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In Clarendon, an old mechanicís garage has found new life as a gallery for art about death. In the two unfinished rooms of the once-abandoned space, the woodcarvings, silk-screened paintings, floor-bound ball and chain, and other works that make up the exhibition ìLife & Deathî pay homage to the other side.
ìI want to change the whole perception of death, because itís not something that we need to fear,î artist and exhibition organizer Henrik Sundqvist says of the show, which runs to Nov. 12. According to the 36-year-old Arlington resident, people are afraid to ponder the natural order of things. ìItís easier not to think about it, but this event gives an opportunity to reflect,î Sundqvist says.
Artist Jay Rees, 33, concurs. ìThere have been cultures that thought of [death] as much more uplifting and not quite so much of a negative thing,î the Adams Morgan resident says. ìFear of death is culturally learned.î Reesówhose contributions include a series of stained-glass works chronicling what he describes as ìGodís side of the creation story up to the Great Floodîósays that getting seniors involved as both subject and audience is a key element in changing peopleís perceptions. ìA lot of the focus on modernism is on youth. We just kinda wanted to swing it the other way,î Rees says. ìWe have something to teach [the elderly] and something to learn from them, as well.î
ìA lot of people are dealing with this kind of subject matter already,î says Sundqvist, who needed only three weeks to assemble the roughly 70 works that are on display. A few pieces remain lighthearted: Trudi Ludwigís woodcut on paper, Prima Veritas, portrays three skeletonsópresumably celebrating the end of lifeóconnecting in an exuberant dance. Other works, such as Margaret Adams Parkerís depictions of the genocide and death camps in Darfur, are darker. Nancy McIntyreís silk-screen renditions of photographs she shot in the í80s examine the loneliness that often ensues in oneís later years: In Joeís Kitchen, a single shotgun sits perched on a gun rack above a window; a rocking chair sits empty across from a box of kitty litter.
ìLife & Deathîís in-your-face theme doesnít bother Ruth Martindaleówho, at 83 years old, is part of the showís target demographic. In her motorized wheelchair, Martindale navigates the cement floors of the warehouse, viewing the exhibition for the second weekend in a row. ìI find it fascinating,î she says of the exhibition, at which she watched McIntyre perform a silk-screening demonstration. Martindale says she was particularly drawn to a series of photographs depicting elderly men in boxing gloves, looking as if they were about to enter the ring for the most important fight of their lives.
But Martindaleís attendance is the exception. She has private transportation from the Culpepper Garden retirement housing community in Arlington courtesy of her son. Sundqvist admits that the exhibitionís attendance among the elderly has been unfortunately lowóhe says heís had trouble coordinating the transportation of seniors from their facilities. ìMost likely it was a liability issue,î he says, noting concerns regarding the safety of accident-prone seniors in the unfinished and potentially dangerous warehouse.
To make the art more accessible to seniors with mobility issues, Sundqvist says he is prepared to take the exhibition into convalescent homes, retirement communities, and assisted-living faculties in the future. That is, if authorities at those facilities are unableóor unwillingóto bring their residents to the show.
ìYou shouldnít treat the elderly like children,î Rees says. ìThe showís not just about death. Itís called ëLife & Death.íî