As the culminating project of her time at Sager Braudis Gallery, University of Missouri student and gallery intern Erin McFarland has curated the Uprise Bakery exhibit, Here Lie Lilacs. As a double major in English and Art, Erin finds illustrating artistic connections to formative thinking and culturally collective ideologies vital. Here Lie Lilacs is an exploration of surrender in both the physical and the spiritual realm. Speaking to the philosophies concerned with consenting release and nonnegotiable surrender, which in conjunction communicate the beautiful limitations of humanity but also a path towards death acceptance, Here Lie Lilacs aims to provoke subconscious thinking about our own mortality. Bearing in mind her desire to incorporate literary symbolism, the title of the exhibition stems from a Walt Whitman poem entitled “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”, a romantic elegy to Abraham Lincoln. As an elegy, the poem not only laments death, but also conveys three stages of loss: expressions of grief and sorrow, praising of the idealized dead, and finally, consolation or solace. Whitman marries each phase with a botanical motif—rendering death an integral part of life, as flowers begin budding in the spring and die come winter. Choosing lilacs specifically though, the speaker ensures continued life for the dead as he lays a lilac sprig onto Lincoln’s coffin, symbolizing rebirth or regeneration of the dead. Given these literary conventions, the title Here Lie Lilacs elicits the sorrowful memory of elegy in tandem with surrender to the natural world. The four visual artists included in this show masterfully convey similar concerns as Whitman over a century later.
Inducing ideas of remorse, grieving, and memory, Hannah Reeves combines notions of remembrance and vanity through the sumptuous symbolism of the Victorian era. Her work often focuses on memorialization of the dead, so like Whitman she notes the innate human desire to continue life after death, if only through the collective memory of the living. In this exhibit, she showcases portraiture accompanied by either birds or flora, intentionally alluding to postmortem imagery and allowing the audience moments of uncertainty. These mysterious symbols flirt with death acceptance, begging contemporary society to rediscover release and acceptance.
Mike Sleadd’s aggressive pen and ink works invoke dark energies reminiscent of horror through both the depicted subject matter and contrasting line weight. Executing precise detail alongside the natural chaos of fluid ink, Sleadd demonstrates a defining balance between control and release. His intricate line work consumes central areas only to be surrounded by madness. In this way, Sleadd’s work extrapolates the significance of consensual surrender while also suggesting themes of fear and death through medium, application, and subject.
Santiago Olazábal, a Cuban artist and Santeria priest, depicts figures with violent paint strokes and a limited palette of black, red, and yellow. The Santerían religion developed out of Yoruba and their colonization by Roman Catholics, melding rituals of communion with their ancestors and deities with the Catholic appreciation of sainthood. Santeria inspires the entirety of Santiago’s work, which is evident in choosing to surround each figure with red dots, indicating activated pressure points key to the religion. As communicating with the dead is a role solely practiced by priests during rituals, Santiago’s work in this exhibit deals largely with trances and possession, or surrender to the dead themselves.
Shanlin Ye too surrenders control to her medium, but also determines central facial features with the utmost precision. Displaying select pieces from her Mask series illustrates human features as crucial to physical and emotional identity, for only the lower face is allowed full rendering while the eyes are either closed or missing, which arguably is the most telling feature of one’s identity. The lack of eyes also provides a possessed or sleep-like quality to the mask, which inevitably excites ideologies surrounding spirits, death, and dying. Her use of watercolor only amplifies this effect, for the juxtaposition between medium and the depicted form hint at an honest relationship with surrender. Ye demonstrates surrender to her medium through the chance edges of each mask, but in doing so also a clear understanding and acceptance of release from the tangible.
Death is inevitable, and each of these artists renders this fact differently; however, whether it be funerary practices, religious beliefs, a lesson in surrender, or the horror of nightmares, the four artists refuse modern ideology of death as innately bad. Humans have struggled with the brevity of our life since the dawn of time and often idealize memorialization—40,000 years ago cavemen first left handprints on the inside of a cave wall, long before pictorial cave painting and witch hunts for immortality and eternal youth began with ancient civilization. Yet, death and dying remain prevalent, only our tolerance and coping mechanisms have begun to fade. Here Lie Lilacs desires the elimination of death from the realm of taboo, and realignment of our end within the balanced arms of control and surrender.
Here Lie Lilacs will be showing at Uprise Bakery May 5th through June 2nd.