Grief-Be-Gone, One Stroke at a Time

What does your grief look like? Is it stiff and bloodless, muzzled beneath a funeral suit and dark shades? Or is it lavishly grotesque, a daggers-to-the-eyes orgy of regret?

Too often, we expect mourning to be one or the other. We crave the cathartic release; we marvel at the stalwart courage. And when it comes to art inspired by grief—or art made as a grieving process unto itself—we similarly crave a signaling of some recognizable, obvious emotion, even if (especially if?) it’s an ugly or dysfunctional one. Death sucks. It should rattle to the core.

Mary Simon-Casati, 2012

So kudos to Minneapolis artist Mary Simon-Casati. In a solo show opening Friday, November 30, at Traffic Zone Center for Visual Arts, she works through the death of her mother in a way that is gorgeously ordinary, calmingly repetitive, and satisfyingly sane. “Memento Mori” is an exhibition of mark-making. When her mother died, Simon-Casati found herself reaching for the paintbrush—not to vent or to furiously create, but to absently and hypnotically trail a solitary brushstroke over a scrap of paper. She did this over and over. These markings—loose jabs of black acrylic, vaguely reminiscent of language or primitive maps—form the basis of her exhibition.

“Often the expression of grief comes out in a repetitive activity, one we know very well, and perhaps do every day,” Simon-Casati recently told Minnesota Women’s Press. “Years ago, my grandmother lived in Ipswich, South Dakota. Following her husband’s death, she sat in her rocking chair and crocheted edges on handkerchiefs. She made hundreds of hankies.”

Far from Rorschach blots, Simon-Casati’s marks don’t feel like abstract vacuums waiting for us to fill them with association. They stand on their own as markers of time, artifacts of moments that piled up while waiting for something to pass.

Memento Mori: Cartography of Grief
Opening reception Friday, November 30
6-9 p.m.
Traffic Zone Center for Arts
250 Third Ave. N., Mpls.