Grief inspires hauntingly beautiful tribute to brother and reflection on life

The death of her beloved brother and other family members led to the creation of the hauntingly beautiful work that Gentian Meikleham is exhibiting at this year’s Art, Design and Architecture Degree Show at the University of Dundee.

Gentian (25), originally from Monifieth, worked in direct response to her experiences of loss, particularly following the passing of her brother Koan, during her time at University.

She developed sculpture, performance, film and writing around the themes of memory, childhood, longing, time and melancholy, with each element using carefully considered materials, often with slight transparency or fragility, to explore these universal themes of grief by way of personal experience.

The centrepiece is a pair of mechanical swings, which seem to swing of their own accord. Made of bone-white porcelain and parian ceramic, they resemble the relationship between her and her brother and indicate universal themes of childhood, with the noise of the machinery providing an evocative soundscape for the whole exhibit. Gentian uses subtle nuances to hint at a human presence, or a presence that has become absent; in this instance the ridging on top of the swing has been rubbed away, as if from years of use.

“I have lost three close family members in the four years I have been at University,” she said. “The loss of my brother perhaps being the most poignant for me, due to his age and circumstance, I wanted to use grief as fuel to explore and consider human attachment, loss and longing.

“Koan was 24 when he died, and this number is repeated several times throughout my work. I chose the swings because they are an easily recognisable symbol of childhood and innocence and also relate to so many memories of my own childhood. They continue to swing together, despite the loss of the physical body and despite the childhood that is lost. The worn part of the swings suggests a presence that has become absent in our lives.”

Other items in Gentian’s exhibit include a ghostly stained-glass image, a feather shroud and a pair of helium balloons – all of which relate to uncanny happenings that Gentian and her family have experienced in the aftermath of Koan’s death.

“My work also has an other-worldly element based on unexplainable events that have happened to me and my family in the aftermath of my brothers passing. Feathers that seem to appear at poignant times when we are thinking about him, two balloons that were stuck in our tree at home reading ‘goodbye’ and ‘sorry you’re leaving’, an image that was taken of stained glass window that seems to bear a striking resemblance to Koan’s face.”

“I have incorporated all these things in my work – the window, the balloons, and a shroud I made that is Koan’s height and weight in white feathers. I want to consider the other side to death that we know so little about, whether these happenings are simply a comfort we seek out through serendipity, or whether there is perhaps something bigger out there, much larger than our normal range of perception.”

“The process of making this work has been extremely cathartic for me. I guess my aim is to acknowledge the human experience of death, and open up the conversation up to a wider public framework.”

Gentian, who studied Art, Philosophy and Contemporary Practices, is one of almost 300 graduates exhibiting at Degree Show 2016.

The exhibition opens with the traditional Preview Evening for the students, their families and invited guests on Friday, 20th May and will open to the public the following day.

Admission is free and the show if open from 10am until 8pm (Monday – Friday) and 10am to 4pm (Saturday – Sunday) until Sunday, 29th May.

More information is available at  

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