Front of postcard (with photograph of the Viola cornuta Pat Kavanagh) from Julian Barnes dated 14 February 2012

Grieve Over Nothing in Magdalen (2012)

Movement, Anomalies and Distractions

Public event: 30 June 2012, Oxford

Exhibition: 30 September - 19 October 2012, Wolfson College Gallery, Oxford

Curated by Katalin Hausel

This work was developed in response to a challenge participating artists to select an Oxford institution which is not open to the public and attempt to gain access to a specific place, activity or information, either virtually or physically.

My work began from a reading of works about death by two alumni of Magdalen College, Julian Barnes and C. S. Lewis. As an outsider to Oxford institutionally and geographically, I consider death, being a universal and shared experience, as my sole claim to any kind of access. Lewis wrote “A Grief Observed” on the grief he experienced after the death of his wife, Helen Joy Davidman. Barnes’ “Nothing To Be Frightened Of” contain his reflections on mortality and God, and was published before the passing of his wife, Pat Kavanagh.

Reading both books led me to wonder if Barnes’ thoughts about death changed after the passing of his wife and I wrote him a letter. My postal exchange with Barnes led me to realise the private nature of someone else’s grief as a personal loss that I cannot access, yet can still feel deeply for.

On 30 June 2012, the presented work took the form of two cards as public and private expressions of grief encountered. One on public display at the epitaph of Helen Joy Davidman at the Oxford Crematorium; the other remained private, in transit by post to Barnes.

Grieve Over Nothing In Magdalen - public (2012), Woodblock print, ink of magnolias from the grounds where Helen Joy Davidman’s ashes were scattered, 23cm x 20cm, 30 June 2012, Oxford Crematorium
Grieve Over Nothing in Magdalen - private (2012), sealed card in mailbox, 30 June 2012, Woodstock Road, Oxford