The End of Grief Landscapes...for now.

Almost exactly two years ago, on September 24, 2014, my friends Lindsay and Adam lost their son Miles. As I’ve written about before, I felt so helpless when he died, and I wanted to do everything I could to support them, and to understand what they were going through. Being with and listening to Lindsay in the immediate aftermath of Miles’ death set me on a course to explore all of the different ways people grieve and learn to live with loss in the way I know best: by talking to people and making art about it.

It’s been kind of a crazily intense and extremely meaningful journey for me making this work, and now Grief Landscapes is coming to an end in less than two weeks. I’ve been posting people’s stories and the photographs I’ve made in response since January 1st, and I have two more stories to post, for a total of 40. (My original plan was to make 52 photographs, one for each week of the year, but as often happens, the project evolved. 40 feels like the right stopping point for now, although I'll likely add some more stories in the future.) 

Working on Wedding Ring from Grief Landscapes

Working on Wedding Ring from Grief Landscapes

I received many more stories than I could make images for, and I am so grateful to everyone who shared their grief with me. It reminded me that even though the project grew out of tragedy, there were so many positive ripple effects from making this work and putting it out into the world. Countless people told me that reading the stories helped them feel less alone, or gave them hope, or taught them what to say or not say to someone who is grieving. And the collaborations I had with the participants were almost magical, which might sound strange, but I think the experience of having a total stranger hear their pain and reflect it back to them through art was validating for many people. And I felt truly honored to be trusted in this way.

So what’s next? In terms of the project, my dream is to publish Grief Landscapes as a book—a lot of people have mentioned that they would like to see it in book form, and I would love for the project to find a wider audience. And in the near future, I’ll also start offering similar images on commission. The process has been healing for so many people, so I look forward to creating new macro landscapes in memory of someone (or in honour of someone, for an anniversary or a birthday). I’m also gestating some new ideas on different topics, which are too new to start discussing publicly, but I’m excited about them. Stay tuned.

How to Support a Stranger

I’m almost five months into posting stories and images for Grief Landscapes, and every week there is a new outpouring of response; through comments on Facebook, from emails I receive, or from people telling me face to face the effect the project has had on them. Some people tell me that reading the stories has helped them feel less alone in their grief, and others mention that the project has taught them how to be there for others. One example that really moved me: 

I lost a friend this week–she was pregnant and collapsed on Monday. Both died instantly. I heard the horrible news when I received an email that I had to read about five times before the news actually set in. It was an invitation to celebrate the "life and love of Julia.” Once I realized what the email was saying, I said I'd be there, without question. I wasn't afraid I'd have nothing to say to her mother or sister. I wasn't afraid I wouldn't know what to bring or what to wear. Thanks to Grief Landscapes, I knew exactly what to do: be there. It was a beautiful event. I brought a loaf of bread and a growler of beer for her husband. I walked up to Julia's mother and told her I just wanted to offer a hug. She breathed a sigh of relief and thanked me for being there as she hugged me, a stranger. While I know I could have done this for a friend or relative before Grief Landscapes, I am certain I wouldn't have felt comfortable offering support to a stranger. Thank you.

I’m starting to realize that while there are many facets to Grief Landscapes, one of the major hopes I have had for the project is to start conversations about how we can be there for people who are grieving. How we can connect with each other, listen, and not turn away. 

People are uncomfortable with grief. I’ve noticed how many people change the subject when I tell them what I’m working on. But if I’ve learned anything so far, it’s that people who have lost someone they love are thinking of that person every day. Mentioning to them that you are thinking of them, or saying the name of the person who died, helps them know that you remember too. 

So if there’s anyone you know who has had a loss, why not introduce them to the project and tell them you’re thinking of them? I know not everyone necessarily wants to hear or read about other people’s grief (after all, the project is about how everyone grieves differently), but even the gesture can help let someone know that they’re not alone.

Some other things of note:

- Many people ask me what inspired me to start working on Grief Landscapes, and recently I was able to go more in depth about the origins of the project in an essay for the beautiful and groundbreaking online magazine Modern Loss. You can read that essay here.

- I went to a Death Cafe in Toronto last month, and ended up on CBC radio! A Death Cafe is an informal gathering where people can come together to talk about death and dying. You can hear the snippet of conversation I had with some of the other attendees in the first 5 minutes of the piece, but I recommend listening to the whole thing

- I’m partnering with the amazing website What’s Your Grief for their new photography ecourse: Exploring Grief Through Photography, which is part of their PhotoGrief initiative. I love the site, and I’ve used it a lot during my research. I’ll be developing an assignment for the course based on Grief Landscapes. The course will run from May 23rd until July 3rd, and I encourage anyone who would like to explore their grief visually to sign up.

My other big announcement is that I’m setting a deadline for gathering the remaining stories I’ll need for Grief Landscapes: June 15th. I’ve received incredible submissions, so it’s time to put a cap on it so I can sort out which stories I’ll make images for to complete the first stage of the project. In a few months, I’ll be able to tell you more about what’s to come with the next stage. In the meanwhile, please consider submitting your story to the project! 

News from the (Basement) Studio

First, some amazing news: I was awarded an Ontario Arts Council Visual Arts grant for Grief Landscapes! I’ve been working extremely hard, so it feels incredible to get the recognition and support for this project. I feel grateful to have landed in a country that supports individual artists in this way, even if it’s not always easy to string those grants together. 

To be honest though, I would find a way to do this project no matter what—it’s been a deeply meaningful artistic and personal experience making this work so far. Since launching Grief Landscapes at the beginning of January, I’ve published the first four stories, and have started to receive more from all over the world. Every single submission moves me. I’ve also heard from many others about how reading the stories so far have already helped them learn a lot about how other people grieve. 

The main thing I’m focused on now in addition to photographing is continuing to generate submissions so I can select a wide range of stories for the project. I’ve been spending time writing grief counselors, bereavement organizations, online grief support websites, and anyone and anywhere I else I can think of to help get the word out.

Photographing a new story in my basement studio. 

Photographing a new story in my basement studio. 

I want to hear about as many experiences with grief as possible of course, but I also want to uncover stories that aren’t often told. For example, I would be very curious to hear a story from someone whose boyfriend or girlfriend died, either from a young or older person. How did his or her family treat you in the aftermath of a loss like that? I’m also very interested in how it feels to grieve someone with whom you may have had an unresolved complicated relationship. Or what about losing a close mentor or teacher? An ex you were still close with? A twin?

Another thing I’ve been thinking about is that a theme that I keep coming back to in my art practice is “questions and connections”. I touched on the topic of questions before in a previous post, but as this project expands and more people are taking part, I’m realizing that even though I’m not working with people in person this time, the same dynamic of honest questions prompting honest answers that lead to new connections is still here in the online space. I hope it keeps growing. I’m not the kind of artist who likes to squirrel herself away in her garret to make a body of work and then present it to the world fully complete. I can’t help myself—I’m a total extrovert, and my process involves needing and wanting a feedback loop that invites anyone who is interested in the topic I’m working on to chime in. I like having a room of my own, à la Virginia Woolf, but I like that room to have the door open a lot of the time with a big welcome sign on it. 

If you have ideas or thoughts about the kinds of stories you would like to hear in Grief Landscapes, or if you have any questions you have about grief that you’re curious about that you would like to see addressed through the work, please comment here or on Facebook, or contact me. Also, if you have ideas about places or people that I can get in touch with that will help me expand the reach of the project, that’s really helpful too. 

Launching Grief Landscapes in 2016

After actively collecting stories and making images for Grief Landscapes for the last few months,  I’m ready to move to the next phase. It’s time to go live, to start sharing what I’ve made so far, and to collect more stories to complete the project. 

When I started, I wasn’t sure how many images I would ultimately make; I was just feeling my way as I went along. It’s finally starting to take shape. I’ve decided to post one Grief Landscape each week, starting the first week of January. It’s been a very intense and moving experience to make images in response to other people’s losses. It feels like a heightened and risky exchange sometime, but I’m happy that participants have reported it as a positive and cathartic one.

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I'm currently recruiting more people to participate, and will continue to choose the stories I will shoot for the remainder of the project. I’m especially looking for men (many more women than men have responded so far), and for people sharing stories about bereavement experiences that tend to be rendered invisible by our culture (but of course I want to hear from everyone, as each grief experience is unique). I anticipate that I’ll receive more contributions than I can photograph, but all of the responses and testimonies I receive are extremely helpful, and I hope to use them all in some capacity during the course of the project.

So check back here soon. I'm taking a short break, and I’ll start posting Grief Landscapes on the first Thursday in January and then every week thereafter.

Please help me get the project out into the world by sharing the project on social media, and forwarding it to friends and family. And if you have any suggestions or connections to organizations that deal with bereavement that can help spread the word, that would be great too. Thanks for your help!

Another Book Cover: Mothers and Food

I didn't know this book was coming out the same time as the other one, but here it is! Another image from the installation You Are Not Where You Were from Greetings From Motherland is being featured on the cover of the Demeter Press book, Mothers and Food: Negotiating Foodways From Maternal Perspectives. Jane Jones set up this hilarious image of mothers and cheerios, and I photographed it.  One of the things I love about doing community-engaged art is when I bring in an idea and the overall structure for a project, and the participants run with it. It's a really exciting way to way to work, because people will often come up with things I never would have thought of, like sticking a cheerio over a miniature mom's head. 

New Book Cover: What's Cooking, Mom?

Some nice news to share! An image from Greetings from Motherland has been chosen as the cover of a new book: What’s Cooking, Mom? Narratives about Food and Family (edited by Tanya M. Cassidy and Florence Pasche Guignard, Demeter Press). Bryn Scriver, one of the participants in the first Greetings from Motherland workshop in Madison, Wisconsin, set up and photographed this image that was a part of the miniatures project You Are Not Where You Were

A description of the book from the publisher's website:

“What's Cooking, Mom? offers original and inventive narratives, including auto-ethnographic discussions of representations, discourses and practices about and by mothers regarding food and families. These narratives discuss the multiple strategies through which mothers manage feeding themselves and others, and how these are shaped by international and regional food politics, by global and local food cultures and by their own ethical values and preference, as well as by those of the ones they feed.”

If you’re interested in buying the book, you can use the coupon code MOTHERS to save 40%. 

Oral History and Art-Making Talk: Friday, March 6

Later this week, I'll be giving a talk to the Oral History and Art-Making group at Jumblies Theatre about how I use oral history techniques in my work. Join us, everyone is welcome. 

Greetings From Motherland and Grief Landscapes: A presentation of past works and new works-in-progress that utilize oral histories of shared experience.

Friday, March 6, 2pm
The Ground Floor
132 Fort York Boulevard, Toronto, ON

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