Unravelling stigma of death

By Ashleigh Fielding | posted on June 14, 2019

DENMARK workshop facilitators James Gentle and Ruth Maddren hope their upcoming wool and timber-based activities at Albany’s Vancouver Arts Centre will provide people with a safe space to talk about death.

The Unravelling, The Last Loop and Bed Beneath The Earth will take place over three weekends in June and July and the creations from those workshops will be showcased in the final exhibition Permission to Die.

It’s all part of Dying to Know Day which aims to stimulate conversation and reduce the stigma surrounding death, dying and bereavement.

“There’s multiple stages to the project,” Gentle explained.

“The Unravelling will see people dismantling knitted woolen clothes, they will then use that material to crochet flowers in The Last Loop which form part of the final installation, and then they will be helping to construct a coffin in Bed Beneath The Earth.”

Maddren said the creative element of the workshops should help alleviate any stress or pressure felt when talking about a sometimes-uncomfortable topic.

“I think it’s important for people to come together when they have a difficult discussion such as about death, but they can be distracted by busy hands,” she said.

“If they don’t want to make eye contact with someone, that’s okay; they can sit in silence or they can just speak every now and then.

“We’re not intending to give a lecture on the right way to die or deal with death; we’re merely creating a space so people can share their stories.”

The pair remained tightlipped on the content of the final exhibition Permission to Die but did reveal how the workshop creations would come together.

“It will be in three different parts and be interactive,” Gentle said of the exhibition.

“The crochet flowers will be on the coffin and the coffin will be there so people can ‘try out’ death – they can lay in the coffin and take a picture of themselves in it.

“This is quite a confronting thing for some people, but death is something that is going to happen to all of us, so it’s important we talk about what things we’ll need, like emotional support.”

“We just hope people will feel like they have permission to explore the rituals we have with death, like the coffin and sitting in a room, because usually, the only time we do is when we’re grieving,” Maddren added.

“This is an unusual opportunity to experience it.

“I know even with my experiences with cemeteries and death – my grandfather was a grave digger and gardener – I know I have blockages when it comes to talking about this, so I hope people can find peace and resolution in our project.”

Gentle and Maddren said the project and exhibition was open to all ages but children must be accompanied by an adult.

The Unravelling will be held at Albany Public Library on June 22 from 1-4pm and at Vancouver Arts Centre annex on June 23 from 1-4pm.

The Last Loop will take place at Albany Public Library on June 29, 1- 4pm and at Vancouver Arts Centre annex on June 30, 1-4pm.

Bed Beneath The Earth will be held at Vancouver Arts Centre annex on July 6 and 7, 1-4pm.

All workshops are free, and RSVPs are encouraged but are not compulsory.

RSVPs can be made via Vancouver Arts Centre.

Permission to Die will exhibit in August.