‘Flat Death’ at the Open Eye Gallery is a challenging exhibition on the topic of death. It uses photography to convey uncomfortable emotions of loss. It is able to interact with everyone who enters the exhibition on a personal level as everyone has or will encounter it either personally or through others. Ultimately we will all die and in a way the exhibition tries to make us comfortable with this. The ground floor is almost entirely conceptual, meaning that the ideas surrounding death are presented in a subtle but emotive way. An example of this would be the replica blank suicide notes, although the theme is clearly there, it allows the viewer to think widely around the subject without just focusing on specific events, therefore making it more universal.
Death is considered to be a taboo subject, it can be upsetting and even scary. This exhibition takes ‘death’ and makes it unavoidable. Every aspect of the work is to do with death. However, each artists approach to the subject is slightly different. A more amusing piece in the sombre exhibition is an image of an old and shrivelled banana – an obvious nod to Warhol’s album cover, this shows life and death in a simplistic form, passing through stages from 1967 to 2016. Some of the more powerful pieces were the paper airplanes by Edgar Martin, this emphasises the human fight or flight instincts. This work relates to carrying on in a difficult situation or committing suicide. Similarly, in another work by Martin from his series Siloquies and Soliloquies on death, life and other interludes (2016), he shows a man literally faced with death (featured image). The man is looking directly at us, looking frightened. In this image, we take the role of death and we become the thing or force that he is afraid of.
For this exhibition our group were given a tour by a Director of the Open Eye, this gave us a valuable insight into the work with the ability to ask questions and make comments. On the ground floor there was a post-it note with “I’m Sorry” written on it. This immediately contours up images of someone ending their own life, but also the impact on loved ones. In another part of the gallery there is a mobile phone with a similar message, representing a final text message. Next to this there is a landscape image which is completely coloured red, this shows the dizzying fear or anger of someone who is about to end their life. From this one image we are able to feel what it must be like to be in such a situation, demonstrating the power of art.
The ground floor has an emphasis on suicide and in many ways a control over death, however upstairs the focus is on mourning, showing the deceased in their coffin surrounded by their families. This could be seen by many as being distasteful, as it seems to step into a very personal and private territory. Although, the images could also be seen as a celebration, a way of remembering the loved one forever. It need not to be morbid, some cultures celebrate death as an extension of life or a next chapter, for example the Mexican Day of the Dead festival.
The overall effect or impact of the exhibition depends on the viewer personally. If the viewer can relate or become immersed in the subject it will obviously be more resonant. For example, for someone who has recently experienced death it will be particularly powerful. However, it could also be unrelatable to others, in many ways no different to turning on the news or watching CSI. Although after visiting the exhibition, everyone should feel slightly more comfortable about discussing death.
Image: ‘Untitled’ from the series ‘Siloquies and Soliloquies on death, life and other interludes’ (2016)/Open Eye Gallery