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BURIAL BY EVIE WOLTIL RICHNER A PROJECT IN LIEU OF THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENT FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF FINE ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2014
! Evie Woltil Richner
! # ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS First and foremost I would like to thank my parents for taking part in my work. Without your help this project literally would not have been possible, but beyond that your love and support enabled me to bec ome the thoughtful person and artist that I am today. To my committee, thank you for your encouragement when I needed encouraging, for your constructive criticism when my work needed pushing, for your guidance when I was lost, for time spent in countless c onversations and studio visits over the past few years, and most importantly for always believing in me as an artist. Lastly to my husband Mark, I quite literally would not have made it through graduate school without you. Your optimism, positive thinkin g, and strength make any situation possible to get through. Your endless support, encouragement, and faith in my ability to achieve my goals bolster me in times of doubt. Your constant help packing artwork, applying for shows, hanging work, and talking abo ut teaching and my work helped me accomplish more than I could have alone.
! $ TABLE OF CONTENTS ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ...3 ABSTRACT!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ...5 PROJECT REPORT!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! .!!! ...7 PLATES!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ..!!! ... ..29 WORKS CITED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !! !!!!! .. ... 40 BIOG RAPHICAL SKETCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ! !! .. !!!! .. ...42
! % Summary of Project in Lieu of Thesis Presented to the College of Fine Arts of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Fine Arts BURIAL By Evie Woltil Richner May 2014 Chair: Bethany Taylor Major: Art My project in lieu of thesis, Burial, consists of four works, two large scale painted photographs and two videos, which focus on coping with my parents' mortality and preparing for their future deaths. In these works, my parents pose reclined, as in death, in isolated natural settings. I cover over their photographed bod ies with hand painted shrouds of flowers. Gradually, as I paint, I obscure their bodies until finally I can barely make out their form s Involved in the complex processes and rituals surrounding grieving, flowers achieve more than just beautifying death, b ut also act symbolically as a mirror of the fragility of life, of the cycles of life and death, and also as a symbol of care both for the deceased an d the bereaved. In my work, flowers become an important symbol of the mourning process and this relationship of care. In the videos, I interact with my parents in two carefully chosen natural environments, meditating on their future deaths, and creating ritual through the repetition of mov ements, such as holding their hands and stroking their faces. Superimposed over these "on location" videos is another set of videos of myself painting over the large format printed stills the works in progress that will become the painted
! & pieces. The ritua lized process of burial and ceremony helps lend order to the often overwhelming experience of death. I use the ritualized process of painting the slow, meticulous use of repeated marks and forms and the ritualized processes used in the video sitting with, looking at, and interacting with my parents' still form as a locus for the feelings of grief and fear I feel when contemplating the death of my family, as wel l as my own mortality As I create these works, I meditate on the feelings I have about death sor row, anxiety, and fear bringing them to the forefront, rather than pushing them away. The works in Burial then become a designated place for these feelings to exist. The pieces also become a highly personalized space for remembrance both of the specific ex periences surrounding this project, as well as a lifetime of memories I share with my parents. Though intimate, the pieces are meant to prompt contemplations of death, mortality, loss, relationships, and ritual in the viewer as well. Death is often an avo ided subject, but it is an event that we must all someday face. Through this work, I hope to become more comfortable thinking and talking about this inevitability.
! ( Prologue There are moments when the present seems like it will extend forever. Memories of my past self have become so distanced, that the childhood version of me almost seems like another person. Similarly, the distant future when I am many years older is a fantas y unrealized until the steady, forward march of the present finally makes it real. In these moments it is easy to forget about death, the death of my parents, my sister, my husband, my friends, and even myself. It seems like we will all continue living for ever. However, there are moments when the unreality of this feeling, the feeling of the never ceasing present, becomes suddenly apparent. Lying in bed some nights, the jarring realization that a present me will ex ist when other important people like my fam ily have ceased to exist seeps into my head and chest. In these moments I feel unhinged. In my mind, the imagined sorrow and loss of this future moment fills me with dread. I want to suppress these feelings, suppress the knowledge of this future, but I al so know this suppression is dangerous because a moment of loss one day will arrive. Perhaps it is a myth I tell myself, but acknowledging the eventuality of death, looking for the beauty in death, especially in how every new absence makes room for a new pr esence, and b ring ing the awareness of the tenuousness of life into every moment, makes me more aware of the present. It helps me savor each moment, alone and with loved ones. It makes death less scary and more normal. So in this project I choose to look at death directly, to remember its existence rather than suppress it, to talk about it more rather than less, and to imagine the death of my parents more fully by acting out this future loss with them in the present
! ) Encounters with Loss and Death My first significant experience with loss was when my Grammy, who had Alzheimer's d isease and lived with us every couple months, passed away. She died on Thanksgiving, early in the morning. I woke up when I heard my mom choking out a sob unmistakably tinged with sorrow and grief. Though foggy headed, I knew immediately something was very wrong. We drove down to my Aunt's house, where my Grammy had been staying. Her body was tucked under blankets in the bed in the extra room. She did no t look so different tha n she did every morning when we woul d wake her up her frail, birdlike frame wrapped in a w hite flannel ankle length night gown. I knew it was the end. I would never see her again, but in a way it seeme d like she ha d been dying a little bit every day for years, s lowly losing the little bits of herself stories, relationships, memories who made up who she was. There is something so indesc ribably sad about death. There is that obvious absence. You can no longer share a day, a moment, a laugh with that person with wh om you spent so many days, moments, and laughs But besides their physical absence, memories of that person suddenly seem to become less solid Moments shared by two are snapped apart. O nce memories of that person could be rekindled through conversation, an expression on their f ace or an object in their house, but after death there is permanence in forgetti ng. Seven years ago the sweet boy who gav e me my first kiss died. I had no t seen him in years, but sitting on the wooden pew at the funeral I kept thi nking that half of all of my firsts were gone. I was so sad for his family, his wife, all the people who would never g et to see his kind smile, sad I woul d ne ver see him again but the thing that
! made me the saddest was that in losing him I lost the part of myself that existed in his memories. When I think of that first kiss or our first date, I now also think about how there is no one else besides me who will ever think of those moments again. His absence reminds me of my eventual absence. Past Works Old photographs have always fascinated me ; partially because of my own nostalgic yearning to experience the past, but also because after my Grammy died these were my only physical connection to her. Working with the photos in my art was a way that I could still connect with her even though she wa s no longer alive. During my time between undergraduate and graduate school, I began a series in which I was drawing figures from old photos and transforming them by covering them with different animal textures such as feathers, fur, and scales. I n these w orks, I thought of these animal shrouds more like costumes that could bring new life to these figures from the past. As I began graduate school, I started thinking more deeply about why I was so drawn to using old photographs I reread Roland Barthe's Cam era Lucida which explores the ontology of photography and the author's own personal experiences with photographs. I was particularly drawn to his description of the connection of the photograph to death. He writes "In front of a photograph of my mother a s a child, I tell myself: she is going to die: I shudder! over a catastrophe which has already occurred. Whether or not the subject is already dead, every photograph is this catastrophe" (Barthes 96). A photographed moment is always gone. We can only access it again in our memory. After reading this a ll of a sudden e verything just kind of clicked. I ha d been calling the coverings of my
! +, figures "shrouds" all along so I decided I wanted to continue exploring these coverin gs as actual burial shrouds, completely cover ing the figures with which I was working Rather than using found photographs I decided to start using family photographs specifically images of my Grammy who had passed away In this series, I was particularly interested in exploring p ersonal loss and the memorialization of my Grammy. Each piece served as a burial, but also a memorial. Working from photographs of my Grammy, I was physically burying her in a shroud of hand drawn feathers, referencing the cross cultural symbolism of the b ird as a connection between heaven and earth (Plate 1). Through burial, we acknowledge loss; the person is removed from our lives. The covered photographs acted as a retroactive burial, a process through which to more deeply explore the loss I had experienced through the act of repetition. When complete the pieces beca me a signifier, like a gravestone, of a person who had once lived. Similar to a gravestone, the works then serve d as a physical connection to my Grammy who through death, had become physically disconnected from my life Afraid of the erosion of my own memory, these pieces we re also an act of remembrance remembering my Grammy as she was when she lived with us and also reconstructing who she might have been before that by looking at o ld photos. Through the ritual of drawing over images of her, I return ed to thoughts of her again and again. Though intensely personal, I bel ieve that these works were able to move beyond my own personal experience and loss, and remind people of those that they may have lost. Though none of us can escape death or loss, we can find strength and empathy from those around us who have gone through similar experiences. Loss and death are
! ++ common human experiences, and with age everyone is confronted with the death of those around them, as well as their own mortality. During m y second year of graduate school, I intentionally tried to move away from creating artwork about loss. Extensive reading on this subject over the summer had depressed me, and I thought by avoiding the subject I could avoid thoughts of mortality as well. I began creating works focused more on memory and the connection between memory and material objects. However, death kept on creeping back into my work. I was interested how i n the natural w orld, various stages of life exist simultaneously, ranging from new life to death. I created some drawings of found dead leaves, interested in capturing the beauty of a stage of life, which is often purposefully ignored. I saw these drawings, Memento Mori #1 and Memento Mori #2 as a modern day Vanitas, reminding us of the transience and brevity of life. At around the same time I found a couple of dead birds I wanted to capture these small, otherwise overlooked deaths so I created drawing s of the birds to document them (Plate 2). Birds are small fragile beings, and there wa s a preci ousness to them, even in death. I thought back on my own early experiences with death, remembering the death of a found baby squirrel fallen from its nest. Similar to many oth er children, these small deaths helped me learn more about my own mortality and cultural funeral processes. With some friends, we transformed a shoebox into a coffin, lining it with Spanish moss and gently placing the squirrel in it. Quite the ceremony, I can even remember digging a small grave, burying the box, creating a wooden cross as a grave marker, and eating snacks in the backyard as we reflected on our experiences. The discovery of the dead birds prompted me to reflect back on this event, realizing that
! +" even then the structure of the ritual processes used in a funeral helped us navigate this brush with mortality. In the spring of my second year of graduate school I once again tried to move away from the subject matter of death, experimenting in plein air landscape drawing as a way of recordi ng experiences as they happened; in essence refocusing on the present instead of the past. I p roposed a thesis focused on these ideas but as I began on this project over the summer, a desire to explore death in my work was once again resurrected I was still interested in the ideas of burial, ritual, and shrouding that I had begun in my first year. I decided that my thesis would extend these ideas. However, instead of focusing on previously experienced loss this time I wanted to explore my own mortality and the mortality of loved ones in my life who are still alive. In the first piece I created with this in mind, Burying Myself, I photographed myself in the supine position of the corpse at Morningside Nature Center and then buried the image of myself in a hand painted shroud of flowers, an item commonly used in funerals (Fig. 3). Similar to my burials of my Grammy, I was interested in how the ritualized process of painting could help lend order and structure to the fears I felt surrounding my own eventual death. However, I did not feel like the flowers with which I buried myself in this work which were rendered similarly to the photo itself were able to communicate the ritualization of this process effectively enough. This led me to explore the use of video in conjunction with photography and painting, the result of which is the work created for my thesis project.
! +# Thesis Project My project in lieu of thesis focuses on coping with my parents mortality and pre paring for their future deaths. They pose reclined, as in death, in isolated natural settings, where I photograph them. I then cover over them in these printed photographed images with hand painted shrouds of flowers. Gradually, as I paint, I obscure their bodies until finally I can barely make out their forms. As previously discussed, the ritualized process of burial and ceremony helps lend order to the often overwhelming experience of death. In this work, I use the ritualized process of painting the slow, meticulous use of repeated marks and forms as a locus for the feelings of grief and fear I feel when contemplating the death of my family, as well as myself. The project consists of four works, with one video and one painted photograph devoted to each of my parents. Each video is approximately three hours long, made up of a series of paired ten minute clips. In one set of clips, I interact with my parents in the environment in which they were posed; in the second set, I am in my studio painting over a lar ge format printed still from that video. These two separate clips are layered on top of each other. Throughout the majority of the composited video, the uppermost clip is seen at varying levels of opacity so that both clips are seen simultaneously. At time s, the opacity of the clip of myself in the studio becomes 100% opaque, obscuring the other clip completely. In other portions, the clip of me painting in the studio fades out, revealing the footage of myself with my parent in the environment. In both of these layers, time, repetition, and cycles are important. The video begins in the afternoon, progressing past sunset into the night, and beginning again with
! +$ the sunrise. At the end of the video, all figures fade out of the setting and then it loops to be gin the whole cycle over again. Time of day and the common association of death with night and rebirth with sunrise play an important role in mirroring feelings of closure and beginning in the mourning process. Cycles are also important in each individual ten minute video clip. I enter the frame from one side, then move around my parent alternating between standing and watching, and sitting next to them. I then leave the frame on the same side. Repetition of this entering and leaving are meant to reflect th e repetition used commonly in rituals. As we repeat acts they gain power, connecting us to the past and to the future. This repetition also reflects my own struggle to come to terms with my parents mortality. I move back and forth between looking at it an d contemplating it directly, and thinking about other aspects of life. The video is very quiet and constant, with no climax. This slowness is important in establishing a contemplative mood in the viewer and a focus on the slowness of time and process. As D avid Morgan writes in an essay on Bill Viola s video work, video requires the viewer to occupy real time in order to experience the medium. The minutes pass slowly in a video installation. One must patiently watch the whole piece unfold according to its t ime, which rarely matches or accommodates one s own / (90). The temporal quality of t he video also informs the piece by using the actual passing of time to speak to the future, past, and present, and our steady progress towards death. Bill Viola speaks of this quality in an interview stating that: human beings through their higher consciousness 0 have been given the knowl edge of time, the ability to extend the self into time with the capacity to anticipate and to recall. For the individual, the two finalities at either end of these
! +% extensions are the great subjective poles of birth and death. Most important, it is the awar eness of our own mortality which defines the nature of human beings 0 As instruments of time, the materials of video, and by extension the moving image, have as a part of their nature this fragility of temporal existence. Images are born, they are created, t hey exist, and, in the flick of a switch, they die (Viola 278). Time operates in the piece at different levels. There is the real time of the video, but also the contrasting and distanced times of experience in the two separate layers. In the environment w ith my parents, I existed in that moment sitting and looking at them thei r little wrinkles, tinges of gra y in their hair, the increasing translucency of their skin reflecting on memories of the past, while also contemplating the future and their eventual d eaths. While in the studio, as I painted over the digital print, I was distanced from that moment and from their bodies, as I worked on the two dimensional photographs. I still thought of past, present, and future moments, but the past became more immediat e in the finite temporality of the photograph I continued to work / through my grief, my parents now absent, consigned to memory and the photographic record of their images. The video contains both of these experiences and reinforces the dist ancing of time Though visually there are two of me a record of two different experiences the two versions of myself are forever distanced from each other, never able to exist in the same time. The constant is the finality of death in the solidity of my parents bodies, while I fade in and out, a ghost at times, and a reminder of my own mortality.
! +& The painted photographs convey a different sense of time. The frozen image and completed burial / have a quiet finality to them. When someone dies, their timeline stops, froze n in their last moments and the moments that came before, while those left behind continue forward in time, speeding away and becoming more and more distanced from their experiences with that person. Similarly the photographs in these works act to reinforc e the idea of the distanced moment that has passed, while the use of painted flowers extends the time existing in the piece through the weeks of observation, careful marks, and thought required to paint over the image of my parents Cycles and times of day were important when staging the photographs. Each is set in a different season (fall and winter), and a specific time of day is evident from the position of the sun. Once again, these temporal signs act as a reminder of the constant forward motion of life constantly leading us towards, not away from, death. A feeling of season and time was important in choosing the sites of these works, but more importantly sites were chosen for their relative isolation from busy and built environments. In an era when te chnology seems to be drawing more and more of our attention, I consciously removed myself from this busy world into a more natural world where time see ms to move at a slower pace. I was able to focus more fully with less distractions on the present moment as I contemplated my parents future deaths. It was important that thes e environments were free of man made constructions, such as buildings, signs, cars, etc., so that the focus of the work was on the intimate interaction between my parent and me This se lection was also a reaction against the many institutions and cultural norms that remove us from death S taging these works outside repositions death within a natural contex t where death is always visibly occurring, rather
! +( than one where visions of death are repressed. Both works are set in forested environments, which provide a feeling of protection and shelter in contrast to feelings of vulnerability that occur in more open settings, such as fields, or more highly traffick ed areas such as city parks and cemeteries. Symbolic Function of Flowers Culturally and in M y Artw ork For my project, I extensively researched the history and use of flowers and ritual in funerary customs around the world My research provided a structure to help me think about how I w as using the ritual of painting flowers in my work and both why and how this ritual could be used as a coping mechanism. Flowers are one of the most important contemporary symbols of mourning and have been used as such for thousands of years. Involved in the complex processes and rituals surrounding grieving, flowers achieve more than just the b eautification of death, but also act symbolically as a mirror of the fragility of life, of the cycles of life and death, and also as a symbol of care both for the d eceased and the bereaved. The earliest proof of the use of flowers in a grave was discovered this past summer in a cave on Mount Carmel in Israel from 12,000 years ago. At the time of burial, mourners densely lined four graves with the pink and lavender flowers of plants, such as mint, figwort, and sage, imprints of which were found in the mud surrounding the skeletons. The bodies belong ed to members of the Natufian culture, which was one of the first to make the transition from a hunter gatherer lifestyl e to that of a settlement. They were also among the first to establish "true graveyards" where multiple bodies are buried in separate graves at a single location (Nadel et al.).
! +) The careful placement of the flowers, positioning of the bodies, and formatio n of the grave show that the Natufians took great care and c eremony in the rituals surround ing burial (Than), a practice which extends into global funerary customs today. Thousands of different mortuary practices exist throughout the world r anging from Tibetan sky burial in which the body is eaten by animals such as birds to Hindu cremation ceremonies, in which the body is burned on a funeral pyre usually placed on the banks of a sacred river. Though a wide variety of rituals surrounding death exist, the re is no group of humans, "which left freely to itself and within its means does not dispose of the bodies of its members with ceremony. So true is this universal fact of ceremonial funeralization that it seems reasonable to conclude that it flows out of h uman nature" ( Habenstein and Lamers 757). Flowers have been used in these ceremonies throughout history and continue to be used extensively around the world in funerary practices in a number of ways. These include decorating the church or l ocation of the funeral ceremony; sending flowers to the berea ved or as gifts to the deceased; planting flowers on graves and tending gardens on graves; casting single flowers in to the open grave before burial; placin g flowers at roadside memorials; placing cut flowers on graves as an act of remembrance; the use of ga rdens and flowers in cemeteries; and in the increasingly popular mass floral tributes used to mark national tragedies, such as 9/11, or the death of Princess Diana Because of their long history we can assume that flower customs today stem from thousands of years of folklore traditions. It is clear from their long history that flowers have symbolic importance in many cultures. But what exactly do flowers mean when used in bereavement rit uals and how
! +* do they function symbolically in these rituals? Thei r only practical function to cover the sc ent of a decaying body is no longer necessary in contemporary funerals, and while they were once seen as symbols of resurrection and immortality, soci ologist Tony Walters posits that today they are mainly symbols of "love, respect and remembrance" (106). Jack Goody, an anthropologist and author of The Culture of Flowers, writes that, "From the botanical standpoint, flowers represent a method of continui ng th e life of plants" (3). They literally enable flowering plants to reproduce and create new life. Millions of years ago there were no flowering plants Floral evolution allowed plants to spread and evolve much more rapidly, providing more nourishment fo r animals, and in turn making the rise of warm blooded animals, including humans, possible. As Michael Pollan writes, "without flowers, the reptiles, which had gotten along fine in a leafy, fruitless world, would probably still rule. Without flowers, we wo uld not be" (9). However, flowers' biological importance does not fully explain why they have become so significant culturally. Goody describes this cultural importance of flowers, writing, they are used throughout social life, for decoration, but above all in establishing, maintaining, and even ending relationships" (2). Given at a funeral, flowers can become our last gift to a person who has just died. Flowers are often seen as a gift symbolizing that someone is thinking about you. For example, when my husband was in the hospital two years ago, many people sent us flowers as a symbol of their thoughts and prayers. Flowers can act as a physical manifestation of intangible feelings, such as sympathy, grief, an d love. The beauty, color, fragrance and frag ile life of flowers all act as a contrast to sad or overwhelming emotions encountered during sickness or death.
! ", Evolutionarily designed to attract the a ttention of living things such as bees flowers add beauty to moments that might be viewed as stark or depressing. Adorning my parents' photographed bodies with flowers and having them pose in natural settings serves to beautify the image o f death, an image and idea by which people are increasingly r epulsed, depressed, or scared One hundred years ago, most deaths t ook place at home, but today over eighty percent of deaths in America happen in institutions, distancing us from both dead bodies and the experience of death. Most cultures encourage the involvement of friends and families in the preparation of th e corpse for its final disposition. However, in the United State s, "the kin and friends! normally play no significant role in handling the corpse," that function being relegated instead to hired funeral directors and morticians (Leming and Dickinson 355). T his distancing is reflected even in American euphemisms for death, which act as "buffers rather than the stark words dying, dead, and death" (Leming and Dickinson 57). Example of these euphemisms include succumbed, passed away, was taken, went to heaven, departed this life! was laid to rest! ended his or her days! is pushing up daisies! and is six feet under" (Leming and Dickinson 57). One function of flower bouquets and arrangements in funerals is that they replace stark images of the coffin, casket, and bod y with images of beauty and life. Similarly, though I am choosing to contemp late my parents' future deaths even asking them to repose as they might in death I too desire to beautify this image. Flowers serve as a memento mori reminding us of our own ev entual death and while early modern memento mori motifs! were meant to convey messages regarding the transience of the material world in contrast with the everlasting, superior spiritual
! "+ domain! [their use] in present day memory practices aims to fuse the moment of disposal with the embodied life experiences of the deceased" (Hallam and Hockey 94). The existence of flowers is literally made possible by the nutrients created by the death and decomposition of other organisms. Thus, their inclusion in funerals can also be seen as symbolizing natural life processes. Death is a part of the life cycle of every living organism. When buried naturally, the decay of a human corpse results in new life and growth and the deceased takes on a new physical presence in the world, in the shape of plants and possibly even flowers. Without death there cannot be new life. I f no one ever died there would no t be enough space or resources to have children. In the spring, when daffodils peak out of the newly thawed ground or flower s bloom for the first time all year there is an excitement that I do not think could be matched if these events were constant rather than periodic. The role of material culture, including flowers, in relation to death is explored extensively in Elizabeth Hallam and Jenny Hockey's book Death, Memory, and Material Culture. Specifically they focus on exploring: memory through the material objects that acquire meanings and resonances through embodied practice such as the wearing of mourning attire, or the rit ualized writing of wills, together with the material objects that come to represent or form extensions of the body from funeral effigies to photographs. (1) Hallam and Hockey argue that the knowledge of our eventual death is one of our primary incentives for remembering and because of this the process of dying can give license to intense phases of memory making with all of its attendant material complexity from the disposal of the corpse to the repeated act of returning to the graveside with
! "" flowers" (3). The importance of flowers in this process of memory making can be seen in an excerpt they include from Alison Werthheimer's book A Special Scar: The Experiences of People Bereaved by Suicide, in which a woman, Jean, recalls memories of her daughter' s funeral: I certainly like things [to be] beautiful and Anna would have wanted a beautiful ceremony and I'm sure a lot of people would tell you that it was extremely beautiful ... its a good memory ... and the flowers were fantastic. The house was filled with flowers, the crematorium was filled with flowers ... her school friends sang beautifully ... I think about it a lot. (qtd. in Wertheimer 1991: 98.) Hockey and Hallam go on to explain that this recollection focuses on the positive memories associated with the funeral, specifically the flowers that surrounded both the public and private spaces connected to the death and the rituals surrounding that death. They write that these rituals: offer a means to participate in and extend control over an event th at is recognized as a potential source of future death related memories. The material and embodied dimensions of the ritual (flowers and singing) are significant in attempts to generate lasting memory forms that overlay or dispel the threatening memories w hich are known to resurge and cause their havoc. (113) By actively associating thoughts of my parents' deaths with positive experiences such as observing and p ainting flowers as well as the trip s, experiences, and time spent which are necessary components of staging these photographs and creating the videos I hope to displace some of the fear and anxiety I feel surrounding their deaths with happiness. After they are done playing dead, they come back to life and are still
! "# there to provide me with comfort as well as more memories. It is my hope that when they do eventually die, some of the positive memories and experiences formed while creating this project will continue to provide me with comfort when they no longer can. We have little to no control over deat h, and after someone has died we have only a small amount of control in dictating our separation from the physical body of the deceased because of cultural expectations for a timely burial, as well as more practical reasons prompted by the ensuing decay of the body. However, we do have control over funeral ceremonies and the physical objects, such as flowers, used in these ceremonies. So symbolically, flowers and all funeral rituals represe nt a set of structured controls with which we can surround death. Si milar to the feeling of control given in planning a funeral ceremony, in my artwork I explore ideas of death and mortality th rough the media of painting, photography and video, methods over which I h ave almost complete control I choose the setting where t he photograph is staged; the clo thes both my parents and I wear; the environmental conditions, lighting, and composition of the photograph s and videos; the actions of both myself and my parents in the video s; the size of the photographic print; the color p aint and the type of paint I use; the flowers I depict, and how thoroughly I render the flower s etc. In Robert Pogue Harrison's book, Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition he explores the idea of care as it relates to the garden. He begins this discu ssion by sharing an ancient pa rable, in which the goddess Care shapes a piece of clay that is then given a spirit by Jupiter. The two begin arguing over whose name it should possess, when Earth interjects wishing her name to be given to the creature sinc e to create it Care used a piece of her body. Acting as arbiter, Saturn makes the following
! "$ decision: "Since you Jupiter, have given its spirit, you shall receive that spirit at its death; and since you, Earth, have given its body, you shall receive its bo dy. But since Care first shaped this creature, she shall possess it as long as it lives" (6). Through this parable, Harrison demonstrates the powerful connection between caring and being human, a connection that he then extends to the garden. A garden is p lanned by the gardener, planted and cultivated, and over time "yields its fruits or intended gratifications" (7). However, throughout the process the gardener must constantly tend and care for the garden to keep it alive. Harrison sets this up as a contras t to the story of Adam and Eve, who in the Garden of Eden have no cares having no responsibilities with no need to work to keep the garden alive. He views their expu lsion from Eden in part as a blessing rather than the curse it is usually thought to be He explains this, writing, "someone of Adam's constitution cannot help but hear in the earth a call to self realization through the activation of care. His need to engage the earth, to make it his place of habitation, if only by submitting himself to its laws this need would explain why Adam's sojourn in Eden was at bottom a form of exile and why the expulsion was a form of repatriation" (10). G rave gardens represent a specialized version of this care, representing a final versio n of care that the bereaved can give to the deceased through tending plants on the grave over an extended period of time. In their study of how the living act in cemeteries, Doris Francis, Leonie Kellaher, and Georgina Neophytou write that, "the investment of time, effort and care required to maintain a memorial garden may also be a part of the idea of saving' the personhood and memory of the departed from decay and extinction" (23). Not only do these gardens allow the bereaved to
! "% continue giving care, but they also become an outward physical symbol of this care to others visiting the cemetery. Similarly my painted p hotographs are a result of care both the love and care I feel for my pa rents, manifest in my fear of losing them in death and the love and c are they feel for me, in their willingness to become a part of my artwork. This care is extended over time, as I paint over their bodies in the photographed images, carefully considering the placement of each flower as I go. Cemeteries often contain speci ally designated memorial flower gardens. However, defined broadly the entire cemetery can be viewed as a garden. Similar to a garden, cemeteries have clearly defined boundaries, require constant maintenance and care of both the plants and the graves there, and reflect an ordering of nature by humans. The cemetery as garden space becomes a place specially set aside for contemplation, solitude, and remembrance. The artworks created for my thesis project take on a similar role both for myself as well as others As I paint on the photographs, I meditate on the feelings I have about death sorrow, anxiety, and fear bringing them to the forefront, rather than pushing them away. The painted photographs become a designated place for these feelings to exist. The piece s also become a highly personalized space for remembrance both of the specific experiences surrounding this project, as well as a lifetime of memories I share with my parents. Though intimately personal, the pieces are also meant to prompt contemplations o f death, mortality, loss, relationships, and ritual in the viewer as well. Death is often an avoided subject, a gaping chasm at the end of each of our lives around which we tiptoe, but birth and
! "& death are the two human experiences which we all share. To d ie is to be human. My painted photographs become a space for others to think about these ideas as well. Conclusion Now that I have finished the works for my project in lieu of thesis, there are moments when I feel more comfortable with t he idea of death. I am unsure whether t his is because I have embraced its inevitability to a certain extent or because I have distanced myself even further from it to make this work. Elisabeth Bronfen writes about the duality of experience, both acknowledgement and suppres sion, often present in works of a rt addressing the idea of death in her essay "The Mortality of Beauty," writing: The aesthetic representation of death lets us repress our knowledge of the reality of death precisely because here death occurs in someone el se's body and as an image. In a gesture of compromise, concealing what they also disclose, these radically duplicitous representations try to maintain a balance of sorts. They point obliquely to the death that threatens us but articulate this disturbing kn owledge in a displaced, recoded, and translated manner. Visualizing even as they conceal what is too dangerous to articulate openly, but too fascinating to repress successfully, they place death away from the self at the same time that they ineluctably bri ng it back into our frame of vision as something beautiful, fascinating and utterly engaging (5 1 ). T hough I am uncertain what the impact of these works will be on my own life and on the lives of others, I do know that a s I cover ed the photographs of my parents each painted flower became a moment of contemplation, a piece of a concentrated ritual which helped me process some of my feelings about death Because of this project, I
! "( have also talked about death more with my family and others, and through th is connection and support I find death less daunting. I also know that during a year when I often actively thought about death my thoughts vacillate d between sorrow that my parents will eventually die, but also joy that they are still alive today. In the end I believe that my thoughts of mortality vitalize rather then depress me, gi ving me heightened awareness of and appreciation for moments spent with those I love. Like flowers, our lives may be fragile and brief, but they can also be filled with beauty a nd great care
! ") PLATE 1: Burial #3 Ink on digital print. 2011.
! "* Plate 2: Tho u lost to sight, to memory dear Graphite. 2012.
! #, Plate 3: Burying Myself. Watercolor on digital print. 2013.
! #+ PLATE 4: Top and Bottom: Stills from Taking Care #2 HD video. 180 minutes, 2014.
! #" PLATE 5 : Still from Taking Care #2 HD video.180 minutes. 2014.
! ## PLATE 6 : Burying my Mom G ouache on digital p rint. 80.5" x 116". 2014.
! #$ PLATE 7 : Detail of Burying my Mom Gouache on digital print. 80.5" x 116". 2014.
! #% PLATE 8 : Burying my Dad Gouache on digital print. 80.5" x 124". 2014.
! #& PLATE 9 : Detail of Burying my Dad Gouache on digital print. 80.5" x 124". 2014.
! #( PLATE 10: Top and Bottom: Stills from Taking Care #1 HD video. 180 minutes. 2014.
! #) PLATE 11 : Still from Taking Care #1 HD video. 180 minutes. 2014.
! #* Works Cited Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1982. Print. Bronfen, Elisabeth The Mortality of Beauty ." Six Feet Under: Autopsy of Our Relation to the Dead Ed. Bernhard Fibicher Francis, Doris, Leonie Kellaher, and Georgina Neophytou. The Secret Cemetery. New York: Berg, 2005. Print. Goody, Jack. The Culture of Flowers Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Print. Habenstein, Robert W, and William M. Lamers. Funeral Customs the World Over Milwaukee: Bulfin Printers, 1960. Print. Hallam, Elizabeth, and Jennifer L. Hockey. Death, Memory, and Material Culture Oxford: Berg, 2001. Print. Harrison, Robert Pogue. Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2008. Print. Haviland Jones, Jeanette, et al. "An Environmental Approach to Positive Emotions: Flowers." Evolutionary Psychology (2005): 104 132. Web. 7 Dec. 2013. Lambert, Craig. "The Science of Happiness." Harvard Magazine Jan Feb 2007: 26 30, 94. Print. Leming, Michael, and George Dickinson. Understanding Dying, Death, and Bereavement Orlando: Harcourt Inc., 2002. Print. Moore, Andrew W, and Christopher Garibaldi. Flower Power: The Meaning of
! $, Flowers in Art London: Philip Wilson, 2003. Print. Morgan, David Spirit and Medium: The Video Art of Bill Viola ." The Art of Bill Viola Ed. Chris Townsend New York : Thames & Huson Inc., 2004. 88 109 Print. Nadel, Dani, et al. Earliest floral grave lining from 13,700 11,700 y old Natufian burials at Raqefet Cave, Mt. Carmel, Israel." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of Am erica. Vol. 110 No. 29 (2013): n. pag. Web. 7 December 2013. Pollan, Michael. The Botany of Desire New York: Random House, 2001. Print. Viola, Bill Putting the Whole Back Together: In Conversation with Otto Neumaier and Alexanger Phringer ." Reasons for Knocking at an Empty House: Writings 1973 1994 Ed. Robert Violette Cambridge : The MIT Press, 1995. Print.
! $+ BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Evie Woltil Richner was b orn and raised in Largo, Florida, where she developed a love of art at a young age. After graduating high school from the Pinellas County Center for the Arts, she attended the University of Florida, graduating with a BFA in printmaking and a BA in English in 2009. Evie then moved to Madison, Wis consin, where she continued to make art and worked as a print assistant at the University of Wisconsin's Tandem Press. She has had works shown in California, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Missouri Wisconsin, and Washington D.C., as well as around Flo rida. She graduated from the University of Florida's graduate program in Painting and Drawing, with a Master of Fine Arts in 2014.