Bartram O'Neill


Angela Bartram Mary O'Neill


Performing Sorrow: Ephemerality and Mourning.

Mary O'Neill

The endurance of the form of story telling and the compulsion to tell them suggests that telling stories is not merely an entertainment, an optional extra, which we can chose to engage with or not, but a fundamental aspect of being.

We tell stories to construct and maintain our world. When our sense of reality is damaged through traumatic experiences we attempt to repair our relationship with the world through the repeated telling of our stories. These stories are not just a means of telling but also an attempt to understand. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick describes knowledge as performative i.e. "knowledge does rather than simply is", I would suggest that stories are not just performed but are also performative. Stories 'do' rather than 'are'. Narratives of sorrow and pain do not leave us unchanged, but can, in fact, motivate us to act. In this paper I will look at the stories told by artworks that embody the disruption of the traditional narrative of western art, of durability and immortality.

These embody the process of decay that tells a story of existence overshadowed by the knowledge of certain death and the telling of the story as a means of confronting that knowledge. The ephemeral art object often tells a story in circumstance when there are no words, when we have nothing left to say. Given the eventual disappearance of these works, this paper also addresses the challenge of transience in a context where permanence is seen as a prerequisite for success.