There is no manual for mourning, no how-to guide for grieving. We are never given a detailed plan on how to process the loss of a loved one, and yet this loss is one of the most dependable guarantees life offers. Milwaukee-based artists Nirmal Raja, Linda Marcus and Jessica Meuninck-Ganger were simultaneously grieving the loss of a loved one and using their artistic practice to understand and move through this process. While finding solace in their shared visual exploration of loss and communal grieving, they realized the importance of creating spaces for these explorations.
“Aesthetics of Loss,” a traveling group exhibition making its debut at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, is the resultant creation of a space to organically explore what it means to experience loss. Primarily curated by Linda Marcus, the exhibition features the work of seven artists: Ebti, Cassidy Early, Brianna Hernández, Linda Marcus, Jessica Meuninck- Ganger, Nirmal Raja and Anders Zanichkowsky, each of whom has recently experienced the loss of a loved one. It offers an intimate look into the individualized and unique process of grieving as each artist explores loss, caregiving and death in their own way.
Sitting to the right of the museum’s entrance are two works by Nirmal Raja, “The Paradox” and “Exercises in Holding On.” Through these works, Raja uses clothing left behind by her father to create sculptural works formed by dipping the clothing in porcelain slip and glaze and then firing them in a kiln. During this process of firing the clothing is burned away, leaving behind only a shell, imitating the process of cremation and making visually tangible the feeling of a loved one’s presence after they are gone.
The use of clothing as material for the exploration of loss is echoed again in the works of Linda Marcus, who transforms buttons, jackets and blouses from the clothing of loved ones into sculptural works in “The Longing” and “No Comfort(er).” The transformation and elevation of everyday objects once belonging to those who are lost into works of explorative art holds thematic weight and is a string of connection throughout the show.
Cassidy Early transforms the space through their site-specific installation “Yellow Paper Wall.” Greeting the visitor as they immediately enter the space, the large undulating wall of the museum is covered in pieces of yellow legal pad paper, representing the notes their mother would leave around their house in her final days. The notes envelop the viewer in a soft, warm glow and invite us to consider what objects become the legacy-holders of our loved ones after they pass.
Ebti furthers the transformation of everyday objects in their work, “A day with you is worth a lifetime,” a collage featuring photographs of chairs their father would sit in. Through photographing the chairs that once served as a place of rest and comfort for their father, they have removed them from their original purpose and elevated them into an important vessel in which to permanently keep safe the memory of a loved one.
Just as there is no linearity to the process of grieving, there is no set path when viewing the exhibition, however, stationed near the entrance and exit of the space in what feels like a natural ending to the show, is a work by Nirmal Raja, “The Howl that Became Spring.” Serving as a departure from the narrative of loss present in the other works, the brightly colored ink and watercolor painting features organic shapes resembling flora and provides a welcome reminder that just as spring promises an end to winter, throughout the grieving process there is always the promise that eventually the grief will fade and one will be able to move on and enter their own spring of thought.
“Aesthetics of Loss” at The Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, 2320 West Chicago. On view through April 16.