ageing.
would not accept. would not.

so the cement was something of a shock.

all day cakes arrive
behind tentative knocks on the door.
and things made with eggs
accompanied by faces twisted with sadness.
who are they?

the boat boys.
mr main roads.
the man who rowed across the bay for coffee every day.
the bartender.
the chemist.
the waitress.
the girls from reception.
the book keeper.
kids i do not recognise, calling him "grandad".

i feel like i didn't know my dad at all
and yet that i was the only one who knew him.

i carry his photos around with me.
it's a comfort.
such a handsome man
smiling out from behind curved glass
with the perfect quiff
and plump lips a match for my own

and it has to be said -
since the refrain that has been sung for us innumerable times is
"you two... are too much alike... ' -

it has to be said
that he made me in his own image.
but i'm only half the man he was.
oh daddy daddy.
father, you made me what i am/not

First Hankie Completed by Dougal Shaw

This hankie is a transfer print from an original drawing by Australian artist Dougal Shaw. The title of this work is 'Pulling on Heart Strings'.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Hankie

So the project has had a great response so far so this is what you need to do.
Take the humble hankie and using it as the canvas create an artwork, draw, rip, stitch, paint whatever that responds in some way to grief/bereavement with particular emphasis on objects of the dead....the deadline to have the hankies back to me is the end of March.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Leaving A Poem by Heather


Boxed and bereaved
wrapping in paper the heirloom
china, ivory handled fish knives
obsolete of design and purpose.

Now in the leaving
bare drawers reveal their bases,
bereft of the comfort of socks,
even holey ones held knitted memories.

The furniture, like faithful dogs
will find other homes, be loved in their turn
by someone new. The letters in bundles
will be reread. All keys returned.

The roses have been savagely pruned
silently the garden exhales winter
shivers with fallen leaves
awaits the spring.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Collaboration

This is a collaborative art project whereby artists/friends are invited to create an artwork using the hanky as a canvas to create a work based around the themes of bereavement and death. All artworks received will be curated into an installation to be exhibited at the conclusion of the project.For more info please email me at

The Project

Julie Barratt
‘ Objects of the Dead.’
This project was borne out of the sudden recent death of my father, a handkerchief, some emotive words written by a sibling on his death and the traumatic aftermath of a death processed according to particular societal and cultural mores. At the declaration of death, the body becomes part of an institutionalised process, regulated, clinically handled, bureaucratised and mediated via psychological and behavioural, religious and cultural narratives and practises.

The death – he fell, head met the concrete, died.

The handkerchief –he carried one pressed in his pocket for as long as I can remember remembering. It’s all I wanted when he died. I arrived too late. All his personal belongings were gone. A charity received one life to give to another.

The words – written by my sister in the moments and days following my dad’s death.

The process – coping, obsession, making meaning, making sense, ritual, beauty, seeking softness in a world of tubes, morgues, institutionalisation

The project - This is the starting point of my project. It is then about bereavement, grief, death, about my connection to the objects of the dead. Where it will lead and how the practical work will be executed remains to be seen.