The Physical Body
Why not show it as it is, literally? I had my ideas, thoughts and possible pathways to explore – problem was translating the ideas onto the physical body, whatever it was. But after seeing Hiromi Tango’s Lizard Tail and Amanda Parer’s Intrude, both of which literally translated ideas into physical form, I thought that perhaps, I wanted to try it.
Lizard Tail (Breaking Cycle) by Hiromi Tango
In the artwork, Tango investigates the idea of the lizard’s ability to drop their tails, and how we similarly do it with difficult memories and emotions. The lizard’s tail becomes a symbol for Tango – to nurture, protect and regenerate.
At the same time, she transforms her feelings into the object itself: as she weaves, she considers, and untangles the emotional knots she has.
“I accept that some creature is visiting me, and together we wrap our memory, emotions and trauma. It is quite an aggressive energy and I don’t want to reveal it to others. Other times, a tender energy visits me, and with it, I carefully examine the emotional threads and weave them together. The process is quite simple, but I need to stay focused to see the invisible threads in order to untangle them without feeling overwhelmed.”
– Hiromi Tango (2017).
Intrude by Amanda Parer
The usage of rabbits here contains a slight contradictory message – cute they might look, rabbits are actually considered pests where Parer hails from in Australia. However, Parer attempts to use the cutesy image to entice people to notice the underlying environmental message it (rabbits) brings.
Referencing the ‘elephants in the room’, the large bunnies force us to confront the issue headfirst.
Thus, I thought to look at rabbit-related phrases, and came up with a few:
Horse and rabbit stew – referring to unpleasant things being of a larger proportion to beneficial things
Go down the rabbit hole – a situation that is strange, problematic, and becomes increasingly chaotic
✓ Rabbit’s foot – a good luck charm
Of these, I was the most interested in the rabbit’s foot and subsequently did more reading up on it.
Some history on the foot: considered a good luck charm, the rabbit’s foot has a macabre history behind it. According to an article by Kim Nagy for Webvet, the belief hails from animism which bestows objects with spiritual powers. Obtaining part of the animal would give the holder some of its strengths, such as improved fertility or swiftness in the face of danger.
One interesting point to note that the luckier the rabbit’s foot was to be, the elements involving how it was killed had to be more inauspicious than ever. Firstly, it must be a real rabbit’s left hind foot, the luckiest feet originating from rabbits who are killed or caught in a cemetery. After which, various superstition exists on how to get the luckiest feet – the rabbit must be caught during a new or full moon, or on Friday the 13th. The foot should be cut off the rabbit while its alive, or it be caught by a cross-eyed person.
Folklorist Bill Ellis quotes an earlier advertisement selling the foot, exemplifying this,
“…the left hind foot of a rabbit killed in a country churchyard at midnight, during the dark of the moon, on Friday the 13th of the month, by a cross-eyed, left handed, red-headed, bow-legged Negro riding a white horse.”.
I love how the ironic this is: that by capturing the rabbit through the unluckiest ways, we aim to get good fortune from it.
The Modern-day Rabbit Foot
Based on wisegeek.com’s article, real rabbits’ foot keychains are still easily available on the internet, tourist shops or casino vending machine. However, in my experience, I have not seen an actual rabbit foot being sold, but a furry alternative remains in fashion stores.
This is the closest keychain I can see inspired by the rabbit’s foot, however it should be noted that these keychains are only for aesthetic purposes, and have no such superstitious value (to my knowledge).
The Rabbit’s Foot and…. FYP?
I did some rough sketches, but somehow feel a lack of direction to go about it. These sketches were mostly for installations, something I think I foresee myself doing. However, the sketches mostly replicated artworks which I’ve seen before, and am unable to express the message I would like to bring across.. all I knew was that I wanted to make something physical. Perhaps I was relying too much on the rabbit metaphor?
After talking to Prof Randall, we thought that it might be better to extract the themes of my bunny, and work with it. With themes, it was easier to both narrow down and explore the concept more accurately.
Key Ideas and Topics
Loss, grief, memory, and fear
One famous method to categorise grief would be Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s Kübler-Ross Grief Cycle (aka 5 stages of grief) from her 1969 book On Death and Dying.
Without delving too deeply into the cycle, I found my own experience not fully ascribing to the cycle, and sprung onto a new situation. I was in denial yes, but at the same time, I too felt helplessness, was bargaining with myself, frustrated at making the wrong decisions, and in shock. I was everything. It was as though my grief was an emotional replacement for my bun, evident that everything has happened and was not just a figment of my imagination.
Taryn Simon’s An Occupation of Loss tackles grief through acceptance, and she investigates how the living uses rituals and monuments to deal with loss. In her work, performers stay inside large concrete cylinders and grief, forming a cacophony. In a way, she accepts the grief, and moves on, but acknowledges it. I find this aspect very enthralling, or giving sufficient space to this whole new process of grief.
Definitely, the loss was startling – how can one quickly adapt to a change in routine, a loss of something important in your life? After all, humans thrive on routine. Grief results from this loss.
While I do understand that the process of my bun leaving is centred on grief and loss, I am more interested in exploring the concept of memory. Memory of my last moment together with him, the previous time spent with him… It feels distant, as though it has never happened before. Rather than focusing on loss/grief, I want to make sure that his PRESENCE is still there.
Perhaps, that will be what I will focus on.
Photographer Jennifer Loeber created a project ‘Left Behind‘, which matches objects her late mother left behind to photographs her father took. In her artist statement, she stated that it was a ‘confrontation’ to her tragedy, and it directly connects the otherwise ordinary objects to the beautiful memorial of her mother.
I like the confrontation, and rediscovered poetic memory of her mother. She acknowledges, and addresses it properly, rather than shy away or disregard it.
(Random update: I didn’t realise that I did see this painting before in real life a year ago and even snapped a picture of it!)
According to Tate, momento mori refers to an artwork ‘designed to remind the viewer of their mortality and of the shortness and fragility of human life’. Translated from latin, it means ‘remember you must die’.
The momento mori and a similar genre vanitas picture became popular in the 17th century, at a time where the majority believed that life on Earth was merely a preparation for the afterlife. In these artworks, symbols of mortality, both directly and indirectly referring to it, are included. In the momento mori, common symbols include skulls, hour glasses, clocks and dying fruits or flowers, whereas the vanitas portrays musical instruments, wines and books, reminding us of the vanity in world pursuits.
Both genres remain a candid reflection of life and death, and a reminder of passing time. It does not trivialise death, but rather prepares one towards it as a final end goal. It is just what it is. It is not positioned as something to avoid, but something we accept.
These genres continue to be explored by artists today.
Life and Death in Art
I particularly liked Beth Lipman‘s One and Others, where she arranges a still life of glass and flowers – items commonly used as tribute for the death – at the top of a coffin which has been customised to fit her.
The clever use of glass, a medium she is quoted saying
“Glass has a perpetuity, or immortality to it. Even though glass is fragile, it mimics the life cycle. It has a duality to it. It’s fragile and perishable, but also perpetual.”
both pushes and reminds one of death. Lipman becomes the symbol of death itself, and imbues herself with the artwork.
Another famous work concerning the reminder of death would be Candy Chang‘s Before I Die.
Momento Mori and my fyp
Facing death directly. Being candid and acknowledging it. Instead of death being a poetic end at the end of one’s life cycle, I want to make a varied version of the momento mori, one which extrudes and glorifies that memory of death (not before it happens).