Bethany Wells - Guest Blog
Today I fly out to Mexico City to join our Mexican collaborators for Part 7 of the Grief Series. I’m just hours away from meeting back up with our collaborator Vlady, getting to know Laura Pirez, who will be my host, and meeting + working with the Faro artists. I'm dizzy-excited for this adventure, like a child on Christmas eve.
Last year, 7 of us travelled out to research Day of the Dead, and to understand what it feels like to spend time surrounded by a culture that honours death as a part of life, and that has established rituals for reconnecting with grief.
This year, we’re continuing our research questions with a focus on how things are made, who makes them, who makes them happen + the creative process behind the alebrijes, ofrendas, sugar skulls + public events around the celebration.
We’re in new territory as artists with this project; the international collaboration we are looking to establish is not about duplicating rituals, bringing back traditions to a place they don't belong, or showcasing Mexican work, but about spending time living and breathing the cultural + social atmosphere, planting creative seeds + testing ways of thinking that might inform the next stage of our work back in the UK.
We’re interested in creating new rituals and public/community projects that are able to transform the social and cultural conversation around grief in the UK. We love the idea that our work will be informed by many voices + give shape to a new public expression of grief and remembrance. At this stage, it’s a live investigation, a project with open ends + edges. We can’t wait to see what this next phase of the collaboration might give rise to.
For now, I’ve written a mini manifesto for how we might re-imagine halloween to take on some of the humanity and social spirit of Day of the Dead:
Imagine if we celebrated halloween with as much care as we do Christmas.
What if instead of hanging up anonymous skeletons, we displayed items that honoured those we have lost; friends and family, ancestors and inspirational figures.
What if, as well as digging out + carving a pumpkin lantern, we dug out old recipes, re-created meals we used to love, brought out old photographs + invited people round to remember the favourite drinks + foods we shared with those we have lost.
What if, instead of trick or treating, we visited our neighbours + collected money from our friends and colleagues to support those who look after the dying; hospices, palliative care + mental health charities.
What if, as well as spraying cobwebs, we decorated our windows with seasonal fruits and flowers, reminding us of the life that we lose as we head into winter.
What if, as well as the pound shop fun, we each had a box stored carefully under the bed containing decorations, handmade or inherited, that remind us of our ancestors, and call their presence back to life as the evenings draw in.
28th July 2018
On the second of June I set off on a journey to ask where
the memory of the dead live. I’ve been open about how my experiences shape The
Grief Series but this is the first project where my autobiography has been
front and centre. But rather than the project swimming in lake me, my hope has
always been to use my autobiography to break down hierarchies. How can I ask you to share significant people and places with me if I’m not prepared to do
the same? The caravan is an offering to get you thinking and talking. The…
17th June 2018
“Matt would you like to renovate an old caravan?”“Sure why not, sounds like fun”It was an odd request but I do like a challenge, I thought
to myself how hard could it be? They do this sort of thing on TV programs all
the time. It’s just case of ripping out the old, splash some paint around and
fill with lovely new stuff, all pretty straight forward… EasyAfter spending about an hour gutting the old 80s interior
out of Perle, I was starting to get that slow sinking feeling that I may have
bitten off more than can chew. As…
5th June 2018
On Saturday night we launched Journey with Absent Friends in
the beautiful grounds of Abbey House Museum. After a day of rain, the clouds
parted and we were able to sit in the garden with the smell of Rosemary, the
taste of Rhubarb iced tea and a beautiful view of the Abbey. And this change in
the weather seems like a mirror of the process.We were delighted to get our funding decision in at the
start of March. In 3 short months we have delivered an international conference
with visiting practitioners from Mexico, India, Germany and the U.S, facilitated
10th June 2018
Remembering the dead
– stories from the last centuryby Dr Laura King The things we keep and places that become special when
someone dies have a sense of permanence: objects last longer than we do, and
whilst places may change, they remain thereforever. This can provide some comfort – everyone dies eventually, but our
and our loved ones’ memories can live on. Whether a gravestone or the site of
scattered ashes, or a favourite pub or a street where someone lived, anchoring
our memories of someone who has died in a sense of place is a useful to us.Families have long…
17th February 2018
For the last week I have been fully immersed in Swansea. New city, new landscape, new vocabulary and new collaboration. I've been mentoring artist Stephen Donnelly on his project Sore Thumbs.At first I was excited to be swept along with the tide from shopping centre to seaside, from the market to a primary school in Lougha. And now, a week in I have got my sea legs and am able to navigate the waters, and steer the course (politely of course).It has been a joy to hear Steve’s memories, to bear witness to his experiences; finding shared points of reference…
29th June 2017
Wow. It's been almost six weeks since our Unfair was stolen. So much has happened in the world and for Team Grief, it's still a little hard to believe. We wanted to say a massive THANK YOU to everyone who sent words of support and shared our call out, and give extra big sloppy kisses to all who donated to our Crowdfunder to rebuild what we lost. We've been so overwhelmed by your generosity. Thank you so much.The last thing we want is to let the theft of The Unfair throw our other projects off schedule. We’re currently full steam…
3rd May 2017
Well we’ve started prep for The Unfair and from the moment I got a whiff of popcorn and saw Bethany cracking open the gloss paint I fell in love with the project all over again. I’m so very lucky to be working with such an amazing team: Bethany Wells, Matt Sykes Hooban, Adam Young and Jess Sweet. Handpainted signs are being polished and tweaked, Tea has been bought from the amazing Teapot Stall in Leeds Market and we are reinforcing the Colossus punch bag for you to take your frustrations out on. And there is plenty to be angry about…
17th April 2017
Eating Feelings by Helen Russell BrownHaving watched my best friend care for her mother as she suffered from terminal illness, when the time came to honour her memory last summer I did what I know best; I baked a cake. Earl Grey and Lavender cake to remember Steph; to treasure her elegance, warmth, and feminine grace. Cake was requested from all visitors to the wake as a celebration of the sweetest joys in life at a time when all felt lost. Tables heaved with sticky delights dripping in syrup, adorned with flowers and fresh fruit, or glistening with thick chocolate…
20th March 2017
So after 18 months of research, of conversations, of illustrations and proof reads, of making up decks of cards and putting together boxes, we launched The Crossing at Live Art Bistro last week. I admit I was nervous for our launch. Matthew and I have spent time speaking to celebrants from different faith perspectives, funeral directors, florists, caterers, and people from different buildings around the city. It is one thing to visit people in the heart of their own community but whether they will make the effort to trudge down Regent Street on a gloomy Thursday afternoon, looking for the…