The Art of Living
The Art of Living is a film about grief. It is based on experiences narrated to me from 28 women of all ages who have used a creative act to enrich their lives. Some related how that creativity allowed them to survive and continue to live a meaningful life, how the creative act allowed movement or a metamorphosis from a place of absolute loss to a place of brutal continuing, softened by vivid memory and vague hope. There are two films, intended as sisters of a shared experience.
NARRATIVES of Grief & Bereavement
Grief was described as a macabre puppet master, or alien being, or a omnipotent consciousness, or a tsunami, while the grief-struck felt as a tiny insect, enslaved to loss. Grief is a journey and multi-faceted. The art of living is to accept that all is transitory and that grief is our starkest reminder. While grief turns the mundanity of life into monochrome, memory remains vivid and insistent, and although details, of events or of faces, fade, the memory of the feeling remains, and returns in saturated colour to haunt again and again.
Some spoke of the time creating an object allowing them time to dwell on a narrative of “what ifs”. This narrative built a protective wall of hope that became re-remembered with the presence of the object. Grief however often proved to strong for this fantasy and overwhelmed reducing the bereaved back to the initial shock of loss.
Narratives described fantasies of after-life heavens, recriminations against a cruel god, understanding of a bleakness of life, the determination to remember and to continue and to survive with a deeper understanding of life’s meaning and of our connection to others that enriches that meaning.
A great deal of symbolism was used in the narratives I collected. The forest, metamorphosis, significant objects, walking and water stood out in the stories I was told. The film uses the symbolism of metamorphosis: the insect becomes the puppet-master, the children a fading fantasy and the mother walking away or walking forward. While the intention is to create a sense of grief, the narrative of the process of grief is also reflected. “All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on”, is a quote attributed to Havelock Ellis. The two films attempt to represent this letting go (walking, moving forward) and then holding on (unchanging memory in vivid colour).
The Healing and Restorative Power of the Forest
The strongest image within these films, used because of the repeated reference in the collected narratives, is that of the forest at Autumn and at Spring. These two times of the year represent a great upsurging of life and the opposite, a dying and a preparing for winter. The healing art of forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, originated in Japan, where the healing power of forest bathing is recognised as such a crucial part of mental and physical health that it was implemented as a part of that country’s public health program in 1982. Forest bathing is the restorative practice of simply spending time in nature, specifically in a forested area. It involves experiencing the forest at a leisurely pace, taking in the sights and smells. It is recommended that people spend at least 30 minutes per day walking at a relaxed pace in the forest to achieve benefits, which studies have shown to be improved focus and productivity, greater creative inspiration, increased happiness, and greater immunity, all while fostering physical wellness.
The films should be played back to back hanging against two sides of the same wall, so the films play in adjoining spaces. The films should be installed so that they are connected but that they can not be seen simultaneously, since the two sides of grief they represent, would not be felt simultaneously, but might be experienced consecutively.