Flat Death: Edgar Martins & Jordan Baseman

Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool
15th January - 3rd April 2016

Reviewed by Steve Lamb

There is a strong connection between photography and mortality; photographs can be a startling and painful representation of a person who no longer exists. With this exhibition by Edgar Martins and Jordan Baseman we have a direct link between photography and death itself.

The works by Martins are of an abstract nature in their representations of death. The story of a suicide note written on a paper plane and thrown out of a prison is especially memorable.

An issue for this reviewer is that censorship has unfortunately reared its head. The curator has decided not to show certain pictures for safeguarding purposes. This made the exhibition seem incomplete as the descriptions of the pictures were present but without the pictures!

One can’t help feeling that a better approach would have been to include them but also include a warning on entering the gallery of potentially distressing content. With the subject matter of death should the artist’s vision really be diluted? Are potential visitors likely to expect something inoffensive?

Like with any other art form I’m of the view that something should be shown completely as intended or not at all. This certainly doesn’t devalue the work that was shown, but I’d have preferred to have seen all of it.

Far starker was the work by Jordan Baseman which includes a selection of funereal pictures of embalmed bodies including children. The idea is to show the link between portrait photography and embalming which share a purpose of creating a pleasant image and memory. The material is shown as a slide show in a quiet and dark room and is tastefully done.

The exhibition is generally pragmatic and unsentimental which made it interesting rather than mawkish.

Also, the Open Eye has taken a socially responsible approach with supportive materials available from mental health agencies. The free exhibition brochure includes an interview with the curator Thomas Dukes and Angela Samata who sits on the suicide prevention All Party Parliamentary Group.

Overall, this is an interesting exhibition. It should provoke discussion on how the arts should represent death and whether they can contribute to the breaking of this enduring taboo.

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