A Book About Death: The Ties That Bind

Collaborative Art Exhibition Creates an Interactive Way for Artists and Visitors to Display Meditations on Death

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“A Book About Death”, a series of shows that began in 2009 and has run worldwide, has just finished its run at The Second Avenue Firehouse Gallery in Bay Shore, New York. The show pays tribute to Ray Johnson, the originator of “mail art”, who believed that art is something to be shared and experienced, not locked away in a gallery. The idea of mail art is, as the name implies, encourages artists to share art with a group of artists or with friends and family through the mail, rather than display it exclusively in a gallery.

“A Book About Death” invites artists each year to share art that addresses the culture’s views of death. Each artist participates by mailing in 500 hand-made postcards with images addressing life and death. The show originated at the Emily Harvey Foundation in New York City in 2009, where the contributions were stacked around the gallery. Visitors were allowed to choose a selection of postcards and create their own hand-bound “Book About Death” to take away.

The series allows artists from around the world to create their own visual representation of their meditations on life, death, loss, and grief, addressing our culture’s emotional preoccupation with death and the end of life. The work approached the subject from every angle — metaphysical, personal, abstract, and conceptual. The exhibition creates an interactive space for visitors to experience this art, create their own, and even take some of the pieces home.

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In the second exhibition, curated by Andrew Rose in Queens, postcards were stacked on the floor and pinned to the wall in the gallery, and visitors could attend workshops in separate rooms to create their own postcards about death. For the one-year anniversary edition in New York City, in September 2010, video, spoken word, and performance art was added to the exhibition. Since its original incarnation, the show has grown into a international art movement, traveling across the U.S., Brazil, Belgium, the UK, Croatia, Italy, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Mexico.

The most recent show, “The Ties That Bind”, which ran at the Second Avenue Firehouse Gallery from July 31 through September 2, 2011, pulled together the contributed art into a two-volume, hand-bound book, which were on display at the gallery, along with selected postcards pinned to the wall, and video, spoken word, performance art, and music. The show celebrates the ties that bind all human beings universally through death, as well as those that bind the artists all over the world who have participated in the project over the years. The books were created and the show curated by LuAnn Palazzo. Over 150 artists contributed to this show.

In the U.S., the next exhibition is planned to hit Seattle November 10, and the call for artists is still open.

The exhibition archive is available here.

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