Many cultures hire mourners to participate in funerals. They are a chorus, they are decoration, they are guides to the underworld and guides to the range of feelings that come with grieving. In Matthew Dickman’s poem Grief, grief comes as a purple gorilla. He writes: “We sit for an hour / while she tells me how unreasonable I’ve been, / crying in the checkout line, / refusing to eat, refusing to shower, / all the smoking and all the drinking. / Eventually she puts one of her heavy / purple arms around me, leans / her head against mine, / and all of a sudden things are feeling romantic. / So I tell her, / things are feeling romantic. / She pulls another name, this time / from the dead, / [...]”.
In Gustav Klimt’s Beethoven frieze grief also comes as a gorilla, with scales and fins and reflective eyes, but this exhibition is not about grief, it is about reflective eyes, and the shimmering gems and decoration that are the witnesses to mourning, the incense, the frankincense, the gilded and shining.
In this exhibition, Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt types drawings of time. Anna Betbeze changes carpets to portholes, Freek Wambacq visualises things where sound is supposed to be, magnetic tape is rustling grass, potato starch is footsteps in the snow. Elena Narbutaite shining and staring lamps are blinding empsthetic strangers that speak in toungues. Penny Slinger’s collages are maps of an inner life, they can be read both as a representing and mapping a “dance of death”, or “repentance” while Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili’s photographs recreate time of day / time of life with in the capsule of the dark room, one exposure is the morning, one exposure the dead of night, it is not the negative that has the time of day in it, it is her hand, like a magician, telling you: not that, this, over here, I have invented a new hour.
Grief is not an idea, that is the weight of it. Grief is the way that life interferes with life — the breath on the window, an outgrown shoe. The hired grievers are the barrier between grief and the idea of grief. Strangers that guide the family and loved ones who are suffering the loss of one of their own, and are the hired grievers the strangers that usher the dead into death. The juxtaposition between being the focus of mourning to the anonymous body that is being mourned.
Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili (Tbilisi, Georgia, 1979) lives and works in Berlin. She received her BFA in Photography from Bard College, Annandale, New York in 2003. Solo exhibitions of her work have been held at the Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne, Galerie Micky Schubert, Berlin; Kaufman Repetto, Milan; Ancient & Modern, London; and Eighth Veil, Los Angeles. Her work has been included in recent group exhibitions at the New Museum Triennial 2015, FRAC Haute-Normandie, Sotteville-lès-Rouen; Kavi Gupta, Chicago; Kunstverein Hannover, Hannover; Casey Kaplan, New York; MaryMary, Glasgow; Kunstverein Bielefeld, Bielefeld; and Karma International, Zurich.
Anna Betbeze (Columbus, US, 1980) lives and works in New York. She received a B.F.A. from the University of Georgia in 2003 and an M.F.A. in painting/printmaking from Yale in 2006. She has held solo exhibitions at Kate Werble Gallery, New York; Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, North Adams; Lüttenmeijer, Berlin; and François Ghebaly Gallery, Los Angeles. Her work has been included in group exhibitions at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; MoMA PS1; Galerie Perrotin, Paris; Luxembourg & Dayan, New York; Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York; and Ramiken Crucible, New York. She was the recipient of a Metropolitan Museum of Art Rome Prize in 2013–14.
Elena Narbutaite (Vilnius, Lithuania, 1984) lives and works in Vilnius. She has participated in exhibitions internationally, including the Liverpool Biennial in 2016 and the joint Lithuanian and Cyprus pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2013. Other recent group exhibitions include venues such as CACP Bordeaux, France, 2016, Escola De Artes Visuais do Parque Lage, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (2015); Marco Museo de Arte Contemporanea, Vigo, Spain (2015); Art Department Di Tella University, Buenos Aires, Argentina (2014). She has contributed to the periodicals The Federal, Nero, Bill and CAC Interview.
Penny Slinger (London, UK, 1947) lives and works in California. She has been working in the creative field since the 1970s, producing art in various mediums, from collage and painting to photography and film, and her work has been exhibited internationally. Recent solo exhibitions have been held at Blum and Poe Gallery in Tokyo (2015) and Los Angeles (2014), Broadway 1602 Gallery in New York (2012) and Riflemaker Gallery in London (2012). Her work has been included in recent group exhibitions at The Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw; Sadie Coles, London; Hayward Gallery, London; Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg; Bozar Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels.
Freek Wambacq (Brussels, Belgium, 1978) lives and works in Amsterdam. Solo exhibitions of his work have been held at Objectif, Antwerp (2013); Museum Leuven, Louvain, Belgium (2011), Galerie Elisa Platteau, Brussels (2009); KIOSK, Ghent (2008); STUK, Leuven (2007); S.M.A.K., Ghent (2005). He recently presented an intervention in the show Warming Up, Michel Cardena, at Rozenstraat-a rose is a rose is a rose, Amsterdam (2017). His work has been included in group exhibitions at Kunstverein München, Munich (2017); KIT, Dusseldorf (2011); Stedelijk Museum, Aalst (Belgium, 2010); Centre d’art Contemporaine, Château-Gontier (2009); Queens’ Nails Projects, San Francisco (USA, 2009); Künstlerhaus, Dortmund (2009).
Ruth Wolf-Rehfeldt (Wurzen, Germany, 1932) lives and works in Berlin. At the beginning of the 1970s, she started to develop her trademark typewriter graphics (Typewritings) and participated in the Mail Art projects. Her recent solo exhibitions include: Signs Fiction, Chert Berlin (2015); Ruth Wolf- Rehfeldt–Original Graphic Works 1972-1989, Weserburg Study Centre / Museum of Modern Art Bremen (2012). Her work has been included in group exhibitions at Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art, Riga (2017); Museum Barberini, Potsdam (2017); Malmö Konsthall, Malmö (2017); documenta 14, Kassel (2017); Martin Gropius Bau, Berlin (2016).