The shadow of a memory
“And humanity will only be – The shadow of a memory”.
Marth von Loeben
on nature and humankind
Since the 5th of September 2020, Chrysalid, after a long period of absence, comes back to tell us about impermanence, immortality and inadvertence. The duo solo exhibition features the work of Natalia Grezina and Samuele Canestrari, curated Marth von Loeben.
On the wall, hung up are graphite on paper creations while around the room are displayed, among other pieces, daggers and bones of beads and thread. Howbeit, it appears that wood, metal, fabric and stone dominate in the room, the same way those materials do in human-made compositions such as vessels, monuments and coffins. What do they share? Unarguably, their provenance from nature (either transformed or readily available), alongside their destructible properties. Rot, rust, rips, erosion. The artists explored the relations of humankind with nature and with perishability as well.
In the 3rd chapter of her Hundred Years’ War Project, Natalia Grezina focuses on the historical remembrance of the year 1854 in Sevastopol. As a response to the siege of the city by French and English troops during the Crimean War, the inhabitants of the city deliberately sunk the ships of the Russian Black Sea fleet in order to make the bay inaccessible to the enemy as well as to use the vessels’ resources for on-land military purposes. This scuttling resulted as well in many human sacrifices, which, to this day, remain unforgotten.
By asking surroundings about the importance of historical memory and remembrance, one may get answers such as fulfilling a duty, paying tribute, understanding today’s society or not reiterating the mistakes of the past. Quasi-automatically, people tend to commemorate previous events that marked the minds of individuals within a society, and society as a whole. In Sevastopol, this translated in the construction of a Monument to the Sunken Ships, situated on the waters of the bay.
More than a century later, Natalia, however, is concerned by the power of nature over humankind, and especially of the currently observable climate change. When sea rises and land gets flooded, collective memory is threatened to disappear along. Alike coffins, stone and metal of the monument risk joining the underwater wood of the boats. Nature unites again with nature through nature, almost as if the artificial forms those human products momentarily took never occurred. Hope might still be found in humans’ minds, but this only if we make total abstraction of mortality and the organic composition of our bodies. Materials, bodies, minds: if nature takes back what appertains to it, we are left with nothing.
The exhibition, thus, accounts for our countless and possibly vain efforts to reminisce. Why bother then? This fatalist approach is yet unsatisfactory as we still dwell on memory. In the meantime, many will argue that not considerable enough efforts are being made against climate change, to the point that it became unquestionably inevitable. Perhaps, our obsessive preoccupation for the human past derives from a strongly felt sense of powerlessness over nature and what is yet to come.
Samuele Canestrari’s work deconstructs the conventional separational process of coffining. Looking back at the history of the disposition of human bodies, also called ‘final disposition’, only one main conclusion can be drawn: humankind never lacked inventiveness for corpse handling. Burial, cremation, immurement, dismembering for relics, taxidermy, composting, propelling ignited boats…the means are numerous. What is the most fascinating is that each of them implies a different conception of the human body and of how it should be treated at the close. In this exhibition are torn apart the widely spread Christian funerary ritual, which divides the natural elements of decomposition and the fabric-concealed corpse in order to preserve it as long as possible. A desperate attempt to get hold of the past or offering a chance for resurrection?
By questioning the entrustment of our deceased bodies to such method and our relation to wood, stone, metal and fabric, those are given the opportunity to invent themselves a new ritual. They are allowed to follow their natural deteriorative course instead of playing solely the role of constructing materials. The artist’s work illustrates hampered men and women yearning to get rid of what is deemed unnecessary in their final life process.
It appears that coffining rites are so prevailing that a come-back to a natural decaying of the body is, for now, unattainable. The most universal and instinctive stage of existence became artificial as other humans intervene in the afterlife of the lifeless body. Perhaps reshaping perceptions of corpse disposal and leading it to nature, in itself, artificial. But maybe, a necessary step as well towards revitalising natural elements’ functions.
Both projects aim attention at the phenomenon of passing away. Whilst Natalia Grezina takes into consideration what aspects of humanity disappear along, Samuele Canestrari bears in mind human customs in the delegation of corpses. As a bridge between the two exhibitions serves Marth von Loeben’s ballad. Witnessing the disintegration of natural matter by water, it calls achingly for the remembrance of humankind. We are being reminded of its forgettable essence when nature’s damages bury and sink it.