Death Cleaners

“Ties” touches on several of my concerns. First, the materials, both the yarn and hair used for this work carry the ideas of things ending and things being shed. I have been collecting hair for years as if they were an obsession. I like the idea of how it is one of the parts of the body that lasts longest, lasting beyond death. It is often kept as a keepsake yet at the same time it always points back to the idea of having lost someone. It also points to my concern with the body and illness. 

Yarn also carry with it the theme of the home and the traditional female role at home, something that we still grapple with. The organic forms I made resemble overgrown roots that abnormally popped out of walls, an unwelcome growth. They hint at a personal experience of having been recently uprooted from our home or an experience of having our home destroyed by the unravelling of familial ties. These forms also resemble veins and nerves which again harks back to my personal experience of a chronic disorder. 

 The repetitive and desperate act of tying something also connects to the process of deterioration I experience around me and in my body. I also wanted to show how much I wanted to bind things to me such as a home, other people and time despite having accepted that it’s impossible.

“Mend”, on the other hand, is a slightly different approach at making things whole. I wanted to suggest the idea of living people filling in gaps in memories of their loved ones through visible mending. I wanted to use visible mending because, like hair, there’s something ironic about it as a process. We mend clothes to repair them, which means that we try to make the tears and flaws less noticeable. Visible mending, however, highlights the damage, sometimes turning them into something decorative.

Both the jusi blouse and hair are from Christina Quisumbing Ramilo. The blouse, according to Ramilo, was handed down to her by her mother or older sister.

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Death Cleaners

Exhibit Notes by JC Rosete

Döstädning, death cleaning in Swedish, pertains to the process of cleaning house before one passes away. Often done to relieve loved ones of the burden of dealing with one’s possessions after death, it is a process that can nevertheless be undertaken earlier in life, for those ever so inclined to think of mortality and the logistical considerations one would leave behind. The show plays with this notion, as artists create new forms based on given artworks, images, and materials from the house of artist Ling Quisumbing Ramilo. Various stories and origins accompany these works. Some are of old paintings, in various stages of completion, created during Ling’s early years as an artist. Others are of materials gathered for planned creative projects. There are even one or two cherished family heirlooms. All of these– gathered and kept throughout the artist’s almost forty years of artistic practice– are intimately tied to her life, mute witnesses of her past and potential material for future years. To reveal the gravity behind the act, it may be prudent to ask: what does it entail then, to let all of these go?

Bound to the configuration of the show are complex negotiations spanning materials, processes, and personal ties—from the choice of artwork to give or take to their transformations in light of differing artistic practices. The contexts bring forth new engagements, as exhibiting artists respond to both form and memories inscribed therein. In some works, the process has been explicitly collaborative, as old works are painted over, around, repaired, or in some cases, continued and completed. Others have taken up discarded fragments or unused materials, arranging and incorporating them into new spatial compositions and functions. New perspectives and imaginings are imposed, even as forms from the past continue to structure and influence present markings.

Most, however, engaged in processes– embroidering, weaving, tying, enveloping, knitting, pounding– that have wholly integrated their own artistic concerns and themes onto the material bequeathed to them. Yet even so, their final forms reveal an acknowledgement of influence. Having served as teacher to most of these artists, Ling’s imparting of old works and materials reveals itself to be another extension of the mentoring she has engaged with through the years.

Death cleaning, in this regard, becomes a kind of link between two generations of artists. It suggests a changing of the guard and intimates at themes of continuity and relations, growth and transformations, of decay, rebirth, and beginnings. Alluding to a cyclical configuration, the process had been necessarily nuanced. Ultimately, it is a process that stands testament to the inevitable, and of the redemption we so often seek in the face of this finality.