Here’s the Tender Coming (WHOOPEE) We’re all Going to Die

Brian Dillon (IE/GB), Gardar Eide Einarsson (NO/US), Martin Healy (IE), Kate Murphy (AU), Kiron Robinson (AU), Lee Welch (IE/US)

‘Relegated to the secret, private space of the home or the anonymity of the hospital, death no longer makes any sign’ – Philippe Ariès, The Hour of Our Death

Seen as an event of human life, death can be regarded from an ontological outlook – as at the very core of being – rather than as a metaphysical deferred reality. Here’s the Tender Coming (WHOOPEE) We’re all Going to Die plays out a dialogue concerning the reclamation of death within the condition of life, a space where finitude is integral, death is never far from the mind of the artist, and present on the surface, just underneath, or within the text of their work.
The exhibition aims to interrupt the disjunction of life and death in contemporary Western society, operating via narrative, anecdotal, philosophical, symbolic, phenomenological, performative and intertextual means; it features video works – Kiron Robinson’s On Photography and Death and Kate Murphy’s Cry me a Future; a Gardar Eide Einarsson ‘flag’ work; a text piece by writer and critic Brian Dillon; a temporal performance/installation by Lee Welch; and a new work by Martin Healy.

Hegel, writing in the late 1700s does not equate Death with an absolute negation – and hence termination – of life, but sees it as possessing a dialectical energy that spurs life onward, increasing its possibility. Life and death he maintains, share an intimate relationship as two reciprocal forces; they are dialectically polarized rather than diametrically opposed. While Heidegger goes further, suggesting in Being and Time that Death is the determining factor of selfhood. Be it through the hope in the rewards of an afterlife, or through losing oneself in everyday affairs of productivity and accumulation, to live in denial of the presence of a certain and immanent death, he posits, is to give ourselves over to a state of ontological concealment.

This present disembodiment from our mortality has been accelerated by the degree of technologization and bureucratization associated with death, which has occurred within a relatively brief period of human history. As Philippe Aries points out, ‘Death was always public. Hence the profound significance of Pascal’s remark that one dies alone, for at that time one was never physically alone at the moment of death. Today his statement has lost its impact, for one has a very good chance of literally dying alone, in a hospital room’.

Aries’ five historical models of death illustrates the transition from the “public death of the past” to the “hidden death of the future” where death is attributed to disease rather than fundamental to the human condition. He sites Tolstoy’s The death of Ivan Ilyich (1886), as heralding in the age of medicalized death. Dying is presented as an ugly and indecent act where the public are denied access. Our present day ‘death system’ is then, according to Sean Ireton, both depersonalised and desocialised: ‘Whether we realize it or not, we are alienated from our dying more than ever before, and it is the task of writers, philosophers, and general thanatologists to alert us to this fact and help restore us to our humanity.’

Kate Murphy’s self-portrait Cry me a future (Dublin), pays homage to festive periods spent alone reminiscing about the past and wondering what the future holds. Murphy’s recording of a visit to a psychic alludes to our desire to search for answers of what awaits us in the future while exploring societal anxiety about relationships, money, grief and loss. Recorded, filmed and edited in Dublin, this is the first showing of the work here, or outside of Australia.
Lee Welch’s work Guest Host or Around & About, exists in obverse states within, and outside of, the gallery space, reaches out to us, upon us presently, and into our future. A text Feeling as a Metaphor precedes the exhibition, during the course of the exhibition a platform provides space for a video installation, the platform in turn serving as a locus for a future performance by the artist.

Gardar Eide Einarsson’s Black Flag With Hole acts in the first instance as an ominous, unknowable, act or sign. Beneath the surface facts permeate its fabric, the changing state of a nation and the lives of millions of its inhabitants, via its previous outing as a working flag – evidenced by the remnants of rust on its seam – and into the gallery space. Based on the Romanian revolutionary flag of 1989, for which the traditional coat of arms was removed creating a symbolic coup d’etat that announced the removal of the state (Romanian Socialist Republic) from the nation (Romania), the work was previously exhibited at the Sydney Biennale.

Kiron Robinson’s video installation On Photography and Death is a filmed conversation with fellow artist Sanja Pahoki in which she discusses the possibility of seeing her grandmother for the last time and her attempts to create and retain the memory of this meeting through the photographic even as it unfolded before her. Brian Dillon presents us with a fragment of a narrative, a young nameless woman searches for her missing– presumed dead–lover among the ruins of a modernist building, permeated with the ghosts of dead words... while Martin Healy presents new work for the exhibition – a black and white photographic print and a small bronze cast.

Curator’s note: Each exhibition at Pallas Projects is forwarded by an artwork element, or text, by or about the artist. In this instance we are presenting a PDF artwork by Lee Welch.

Finnisage: Lee Welch will give a short performance to invited guests in which he speaks through the words, images and actions of others. This ventriloquist position adopted by Welch is clearly situated in the present but composed completely from fragments and voices from the past, yet it is not historicizing. His sources become letters, signs and symbols in a new language which traverses or shortcuts multiple histories.