Remembering Mortality

Photo © Riccardo Malberti

Ever considered becoming a vet? If not, you might not be intimately acquainted with the spatial dimensions of a Veterinary Anatomical Theatre, like the recently renovated one that forms part of the Humboldt medical campus in Mitte. Right now, however, this particular theatre is the focus of a different kind of attention: from the art community. 

For, covering the floor of the theatre and its surrounding rooms is a thin layer of hand-ground bone dust, carefully spread there by London-based artist Jodie Carey. Curated by nomadic curatorial initiative Neue Berliner Räume, the installation is an addition to the artist’s exhibition Immemorial at Rolando Anselmi. Previous installations for the Neue Berliner Räume collective include A room never meant to be, a one-afternoon-only piece that showed works from her Elegy series that collected digital prints of flowers. In both of these installations, the work communicates through the space itself, using the history of the site to inform the work – in the previous work, as the title suggests, the space in the Postfuhramt Mitte wasn’t exactly intended to exist, creating a threshold space for the artworks.  

Carey relishes these experiences of exhibiting outside of the white cube, and for the Humboldt site she was taken with not only the space’s architecture (the Veterinary Anatomical Theatre was designed by Carl Gotthard Langhans, designer of the Brandenburg Gate) but also its historical use. 

“I was very interested by the design of the building: I knew immediately that I didn’t want to make a number of different works.  Instead I wanted to treat all the rooms as one space; to make one work; one installation.”

Carey’s oeuvre consistently addresses themes of mortality and human understanding and ritualisation thereof. In conceptualising these questions, she uses a range of materials, though drawn towards those with symbolic significance like flowers, ash and blood. How to remember, how to memorialise that which has passed: these issues are as old as the human race. The artist has most recently been preoccupied with the idea of the monument and specifically with challenging their status as eternal Ozymandias-esque memorials. Instead, she creates temporary and decaying narratives of remembrance, echoes in themselves of the passing of time.

In the Veterinary Anatomical Theatre, Shroud’s 250kg of dust spills through the rooms with its varying shades of pale imitating a landscape, flowing in low, fragile contours. This fragility is a crucial aspect of the work’s effect, and one visitor accidentally walking across the installation only served to highlight this for Carey: “Although unfortunate, it also served to remind us just how fragile and ephemeral the work is; echoing the themes and concepts behind it. Despite being monumental in scale, it defies the traditional monument’s need for permanence and solidity. The work took over 35 hours to install, yet it can take just 5 minutes to destroy.” 

With the show running for just 11 days, the transitory nature of the material in its current state is a sharp juxtaposition with bone’s original purpose: our body’s protection. Carey asks us to consider the fallibility of that protection in the context of a space that requires death for its very utility: a site that recycles and repurposes death, creating its own, new memorials in the minds of others.

Jodie Carey “Shroud”
Until July 27th  2013
Veterinary Anatomical Theatre




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