Death Imitates Art – Investigating Sutton House’s New Exhibition
Sutton House are currently hosting a unique exhibition dedicated to the often-taboo topic of death. Vera Mikusch travelled to Hackney to find out the inspiration behind ‘Life. Death. Whatever.’ and whether visitors can handle coming face-to-face with their mortality…
The opportunity to jump in a coffin or write a letter to a lost loved one – Sutton House’s new exhibition is not your average Saturday afternoon out.
But ‘Life. Death. Whatever.’ aims to – in its creators’ own words – “redesign the dialogue about death and dying, to open it up and to find new approaches to this fundamental subject”.
Creative funeral planner Louise Winter and end-of-life doula Anna Lyons have arranged an intriguing line up of artists including Laura Ford, Philip Eglin and Katherine Forster to work with this unusual theme.
However, the Hackney Central venue is not just hosting a standing gallery in this instance; there are also a diverse line-up of performances, talks and workshops planned which stretch throughout October.
Guests will have the chance to attend an array of unique events almost every evening this month, from theatre performances to discussions of the exhibition’s contents and subject matter.
For Louise Winter, a major motivation for setting up the gallery was to educate the public. “The work I do is not just about changing the funeral industry, it’s about changing the public’s perception of death… so that is why I run events like Life. Death. Whatever.
“It is not to normalise death, but to make death a part of life and to engage people with the fact that one day they won’t be here anymore. So they should make the most of what they do have today.
“Death is the full stop, the ending. And we don’t know when the end of the sentence is going to come. It’s about using death as a perspective on life. “
To date, Sutton House’s latest creative installation has received mixed feedback, perhaps unsurprisingly so. Whilst some have been fascinated by the exhibition’s interactive set-up, for others, the subject of death might not necessarily be their cup of tea.
One regular visitor and volunteer of the National Trust at Sutton House (pictured right) pointed out that the exhibition itself focuses too much on the aspects of death rather than life.
However, far from being surprised at the varying responses, Ms. Winter says she was always expecting to receive divergent opinions such as these regarding her exhibits.
“The reactions so far have been pretty mixed. We’ve seen people have loads of fun, jumping in the coffins, and we’ve seen people cry because some of the content is quite deep and can be quite intense.
“We’ve had people who loved it and people who hated it. Death is a really controversial subject.”
She also speculates that children might be the ones getting the most out of their visits. Unlike adults, Ms. Winter says, they are more open to talk about death and are not intimidated by some of the more serious pieces, arguably due to their lack of experience with death at this stage in their lives.
“Children tend to engage more with the exhibition than adults do. It’s adults who have all the fear. Children, mostly under the age of 10 mostly don’t really understand what death is. They haven’t had the fear put into them yet. So they are completely fine. ”
Perhaps the most poignant surprise of the exhibition in Ms. Winter’s eyes, however, has been the popularity of a staircase exhibit allowing visitors to write their “unsaid messages” to lost loved ones and attach them alongside countless others.
“We’ve been inviting visitors to write words that remained unsaid, because somebody died or it’s the end of a relationship, and to write them on postcards and tie them onto the staircase of Sutton House.
“People were writing the most incredible things. I came in one morning and burst into tears at what people were writing.”
‘Life. Death. Whatever.’ is open to the public from 12-5pm on Wednesdays – Sundays until October 30. Find out more at the exhibition’s official website here and be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments section below, on Facebook or on Twitter!