Death – A Self Portrait – Wellcome Collection, London

commemoration-L0071951”Things at the outer limits of life & death, sexualty & pain’  Phillipe Aries ‘The Hour of our Death’ (1977)

‘ars longa , vita brevis’                ‘life is short, art eternal’

I love the Wellcome Collection, its where I head as soon as Ive set foot in London again. Its iconic & eclectic collections are always fascinating ,and it rightly calls itself  ‘a free destination for the incurably curious’.

In the programme for ‘Death: A Self Portrait’ it reads ”At the heart of this exhibition are questions about art communicating ideas about death and the body. Can the production and appreciation of symbolic artworks help us to negotiate death? What function do inanimate objects play in burial and mourning rituals? How can our possesssions help to activate memories that connect us to the dead?” All these questions relate to the origins and use of puppets, and particularly my continuing by chance investigations into ancient burial relics such as in Almaty, Kazakstan with the Shamanic golden warrior women

and the Shu Dynasty sacrificial site in Cheng Du, China.

wellcome death (1)

Amongst the many artworks and artefacts Richard Harris has collected in just 12 years, ephemera from all across the globe – the ones which directly relate to the artform of puppetry are the most fascinating to me. The ritualistic and spiritual ancestry of puppetry is essentially still part of humankind’s animistic spirit. – the desire to animate the inanimate, resurrect the dead.

Amongst the many amazing images and objects, including Tibetan sacrificial skull cups and Mexican Day of the Dead masks –  the Tau Tau Indonesia wooden funeral figure immediately stands out. The figure acts as a grave guardian, produced in the image of the deceased, to honour the dead and protect their descendants with articulated limbs and what looks like real hair,  it seems he could be puppeteered to life instantly.

wellcome death  American wood & cotton skeleton puppets link to the Medieval ‘Dance of Death’, reminding us that death sets the pace for life’s dance.wellcome death (2)



One thought on “Death – A Self Portrait – Wellcome Collection, London

  1. Attaching a long wire handle to his puppet subjects, Tanaka is able to make his skeletons dance and perform activities in synchronicity beside reality. His stage is the rectangular frame of his camera set still on a tripod. Known to travel to Europe with his puppets and tripod camera, Tanaka often sets up among crowds, often preferring to shoot theatrical scenes at nighttime with long open-lens exposures. The photo works make obvious the close connection between the living world and the dead, between the inanimate and the movement of daily life. Tanaka’s shadow worlds are printed in black and white to emphasize the contrasts of light and dark, of white bone against the night. The circular patterns of the book creates a movement of time from indoor personal/private space to public shared space and the madness of crowds. Light shows are an aggressive ongoing element throughout Midnight Tokyo. There are fireworks, lit up skyscrapers, reflections, paper lanterns, neon lights, sun, moon and pen-light drawings. The artist is hyper-conscious of light and composition -and the sublime effect it plays in photography.

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