dpm is a Birmingham-based freelancer with experience of arts and lifestyle features.
COVID-19 artwork expected to inspire different emotions
Artist Luke Jerram's work has been sited across the globe and now his pandemic-inspired work In Memoriam comes to Birmingham. And he's looking forward to seeing the work in the city - the first time his art has been installed in Birmingham for two years.
In Memoriam, which will be installed in Aston Park between May 8-16, is a touring artwork comprising 120 flags made from bedsheets in the form of a blue medical cross in a circle of white. Presented in Birmingham by BrumYODO, a community interest company dedicated to encouraging conversations about death and dying, and Birmingham Hippodrome, In Memoriam offers people a public space for contemplation and commemoration.
Luke says: "Since last year we've had more than 120,000 people die from Covid. The statistics are shocking and it just felt like the artwork resonated."
As an outdoor installation, it has been possible to present In Memoriam in various locations and times during the past year. "As a consequence of lockdown, we've all come to appreciate our green spaces and open vistas in a way that we've never done before," says Luke. "So creating an artwork on those locations has been ideal. The artwork could still be presented safely in lockdown because we all have access to open spaces. We've all needed these open vistas as a way to contemplate what's been going on."
In Memoriam was launched last year and has toured in the UK and Europe but each person will respond personally. "The artwork has different meanings depending on what people bring to it," Luke says. "I think adults are quite moved by it. Also suddenly people who are key workers and NHS workers have found somewhere they can have space for contemplation. I try to make artwork that can be read and appreciated at different levels. So if there are four-year-old children running between the flags having a nice time chasing each other that's also absolutely fine."
And he adds: "Since the artwork was last presented in October the entire country has seen another 80,000 deaths as a consequence of the pandemic so I think In Memoriam will be read differently this year from last year. It seems to have been a very hard winter and some people will respond to that."
In Birmingham, In Memoriam forms part of A Matter of Life and Death – an annual festival held each year by BrumYODO as part of national Dying Matters Awareness Week. The festival presents an ambitious and diverse arts and community programme each year, supporting people to have open and honest conversation about death and dying. This year's festival is held in partnership with Birmingham Hippodrome and also features an online events programme and a city-wide community activity inviting people of all ages to create their own In Memoriam flags to be shared in an online gallery.
Luke believes art is a way to support these discussions: "I think we probably still need to encourage those conversations about life, death and dying. The artwork is an opportunity for people to have those conversations, it's an invitation to do so. It doesn't force those conversations but creates a context, a safe space to have them and to contemplate."
Luke's Museum of the Moon, a fusion of lunar imagery, moonlight and sound, was a highlight of Birmingham Hippodrome's Summer in Southside Festival in 2019. "The Hippodrome is a very established organisation and I feel proud to be working with them and with BrumYODO," he says. "It's great that they want to share my artwork in Birmingham again. I haven't had an exhibition in Birmingham for a while and I'm really looking forward to seeing In Memoriam on this site."
Luke has his own experiences of the pandemic. Firstly lockdown meant many of his art projects across the world were put on hold and then in November he contracted the virus. "It knocked me down for two months," he says. "In fact I've still got tinnitus and my sense of taste is still not quite right however I feel very lucky that's all that happened. I still went down with it quite badly but I could have been in real trouble. It has though affected my interpretation of the pandemic and the artworks I'm making about it."
As a response to the pandemic, In Memoriam is very much a work of its time and Luke admits to being curious to how people will respond to it going forwards. "I think the artwork will resonate differently in the future. It's really interesting to see whether people will still be interested in this in two or three years' time when the pandemic has ended. Maybe we will all have had enough of Covid and will just want to go partying and raving and celebrating and drinking and wanting fireworks. And then in ten or 20 years, when we have another perspective again, the artwork may still have a value but it will be very different."
Sited in the grounds of Aston Park between May 8-16, In Memoriam can be visited free and in line with Government COVID-19 regulations. During the first weekend, May 8-9 between 11am-4pm, Aston Hall will open its Stable Yard Café for takeaways and host a barbecue for visitors to In Memoriam.
In Memoriam in Birmingham is supported by Arts Council England, Without Walls, Birmingham City Council, Aston Hall and A Natural Undertaking. In Memoriam was originally commissioned by Weston Arts Health Weekender. Supported by Without Walls and FESSTIVAL.ORG. Informed by the Wellcome Trust-funded 'Weather Lives' project, led by Dr Cassie Phoenix at Durham University.