The exhibition Made in Mourning: Contemporary Memorial and Reliquary connects the Sculpture Center, the East Cleveland Township Cemetery and University Hospitals Case Medical Center. Assembled by guest curator Nicholas Fenell, the multi-site collaboration features 11 artists, 2 ghost bikes, a lecture series, film screening, bicycle safety training, a Death Cafe and other events. It is exciting to see a young curator go for it with all the ups and downs inherent in doing so.
In the foyer of the Sculpture Center, Guillermo Trejo’s piece Pile of Dreamers shows a pyramid of black and white skulls on the wall. The wood-cut printed human skulls, each hung tilted at an angle, remind me of images I saw while traveling in Mexico City during Día de los Muertos and the festival’s accompanying humor and levity. In this piece the skulls seek to remind the viewer of “immigration fatality at the border” of the United States and Mexico. While the senseless border crossing deaths, often due to cruel ranchers intentionally shooting holes in plastic water bottles stashed along well traveled routes in the desert resulting in dehydration of those attempting the perilous journey, remain terrible, the cartoon depiction of skulls made from the privileged place of a contemporary artist does not necessarily generate mourning for Mexican immigrants.
Just past the foyer, I encountered for the second time the pre-packaged “spontaneous shrine items” of Martinez E-B. The first time occurred during his BFA review at the Cleveland Institute of Art, where I teach. The packages work well in the lobby of the Sculpture Center giving the feeling of a Bob Evans or Cracker Barrel gift shop. One feels that they could legitimately be on sale right next to a set of wooden checkers or mint sticks. The plastic packaged bears, crosses, and flags fit well with other ritualized spontaneous public memorials in the show but the gratuitous violence rendered upon the fuzzy creatures in the form of blood and torn white cotton innards, move the quite thoughtful piece dangerously close to the world of one liners.
Inside the main gallery, hands of the “clocks of life” tick and imperceptibly move on a large piece of white acrylic mounted on the wall. The piece, Eternity by Alicia Eggert and Mike Flemming, reveals its secrets only twice a day, once at 3:00 am and at 3:00 pm. Fortunately, I arrived at 2:48 pm. This afforded me the opportunity to wait in anticipation of the impending timepiece alignment. As the moment grew nearer the letters emerged from a scrambled past into a few fleeting moments of comprehension only to scatter back into an unidentifiable mess. This captivating yet matter of fact phenomenon seemed out of place in between the other two video works in the gallery depicting public and intensely private mourning.
One, a trailer for the film The Potter’s Field Documentary by Edward Heavrin, chronicles the story of a high school wrestling team that holds funerals for unknown homeless people. The Sculpture Center will screen the film on November 21, 2013 at 7:00 pm, four hours after the last moment of Eternity. The other video, Decoration Day by Lane Cooper, documents intense personal loss. Chance footage, taken by the artist during a trip to visit the graves of loved ones, offers a voyeuristic glimpse into the nearly impenetrable nature of another’s private mourning.
Inside the Sculpture Center’s Euclid Gallery, Sylvia Bingham’s Peugeot Bicycle, lies on a short white plinth. According to the wall text she, “died on her way to work on September 15, 2009, when she was struck by a Peterbuilt truck.” The mangled maroon road bike with bent wheels sits as a more visceral and poignant tombstone than many of us could hope for.
Outside on Euclid Avenue, a white “ghost bike” decorated with flowers is locked to a sign. On the seat and top tube the words “In memory of Judge Henry” pay tribute to a fallen cyclist. The sight of those words shocked my memory as the referenced accident happened just a few months before I relocated to Cleveland. As a bicycle commuter, I came across the story of the Geauga County judge researching bicycling routes in the Cleveland area. My reaction to this memorial felt personal in a way unlike my viewing of the other pieces. The evidence tag of Sylvia Bingham’s wrecked bicycle came close. Her ghost bike, installed for the opening on the 19th was moved to the site of her accident during a memorial ride on September 22. Judge Henry’s ghost bike will remain for the rest of the exhibition.
The residue of Alison Crocetta’s performance piece 100 touches / 100 breaths hangs on the wall. It draws its name from its use of hanji, a traditional Korean paper. Christine Hinz Lenzen ponders remembering and forgetting through fading photographs of her deceased grandmother in bottles of red colored liquid. We all have objects that elicit precious intimate memories but valuing another’s memories proves difficult in this piece as well.
I traveled the short distance to the East Cleveland Township Cemetery. Unfortunately the gates were padlocked and the office vacant. Peering through the west window of the Chapel revealed Sinter, a ceramic work by Lauren Herzak-Bauman. Reminiscent of votive candles, the low-fired cylinders are meant to decay over the course of the exhibition. The likelihood of petty vandalism probably kept them behind the window but I would have enjoyed seeing them around the building’s foundation. The forms would eventually mingle with the dirt to be forgotten like all the slate and clay roof shards already buried below so many buildings in the area. The quickness of the aforementioned vandalism might have emphasized the capricious nature of our fleeting existence.
I could only view Carol Hummel’s Tribute Tree and Adam Frelin’s Drifter from the outside of the wrought iron fence. Frelin’s exhibition specific piece looks like a giant’s baseball bat sticking out of the earth but there is no giant ball player at the other end. According to a statement on the artist’s website the tapered cylinder draws inspiration from safety coffin communication devices once used to assuage fears of being buried alive. The 14’ long piece of wood extends “down to the depth of a burial vault” and connects the two simultaneously unoccupiable realms Frelin refers to as the “Level of the Living and the Level of the Dead.” Although the piece references Judeo-Christian superstition, it serves as a better tribute to humanity than any religious inscription. Looking out across the stone grave markers, one finds Drifter immediately. Its organic form, warm material and precise non 90 degree angle contrast as much with its surroundings as the black and red stripped Tribute Tree.
The tree, striped in the colors of Chardon High School, remembers a recent tragic school shooting there. The arms of the tree reach up in disbelief at the all too common occurrence of indiscriminate gun violence and this nation’s inability to do anything about it. Walking down Euclid brought me to the University Hospitals Case Medical Center, an imposing complex that exists as a hybrid of hospital, resort hotel, college and shopping mall.
In the Humphrey Atrium Gallery I found Lisa Austin’s piece, Child Garden for the ICU. The artist said in her talk that this over ten-year-old version of the piece would not work in a hospital. Whether mostly 2D abstract forms would prove interesting to hospital patients aside, the installation, green Formica forms around a stark white box the size of a small child, offers an interesting variation on memorial. Similar to the ghost bikes, Austin’s piece joins the memorial with the everyday fabric of the site of the loss. More people are able experience and be affected by these “site shrines” than the traditional pieces of stone left in cemeteries.
The collaboration between the Sculpture Center and some of its close neighbors is wonderful but the emphasis on mourning, an often personal experience, seems limiting. The works that subtly broke past this theme proved more memorable. The private nature of mourning sealed off entry to some of the pieces. Rather than commemorating and marking our mourning of the dead we should cherish experiences with the living. We should not mourn or fear death since it will be no different than the nothingness before birth.
Made in Mourning: Contemporary Memorial and Reliquary runs through December 20, 2013. For a complete and up to date listing of events associated with the exhibit, please visit The Sculpture Center’s website at www.sculpturecenter.org.