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

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Opening at Upstairs at the Napier Gallery- Melbourne

The Hankie Project opened last night at the Upstairs at the Napier Gallery in Melbourne. Was wonderful and humbling to have the Melbournians embrace the exhibition with such warmth and love. The show has been blogged about this morning and you can read that post on Beautiful heartfelt words that have been repeated by many who attended the show.I will post some photos and video from the opening in the next few days. Meanwhile here is a transcript of the opening presented by my sister Virginia Barratt The Hankie Project
August 4th
6pm – 8pm
Upstairs at the Napier

Hi, I’m Virginia Barratt

Welcome to this event and first I’d like to I would like to acknowledge and pay respect to the traditional owners of the land on which we meet tonight, the Wurundjeri people.

This exhibition is part of a large evolving work by Julie Barratt, borne out of a death (our father’s), and an object (Dad’s handkerchief), which “stood in” for him became him, after his death. My father is (not) a handkerchief.

The larger project explores the way we make meaning out of death and grief; and the governance and control around expressions of grief in our culture. Attachment to the dead, oppression of the bereaved, mis/understandings of death, shame around grief and compliance to social rules around the expression of grief are areas for exploration in this project and beyond.

At the declaration of death, the body becomes part of an institutionalised process, regulated, clinically handled, bureaucratised and mediated via medical, psychological and behavioural, religious and cultural narratives and practises.

Upon viewing my dad post-autopsy, I was hypersensitive to the governance of his cadaver. I wrote at the time:

it's very hard to give a name to or recognise what it is i am feeling about his absence. i just know that death is a hard thing to *know*. a concept i can't hold onto at all in my mind, not like denial, just... slippery, elusive... i know he's not here, but that's all i know, even after seeing him in the mortuary. i think it's because the institutionalised nature of death would have you believe that he's "at peace" or just sleeping or something. you can't get near to the death part cos there's so many layers of convention and regulation and institutionalisation between me and my dead dad. the ravages of death and the indignities of autopsy are all hidden by the white sheet of invisibility. the no-death of death. the "he's at peace" from the social worker guy at the mortuary. he was never peaceful in life and i don't think i ever saw my dad asleep! so the sleeping peace of death is a funny strange lie to my eyes...

This exhibition specifically explores the idea of the transitional object and its role in the death process. In this case, Julie formed an attachment to the absent father through a simple object, but one which had become symbolic of our father when he walked the earth. He always had a handkerchief in his pocket. In earlier days this handkerchief was often embroidered in the corner with an R for Roger. Mum would iron the hankie. Dad would put it in his pocket. Later, the hankies became more generic and Mum got over ironing smalls. But the connection had been made. My father is (not) a hankie.

And it’s a common transitional object, it seems. Many other people carry, in memoriam, hankies in breast pockets, in wallets, in notebooks, pinned to their clothes, or closeby, in bedside table drawers, stuck behind photos of loved ones...

mens hankies with blue or brown borders, large. small lace hankies, delicate. cheap hankies, functional. hand-stitched and embroidered. plain. packets of six. unfurled in pockets they are handled and handled, like worry beads, like blankies. they are imbued with the mucosal expectorations of their owners. they are stiff with salt. they sop up. they stem the abject overflow.

This work is immediate and raw, and needs its own hankie to sop up the overflow. the stories are important and they flesh out the theory.

I have something to read which I wrote the day after my dad died.

my dad died today.
his head met the cement, blood pooling and drying, and there he lay, fighting his life.
there was a nice lady (salty from her tourist day) with towels all red
and old mate from the boats, max i think,
saying "c'mon you old bastard, do what you do best, don't give up!"
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

he didn't want life at

it feels empty. or like endless waiting. or like a breath held. 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 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.


  1. Congratulations Julie.
    It's good to hear your exhibition has been doing so well.


  2. Beautiful project.