Memento Mori at Pertwee, Anderson and Gold
Memento mori: remember that you will die. It is believed that the term and the art created to endorse the philosophy behind it originated in Ancient Rome. Memento mori as a form of visual art is still popular, and is created and used universally to both celebrate life and death and to remind man of his mortality.
There was no better place to unveil the exposition of Memento Mori than in the creaky gloom of Pertwee, Anderson and Gold, which serves as both gallery and curiosity museum. Bringing together contemporary work and old objects, which all explore the notion of mortality and its creative representation, the show balances serious reflection with fun: a rich, thoughtful and (at times) sexy observation of man’s fascination with death.
Alternative culture has made the subject of death marketable, whereby traditional remembrance has been upgraded to a gutsy and super-cool fingers-up to fear and mortality (“Live fast. Die young”). Jim Skull, featuring at Memento Mori, captures a sense of this in his papier-mâché skulls, which are embellished with various decorative materials. He makes death fashionable – even wearable. Also featured is a print of a box of BJ Cunningham’s Death Cigarettes. Cunningham introduced his brand to the UK in 1991 with a “truth in marketing” approach.
Of course, death has continually been dealt with by artists, but the contemporary works of Memento Mori have a bit more funk to them. The juxtaposition between old and new, as with Butch Anthony’s reworked traditional paintings is what makes the show work. It’s not really that new ground is broken here, but there is something ultimately very cool about the mix of old ideas and new approach. There are hints of Bauhaus from design collective Heretic and of German Expressionism in Swoon’s Mortimer and Jenkins print among countless other mixed references.
Memento Mori is three-dimensional, not necessarily due to its capacity to showcase so many creative techniques, but more because of the clever fusion between old and new. Some of the traditional pieces are accompanied with a blurb, which adds reference and context in between the contemporary works. This balance is intelligent and stops the show feeling over-indulgent or contrived. This is a truly entertaining exhibition that exudes an equal share of meditative insight and peculiar beauty.
If Memento Mori feels a little kitsch, it knows it does and it doesn’t care.
Memento Mori is at Pertwee, Anderson and Gold until 14th June 2013. For further information visit the gallery’s website here.