If you delve into the heart of Hackney, East London, you’ll find a strange house holding a macabre exhibition. Sutton House, a Tudor mansion owned by the National Trust, hosts Life.Death.Whatever, an eerie art show exploring death, life, and the complex journey in between. Sculptures mimicking fly-infested rotting flesh hang from the ceiling, a staircase teems with unspoken messages, and an audio installation immerses visitors in the sounds of a decaying body left uninterred. Curated by Anna Lyons, an end-of-life doula, and Louise Winter, founder of Poetic Endings, Life.Death.Whatever is a series of reflective artworks analyzing mortality and the controversy surrounding it.
Sutton House is a relic of a bygone era in a neighborhood experiencing rapid development. Steeped in British history, the structure is an amalgam of architectural styles: Jacobean interiors, an Edwardian Chapel, and a 1980s graffiti-filled loft, all built upon a medieval foundation. It’s an ideal location to showcase an exhibition contemplating time’s slow march. In Life.Death.Whatever, you won’t find any traditional tombstones or other funerary ephemera. Instead, the pieces exemplify how death is intertwined with life and encourage viewers to take their own mortality with a grain of salt.
“We wanted to take death away from the hospices, graveyards, and crematoriums and bring it into everyone's daily life,” Winter tells The Creators Project. “We face death in some form every day—whether it's the end of a relationship, a job change, the loss of a friendship, or the death of a loved one—death is an essential part of life. By embracing death, we believe you can live a fuller and more meaningful life. For too long, death has been owned by funeral directors, hidden behind dusty net curtains and plastic flowers.”
'Mummers,' Laura Ford. Image courtesy of John Phillips
In one room of the exhibition, shrouded, towering sculptures loom over a prone figure. Laura Ford's Mummers is a chilling reflection on mortality, loss, and youth, captured in a frozen moment. In another room, Katherine Forster’s Loosy the Goose is one in a series of Beanie Babies recreated at 1000% scale. The plush figures are an examination of the transition from childhood to adulthood and how simple things, like soft toys, can offer comfort. French & Mottershead’s Afterlife Home is an immersive audio experience inviting listeners to meditate on decomposition and the concept of “dust to dust.”
Perhaps the most imposing piece is Karen Le Roy Harris’ Like Flies to Flesh, a hanging sculpture of draping red fabric representing flesh and feathers mimicking flies, exploring human desire and the idea of the excessive body. Other standouts amongst the many exhibits are Coffin Playroom, complete with a multi-colored coffin ball pit, and Unsaid, a piece displaying messages that people are unable to say out loud.
'Unsaid,' Image courtesy of John Phillips
“Some of the exhibits are light and playful, others are quite intense. We want people to take some time to explore and reconsider their relationship with mortality and give everyone an opportunity to explore their emotions around death in a way that's accessible and friendly,” Winter says. “We'd like visitors to leave the exhibition having realized that death isn't something to be avoided, but to be considered, explored, and acknowledged. Then we can all get on with our lives with an awareness that we're not going to be here forever, so we should make the most of today.”
'Carrion, carrion,' Laura Dee Milnes, Image courtesy of John Phillips
Life.Death.Whatever runs through October 31. To learn more about the exhibition click here.