This Grief Thing is a project by Central’s Associate Artist Fevered Sleep, led by David Harradine and Sam Butler.
The project encourages people to accept grief as a normal, healthy response to death that shouldn’t be silenced, hidden or ignored. Through the creation of a series of public spaces, conversations, an online campaign and highly visible street advertising, grief is made visible, acknowledged, accepted and shared. The project rejects linear understandings of grief, and proposes instead that it has to be understood as an entirely subjective, fluid experience, without timeline or pattern. It also resists the medicalisation of grief, and has developed strategies for reinstating grief into the fabric of daily life.
At the heart of the project is a series of temporary shops, which offer a collection of clothing, accessories, badges, and cards. Each of these objects displays a phrase that encourages different ways to think about grief. Phrases include “Grief is like the weather”, “Grief = Love” , “Don’t panic if I cry” or “Hold me”. In the shop, these objects become catalysts for conversations about grief between visitors (customers) and the projects artistic director/researchers. Once they have left the shop, the objects open up new possibilities for grief to be acknowledged in public and private space. The shop also functions as a meeting place, where “Grief Gatherings” invite small groups of people to spend time talking together about grief, sharing experience and learning. These gatherings also take place in other community settings (to date, in libraries, hospital chaplaincies and various arts centres). Alongside the shop and the gatherings, a highly visible billboard campaign takes place in each town where the shop is opened, asking the question “Can we talk about grief”, with the intention of starting conversations about why, generally, we cannot.
The project has grown out of an extended collaborative and participatory research process (2015 – 2018) which has included collaboration and/or exchange with academic researchers across disciplines, including:
Alongside this academic research, over 100 people from outside academia took part in small group discussions about grief, which led directly to the creation of the texts and phrases that are incorporated in the items available in the shop.
This Grief Thing has been presented in Preston with Derelict Live (September 2018); Middlesbrough with Middlesbrough Town Hall (September 2018); and in Manchester with Whitworth Art Gallery (November 2018). In 2019 it will be in Nottingham with Dance4 and back in Manchester as part of Sick! Festival. It’s funded by Paul Hamlyn Foundation (as part of a 4-year research project on participatory art-making) and by Wellcome Trust (as part of a 5-year project on innovative approaches to engaging diverse publics with biomedical science).