Upstairs at the Napier is very quite on a weekday, I didn’t know what was on but I was glad that I paid it a visit. It is an artist run space, just a couple of rooms above the Napier Hotel in Fitzroy. I turned the lights in the gallery on and off myself (it felt interactive and very right for the environment). The white rooms gallery rooms have track lighting on the ceilings but do have some original art nouveau molded tin on the lower walls.
Anne-Marie Kuter has created a fairly standard piece of contemporary art – “Warped Intervention Installation”. A paper mold of a fireplace and ceiling rose, both lit from behind, represent the kind of architectural features that this room would have once had. Why the ceiling was painted green and hung with a multitude of pieces of folded paper was not clear but evocative. Anne-Marie Kuter is on the board of artists who run Upstairs at the Napier.
After this I had no expectations for the next room/gallery so I was surprised by the quality of “The Hankie Project” curated by Julie Barratt. 150 works by 100 artists from 12 countries focused on handkerchiefs as a symbol of grief. It is rare to see an art exhibition with works full of genuine, deep emotion. Of course, there were lots of embroidery and printing on handkerchiefs but Barratt did not allow the exhibition to become repetitive. It is a continuing unfolding experience, intimate, moving and certainly thought provoking about the culture of grief.
The difficulty of expressing profound grief in a culture that no longer deals with death with elaborate rituals and protocol, that in many ways denies death. What to do with the period of mourning? In part “The Hankie Project” is Julie Barratt and the artists expressing their personal grief for the loss of loved ones through creation of these small memorials. But these are not just private memorials but art that is expected to seen by strangers. The sensitivity of the Barratt’s curatorship is evident in the delicate balance of the exhibition creating the sense of not intruding on someone’s grief.