celebration of mortality – shocking pieces in Saatchi Gallery, a lesson from Johan Idema

Death. One can hardly associate something positive with this word. It evokes sadness, revolts, makes you want to run away or distract yourself from depressing thoughts. However, having visited an art exhibition dedicated to death, I have change my opinion on the meaning of death.

Saatchi Gallery as usual has presented a challenging collection of art objects entitled “Dead: A Celebration of Mortality”. Although the title of the exhibition was rather daunthing, I wanted ti give it a go, following the advice of Johan Idema. In my previous post on Centre Pompidou museum in Marbella, I have recommened the “How to Visit and Art Museum” book and tried to incorporate several ideas from the book into my art exhibition visiting routine.


Johan Idema says that when we confront art that shocks us and makes us turn away our look or want to leave the room has its purposes. When we face this kind of art we have to think about the meaning of the art object – why is it there? Why does it shock us? Who painted it? When?

The Celebration of Mortality exhibition was a collection of sculptures, photos and paintings somehow connected to death or its natural or unnatural causes. Ranging from rooms filled with objects produced by different authors and continuing with rooms where gigantic ants where crawling the walls or several dead bodies were spread on the floor, the Celebration of Mortality draw the attention of the public to an issue that few people are comfortable talking about.

Madame Blavatsky – Goshka Macuga

This levitating figure of a famous Russian-German occultist of the 19th century was one of the most intimidating figures of the exhibition – although the hands and face were carved from wood, this full-size figure floating in the air leaves an impression of the presence of the medium.

Untiteled – Denis Tarasov

Tarasov has photographed graves of late Russian mafia which create a very dim atmosphere at the exhibition. The more common photos of the late people are replaced by vivid pictures engraved on the stone. The engravings do not depict just the face, rather than the full body of the person in the tomb: most of them are showed holding bottles or glasses of alcohol or guns. The text on the tomb reminded the passers-by about the power of the mafia: “Live as you want, Say what you want, but once in a while, look at my tomb”. Even though you know they are dead, the whole grave gives an impression that they are not, that they still have an influence on the living ones.

Language Barrier – Alina and Jeff Bliumis

Part of the Language Barrier project, the artwork talks about the problems of immigration and adaptation to new country. Emphasizing on the differences in cultures, languages and social backgrounds, the art object draws on the other side of the immigration problem – the problem of integrating into the society. At this part of exhibition you start to understand that death is not only the physical termination of life, but can be a cease of other forms: the forced end of one culture and the beginning of the other.

 It Rocks Us So Hard Ho Ho Ho3 – Dirk Skreber 


 From the Neighbours – Vikenti Nilin

The series of photos depictimg suicides and car accidents picture deat on two opposite sides of the timescale – right before and right after death. The suicide range leaves a terrible impression as you realise that the person on the photo is going to die in a few minutes. However, it makes you value your life and see how fragile it is.

 Other art objects such as dead corps, a tower made of rats and the room full of gigantic ants are not there just to frighten us, but to show us how horrible death is, how some people live in unbearable conditions, in houses with rats or insects, in areas with spreading deadly epidemics, how some people become victims of road accidents or fire. The lesson from the exhibition is to value every moment of your life and preserve it as much as you can.




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