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Thursday, 18 July 2013

An Immortelle at West Norwood Cemetery

This summer West Norwood cemetery has been transformed from a bleak Victorian burial ground to a bright playground of emotions  thanks to the heat wave and Jane Millar's curation of a site specific art trail. ‘Curious’ aims to revive old visitors and attract new ones whilst approaching themes of mourning, funerary practice and loss through artists responding to its unique architecture, famous residents and untold stories of its inhabitants.



The sites rich history contributes to its attraction as a pilgrimage for those with morbid fascinations and a reactionary space for artists. Also known as the South Metropolitan Cemetery it is the second of London’s ‘'Magnificent Seven'’ burial grounds, founded by its own act of parliament in 1836 it began  consecrating its first burials in 1837. With it’s  favourable location on the outskirts of London the space attracted wealthy Victorians who commissioned grand mausoleums and memorials.  Alongside more modern lawn plots and a Greek orthodox cemetery the diversity of the site has become a unique assemblage of architecture. 

Curious' features the fascinating work of artist Jane Wildgoose who uses the space of the Maddick Mausoleum to exhibit her reactions to the site. Working with  documents from the cemetery office her work explored the archives and upon our arrival proclaimed that we should look at the cemetery as an archive.

Wildgoose's work focuses on the narratives of human remains, reflecting her interest in the space by the use of an immortelle - a French funeral wreath of beaded flowers. Found by a friend on a Southern French market the wreath had seen better days but Wildgoose created a life cycle by adding home made beaded flowers and  remains of similar pieces found on markets to give it a new lease of life. As immortelle's are characteristic of the practice of leaving notes and gifts upon or near the site of a loved ones remains she sees that the immortelle provides a need to link the living with the dead. She thus created a participatory piece, inviting visitors to write the names of loved ones lost, their site of burial and attaching the notes to the immortelle, by contributing to the wreath participants create an archive of emotion.


Further works play on the concept of emotion, and wandering through the cemetery I was struck by ‘I Miss U’  created by Lucy Spangol. Expressing the loss of a loved one through the recognisable plastic flowers and funeral lettering the work responds like Jane Wildgoose's to the practice of leaving personal gifts at the graveside, and reminds onlookers of the personal tragedy and hurt of love and death.




‘Curious’ provides a reminder of the Victorian cemetery as a place of raw emotion, indulgence in death and the beautiful wonder of cemeteries but the trail will only be exhibited until the 28th July. The cemetery is open daily, and perfect for a Sunday walk. 

This Sunday (21st July) visit the cemetery and join the curator and artists for ‘ A Grand Picnic for the Common Dead’ from 12 – 5pm

Find out all about curious here: http://www.westnorwoodcemetery.com/curious_trail/
Follow on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SiteCurious
Follower on Twitter: @Sitecurious

Jane Wildgoose’s work Here: http://www.janewildgoose.co.uk/

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