I realized I’d built a vertical grave for my husband, father, and dog Persi, whose unconditional support helped me through the illness and loss of the two most important men in my life. Eight feet long and built of sod, the wall was taking shape. Having reached a height of five feet, it stood heavy and immobile—like grief itself. As I was adding the sixth and final foot, a semi-truck sped past my studio building, creating an earthquake. The wall fell in the aftershock.
Staring in disbelief at a half ton of sod covering my studio floor, mostly brown and already composting, all I could do was laugh. In that split second, I realized this structure was simply a metaphor for the wall I had built around my own heart, so I wouldn’t have to feel the pain of loss. I don’t believe in accidents; the fall gave me permission to play with the broken pieces to create something unintended. With my work reincarnated from the decaying debris, I began anew, and the fundamental drives of my practice changed radically. Raised in a culture where the delicate and complicated process of mourning was rushed, clearing the way to move on or “get back to normal”, this stoic posturing left no room for ritual or its importance in healing the complex emotional experience of grief. Labor and time intensive works made in the studio became a counterbalance to painful emotions. Whether hand mending cloth degraded with bleach, cocooning objects with thousands of yards of thread, or practicing Butoh, these personal rituals transformed the chaos of grief into moments of stillness, acceptance and hope.
Two years later, my practice is an immersion in mourning research. As this research has expanded, mourning rituals based on personal loss have given way to increased focus on the socio-political climate of the moment. Due to an escalation of violence and disparity, the collective felt experience of grief is palpable in our society. Regardless of our difference’s,grief is a common ground. By acknowledging this commonality, I propose to devise a path to connect individuals and communities in intimate, creative and regenerative spaces for healing.