For many of us the words ‘palliative care’ bring up associations we’d rather forget, but for Toronto-based multimedia artist Lee Henderson it was a fitting title for his new installation.
Designed to provide a space for people to contemplate their own mortality, “Palliative Care (1985-1992)” is set to appear next month at contemporary art gallery, Latitude 53. It features a 25-minute video compilation of every instance in all seven seasons of the classic TV series, The Golden Girls, where a character refers to the concept of death.
The fact that Henderson chose that particular show is no coincidence. In a recent phone interview, he said he appreciated that the ‘80s sitcom wasn’t afraid of tackling heavy topics related to the advanced age of its four female protagonists. As he was going over the 180 episodes, he realized there were only four that didn’t mention death in some way.
He’s also noticed that the show has had a resurgence in popular culture and on social media (including a post about a puppet show adaptation in Toronto). Henderson attributes the comeback to the fact that many people, like himself, who watched the show and developed an attachment to it in the ‘80s, now find themselves saying goodbye to their last grandparent.
When Henderson was putting together the video, he decided to cut each clip at the moment when “another word is spoken.” As a result, there are many “breaks” as he explained, where there is either silence or a laugh track.
The program’s sitcom format also ties into a running theme of humour in his art.
“My artwork is funny the way King Lear is funny,” he says. Not in broad, obvious strokes, but in the way laughter can sometimes be your only recourse when faced with the knowledge that we’re all mortal.
Every aspect of the space Henderson has mapped out will allow viewers to step back from their busy lives and relax as they take in his work. The room is heated, lit with a warm glow and furnished with chaise lounges. The effect is that it calls to mind the Golden Girls setting in Florida. More than relaxing, Henderson hopes the exhibit can be a space that “slows the mind,” where people can come to mediate on these topics—and whatever else comes to mind. To him, there aren’t very many places in the fast-paced modern world to do so.
In addition to verbal mentions of the concept of death such as: “will,” “exterminator” and “heaven,” there are also visual gestures, as when a character draws his finger across his neck, as well as a scene wherein a major character dies briefly and goes to heaven. In the clip you can see her walk towards a white light (shown in the image).
This installation will be exhibited alongside two works from Montreal artist Joani Tremblay entitled “Landscape Gaze and Breezy Erudition” and “What About Formal Freedom?” starting August 4.
Thurs, Aug 4 – Sat, Sept 10