Memento mori is a Latin phrase translated as “Remember your mortality”, “Remember you must die”, or “Remember you will die”; taken literally it means [In the future] remember to die, since “memento” is a future imperative of the 2nd person, and “mori” is a deponent infinitive. It names a genre of artistic creations that vary widely from one another, but which all share the same purpose: to remind people of their own mortality. The phrase has a tradition in art that dates back to antiquity.
It is rare for me to move into narrative, but this new work tells the story of a chapter of my life that was intimately concerned with mortality – specifically that of my much-loved parents, but including others as well. I had never before been so closely involved with people who were living through the final stages of their life. It was both sobering and inspiring, and I use the term to title this work in the sense that profound awareness of one’s mortality can motivate one to “seize the day” in a very positive way.
memento mori, 2011
private collection, Queensland, Australia
920 x 920
off-loom weaving, stitching, collage, assemblage, painting
water hyacinth fiber, modelling paste, canvas, acrylic paints, rayon ribbon
acetate, fragments of straw sun hat, silk tissue paper
images of own artworks, cut and woven
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The story unfolded in Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia. Every component of the work tells part of that story. I will list the symbols and leave it to the viewer to ‘get the picture.’
Three ‘strokes’ of red ribbon: Mum, Dad and me.
The two ‘drapes’: Mum and Dad. Mum on the left, overlapping Dad slightly; she survived him for nearly a year.
Silk tissue paper: They were both in their 80’s when they moved to the Bay, and past 95 when they died. Their skin was so fragile it reminded me of ancient papyrus.
Straw sunhat fragments: The sun and the heat were hard on them (and me). We had to learn to seek shade rather than sun, which, coming from a temperate climate was a hard habit to break.
The rolling waves: Hervey Bay’s beauty is renowned. The Coral Sea laps quietly, gently; we enjoyed many beach walks together before they became less mobile. Waves also speak of the inexorable tide of life – we come, we go. All returns to the ocean of creation.
The stitches with red ribbon: These two strands of ribbon, meeting and tying in the middle, represent my dear friends M and R, whose home was often my refuge, and whose loving support and loyal friendship helped keep me sane. They generously commissioned this work.
The woven strips of older works: My art practice was largely over-shadowed by the task of supporting Mum and Dad’s wellbeing. While the creative life continued in other ways, studio work was virtually impossible. However, one’s previous work is always busy in the sub-conscious – weaving itself into new ideas and questions.
The background: The threads of Life are wondrously interwoven and usually inexplicably so. Parallel to that rather philosophical reference is the simple fact that for much of the decade I felt like a basket-case … yet much was ripening within. At the end of the decade I was no longer the person I had taken myself to be. Another death had happened – one that had nothing to do with mortality, but that opened up a fresh vista on life and creativity.