Let’s talk about death, baby

Death the human experienceWhat are your thoughts about death? Do you think of it freely, with curiosity or turn from it with dread? The current exhibition at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery invites us to face our fears and explore the myths and realities surrounding our eventual expiration.

death: the human experience is an unexpectedly beautiful, contemplative exhibition, displaying archaic associations with death (from an exquisite death’s head hawk moth to a Victorian mourning dress. There are insights into burial practices across the world, including a piece on ‘sky burials’, examples of items left at gravesides and buried with the deceased, and a cheeringly rambunctious Ghanaian coffin shaped like a lion.

You can listen to funeral and mourning songs from a variety of cultures, admire memorials intended to honour the dead or display how well they were loved, and perhaps reconsider or identify your own attitudes to these rituals, and what’s important to you personally.

The subject matter is handled sensitively and thought-provokingly, with special separate sections where you can consider darker aspects such as infant mortality and cannibalism, with small doors to open on exhibits that may be especially distressing. For me the mortuary table from a former Bristol hospital was a more sobering sight – something about its clinical contours just seemed very cold. There are also videos of commentaries for and against assisted suicide, which tackles the important issue of quality of life.

Whatever your feelings on death when you enter, I think you’ll emerge able to speak about death more readily – this is an aspect of life we’ll all experience at some point, whether as the deceased or as a mourner, and being able to talk about it can only help.

As the Mark Twain quote emblazoned on one wall states: “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

What a curiously comforting idea.

death: the human experience runs at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery until 13 March 2016. Visitors are invited to pay what they feel the exhibition is worth.

Art in nature

Art Forms in Nature1 Part of Wundergarten der Natur, 1932 © Estate of Karl Blossfeldt, Courtesy of Hayward Touring

Part of Wundergarten der Natur, 1932 © Estate of Karl Blossfeldt, Courtesy of Hayward Touring

This beautiful photo is by Karl Blossfeldt and is part of the Karl Blossfeldt: Art Forms in Nature exhibition currently on at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

If you ever meander through a woodland or botanical garden, you may have noticed how intricately detailed the plants are – like entire universes in miniature form. Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932) was one of the original enthusiasts of these small worlds – using the relatively new form of photography to capture and define the scenes that drew him in.

Art Forms in Nature3 Part of Wundergarten der Natur, 1932 © Estate of Karl Blossfeldt, Courtesy of Hayward Touring

Part of Wundergarten der Natur, 1932 © Estate of Karl Blossfeldt, Courtesy of Hayward Touring

Karl Blossfeldt trained as a sculptor but became entranced by nature’s own artworks. Understandably, he was (and is) celebrated by plant-lovers, photographers and artists, particularly early modernists and Surrealists, as his images revealed the intrinsic beauty of natural forms, their extraordinary textures, as well as how strangely alien they can seem.

Art Forms in Nature4 Part of Wundergarten der Natur, 1932 © Estate of Karl Blossfeldt, Courtesy of Hayward Touring

Part of Wundergarten der Natur, 1932 © Estate of Karl Blossfeldt, Courtesy of Hayward Touring

It’s an unexpectedly powerful collection. Seed heads, petals and stems seem barely to contain their energy, suggesting an underlying fizz and crackle waiting, like a thunderstorm, to explode.

Karl Blossfeldt: Art Forms in Nature is on at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery until 13th September 2015.

Art Forms in Nature2 Part of Wundergarten der Natur, 1932 © Estate of Karl Blossfeldt, Courtesy of Hayward Touring

Part of Wundergarten der Natur, 1932 © Estate of Karl Blossfeldt, Courtesy of Hayward Touring