Scholar

Facing Death Creatively

By: Catherine Bell  

This paper discusses artworks that explores the commemorative dimensions of death, through socially-engaged artistic processes and ephemeral materials. I use floral oasis foam as an art medium because it is integral to making flower arrangements that venerate the cycles of life and the celebratory milestones between birth and death. When I was artist in residence at Caritas Christi Hospice I collected this disregarded material from palliative-care wards after the floral arrangements had died and I repurposed it as a sculptural material. Salvaging the oasis foam from the site imbues it with the history of the place and patients who have had contact with it. When I sculpt it into commemorative relics it marks the transformation of meaning into materiality, gives voice to the departed and the act of bearing witness. The graveyard, like the hospice setting, also becomes a studio for researching and developing a visual language that makes communication around death possible. The foam oasis, once a grave for decaying flowers, is often seen scattered around cemeteries after the floral arrangements adorning the burial grounds have decomposed. The lingering foam, like the anonymous gravestones, are a melancholy reminder of the finite history embodied in these decaying structures. This essay examines this precarious medium its materiality, function, relationship to the sites of death and dying and its uncanny corporeal associations. I also discuss how I use this material in the “Facing Death Creatively” workshops I facilitate with diverse communities to promote healthy and meaningful discussion about death.

Death, Artist, Residency, Hospice, Graveyard, Activism, Socially Engaged Art
The Arts in Social, Political, and Community Life
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session



Catherine Bell

Associate Professor , School of Arts, Australian Catholic University