Grieve with me | by Julia Fidder

.

Grieve with me | by Julia Fidder

artist book grieve with me by Julia Fidder with droplets and a text that reads Voor Mama
Grieve with me, research by Julia Fidder, design by Emese Veszely

Dates:
January
2024

By Julia Fidder

 

Buy the publication via our webshop here

Research

Grieve with me

In 2020 I curated the exhibition My Mother’s Daughter, which in the midst of a raging pandemic tried to find callmess in the negotiation of my grief. At the time I did not recognize it as such. The exhibition presented at SEA Foundation portrayed the child-mother relationship through the eyes of the child: depicting an idealized lifespan through the inclusion of artworks that were implicitly, or explicitly, showcasing a certain key-period within the mother-child relationship. Predominantly shown through a female perspective, hence the title of the show, artists reflected on child birth, early childhood, puberty, becoming a mother yourself and the eventual death of the mother at a late age. I could have taken a red sharpie to draw a line straight through the exhibition space, cutting the lifeline of this imagined child-mother relationship in half. I did not get to experience all these life stages with my mother, and in retrospect, I believe the exhibition to be a subconscious attempt to catharsis in my grief. 

Now, four years later, I conclude the first outcome of an ongoing research project that is dedicated to grief in contemporary society. The publication Grieve with me is the first solidified form of hopefully many to come. It probes to be an invitation in imagining alternative ways of grief within today’s world that defy the contemporary privatized notion of it. It includes personal stories and essays written by me, that are loosely based on my timeline of grief, starting with the death of my mother, the differentiation that followed, the attempt to ‘reintegration’ into ‘normal life’ and the acknowledgement of the impossibility to do so. My voice is not the only one that is there. The publication is a vessel for stories, accounts and notes by others and includes contributions by Nadine Byrne, Mariia Mytrofanova, Mourning School (Lucie Gotlieb and Rosa Paardenkooper), Juliana Irene Smith and Jeroen van Wijk in the form of respectively a video-adaptation, a vase-shaped object, a sound piece and interview, a textile piece and a poem.

Have we not swept foul death you fiend

like dust out of our house?

Out of the streets, out of the grave

who needs reminders anyways?

– Jeroen van Wijk (quote from the poem Evermore)

a world without grief

One of the contributors to the publication, Jeroen van Wijk, in his poem Evermore, makes use of a hyperbole of the society we live in. This seemingly parallel society denies death to such an extent that the main character of the poem believes in an almost conspiratorial way for death not to exist at all. While being an exaggeration of the current state of the world, we can find the discrepancy we encounter when having to deal with death in our society. In a world that tries to marginalize death, we lose the tools of dealing with emotions that occur after somebody you love dies. 

Darcy Harris in Oppression of the Bereaved: A critical analysis of grief in Western society, reflects on this accusation of (mainly Western) society being death denying:  “In general, Western society is basically described as a death-denying and product-driven society whose foundation rests upon capitalism and patriarchal hierarchies in all significant social institutions. (…) This foundation sets the stage for how bereaved individuals are perceived and the standards of acceptability for mourning after a loss.” When efficiency and capital gain are prioritized over all else, over our wellbeing, over the value of one’s life even, we try to eliminate everything that might oppose a threat to the capitalist system. Subsequently, the system tries to neutralize the threat that is opposed to it by imposing norms that try to restrict grief, to merge it into something that is manageable and oppose less of a threat. 

norms and stigma

Grief is subjected to norms and stigma on all aspects of its existence. There are norms trying to dictate who we may grieve, with whom we might share our grief, there are stigmas in place that prescribe how we should exhibit our grief, how long for even. So, as a (recently) bereaved individual, you not only have to deal with the overwhelming feelings of grief, but additionally it is asked of you to do so in a socially accepted manner: “[d]espite much research and anecdotal accounts that confirm the normalcy of many diverse responses to loss, social expectations of uniformity (and conformity) are still placed upon bereaved individuals in current Western society.” – Darcy Harris in Oppression of the Bereaved 

But grief does not want to comply with these norms and stigma. It is not an animal to be domesticated, it is not a beast to be tamed. Grief is rational in its irrationality, it behaves unaccounted, illogical and jumps through hoops you had never even imagined it could fit itself through. So rather than letting itself be tamed, grief goes underground, it hides into our homes and we restrict it as much as we can. Grief becomes privatized.

privatization of grief

The individualisation of grief can be attributed to the previously described influence of capitalism on grief, but also has its roots in neoliberalist thought. The emphasis on the individual that came with neoliberalism also extends itself to how we practice grief. In addition, this privatization gets enforced by the shame we feel towards it, that is caused by the societal social norms geared towards the bereaved. Isolation or individualization, however, only further complicates the grieving journey and might have a destructive effect on the bereaved. In times of grief, we need connection and interdependence: “[T]o treat vulnerability as a healed scar, a patch of tissue that is still sensitive in certain parts. The scar is nothing other than the visceral command to become a self-detached individual who can efficiently manage her own human capital. And what makes that scar heal is not turning inward or isolating ourselves, but opening outward, reaching out to others. Capitalism has prompted us to dream of an ideal individual who can be or is in control of everything. But none of us can be in control. Because we only really exist being-with.”  – Irmgard Emmelhainz in Shattering and Healing

Leat Granek in Bottled Tears points at this discrepancy of the inescapability of death and our artificially individualized response to it: “Despite being a normal, healthy response to death, which will be experienced by many thousands of people every day, grief tends to be hidden, ignored or restricted to the private realms of the home or the inner life. We are afraid of it. We are ashamed of it. We avoid it. We hide it. Whereas historically, in Western societies, grief would have been highly visible, and woven — in ritualised and quotidian ways — into social relations, structures and events.” In practice, the individualization of death can express itself in numerous ways; it can be the raging silence during Christmas after a family member has just died, it can be balling your fists on the subway to hold back your tears, it can be the lack of education that discusses death and dying in school, it can be the lack of time when one has to return to their day job to play good weather after a mere 3 days off to arrange the funeral, but with feelings left undealt with. 

a flower that slowly dies off

In high school my arts teacher once told me that a flower you keep on giving water will grow, while a flower you never hydrate will eventually die off. Intentionally not giving attention to something allows for it to degrade, to shrink, to lose its momentum or its raison d’être. But while grief is forced out of our world, being ignored, hidden and privatized, death doesn’t let itself show the door all that easily. With people dying, or being murdered, but without room for grief, we lose the tools we might need to navigate these feelings of intense sorrow. 

In Rebellious Mourning: The Collective Work of Grief, Cindy Milstein frames grief as something that is a right to all:  “[grief and spaces for it,] similar to water and libraries, should be freely, healthily, and publicly available to all. In this way, precisely because we can more openly experiment with sharing the fullness of life, we can begin to rehumanize the world and ourselves. For if we can’t inhabit the essentials of what it means to be a compassionate human being, we surely can’t be the people capable of inhabiting communities of trust, reciprocity, and care.” By disrupting the vicious cycle of privatization and silencing, there lies a potential to also break with dehumanization. Thinking of the idea of the ‘ungrievable’ by Judith Butler, the act of grieving somebody is a means to validate their life, their being and their place within the world, it is the act of rehumanizing.

the persistence of grief

I spoke with one of the contributors to the book, Mariia Mytrofanova, several times on the pain that comes with the rapid gain of relevance this project on grief is getting, as we live in a world where genocides and wars are ongoing. It is now and tomorrow that we need to come together to grieve, to fight this individualisation through our unity. The flower that is grief will never die, it grows like a rampant weed that will find its way through every crack in the pavement, within every climate there is. In a world that is trying to diminish grief, that tries its best to frame marginalized groups as being ‘ungrievable’, we will not accept. Grieve with me is an invitation, an attempt and an ongoing battle. Not only to our own grief, not only to the grief of others but to let grief re-enter the stage, to claim a space for it when it is not given. 

 

I want to thank some of the people who were important to the project so far, starting with the contributors to the publication: Nadine Byrne, Mariia Mytrofanova, Mourning School (Lucie Gotlieb and Rosa Paardenkooper), Juliana Irene Smith and Jeroen van Wijk. Their knowledge, honesty and hard work made the publication much more than I could have ever wished for. I also want to thank Emese Veszely for the magic she worked in the design of the publication. Lastly, I want to thank Sara Blosseville, Grégoire Schaller and Mallaury Scala for their trust to exhibit their works alongside the contributors to the publication in Oksasenkatu11, Helsinki in February 2024. 

Bio Julia Fidder

Julia Fidder (Rotterdam, 1997) is a Dutch curator and writer based in Helsinki, and a team member of the SEA Foundation. As an independent curator and writer she has been exploring the meaning of motherhood, self-care, grief and rituals in today’s world. Her current research project is called Grieve with me, which is an invitation to come together to grief on our own terms. In an attempt to oppose normative thought caused by capitalist thinking and the privatization of grief due to neoliberalism, Grieve with me explores shared grieving rituals and communal mourning in contemporary times.

Julia Fidder website

Resources

Judith Butler, Precarious Life: The Power of Mourning and Violence, (London: Verso, 2004)

Irmgard Emmelhainz, “Shattering and Healing,” e-flux, no.96 (January 2019)

Leeat Granek, “Bottled Tears: The Pathologization, Psychologization, and Privatization of Grief” (PhD dissertation, York University, 2008)

Darcy Harris, “Oppression of the Bereaved: A Critical Analysis of Grief in Western Society,” OMEGA–Journal of Death and Dying 60, no.3 (January 2009) 242-243.

Cindy Milstein, Rebellious Mourning: The Collective Work of Grief, (Chico: AK Press, 2017)

artist book grieve with me by Julia Fidder in this page there is a small mirror that allows you to see your reflection
Julia Fidder presenting her book Grieve with me
artist book grieve with me by Julia Fidder with an urn on the side