the living and the dead

On display in the BF Larson Gallery of the Harris Fine Arts Center at Brigham Young University until mid-September 2013.

the living and the dead is a sound installation. A white starched curtain, 12 feet in diameter, hangs 18 inches from the floor to a height of about 76 inches. Inside are suspended 3 speakers, placed at intervals of 1/3 the curtain’s circumference, about 8 inches from the curtain and aimed through it. Through these speakers play interviews, conversations and stories from the artists’ families or loaned to them by friends.

One interpretation of this installation is: The curtain represents what we, as Latter-day Saints, refer to as the veil, which represents a number of things but may best be summed up as the boundary of our understanding. It’s a sort of spiritual caul that circumscribes the human experience. The space within the curtain could be viewed as mortality. The curtain permits light and sound to pass through—a metaphor for our belief that the veil is semipermeable and allows for select communication; it restrains our understanding but only insofar as we bind ourselves to its limits. The space defined by the curtain can symbolize the finite nature of our earthly passage. When you’re very close to it the curtain fills your vision, but, in comparison to the expanse that surrounds it, the area described by that curtain is small, and the farther you move away from it the smaller it appears. Viewed from the perspective of the fifth floor of the Fine Arts Center it is quite tiny.

This prompts contemplation of the audio coming through the curtain. Most of the recordings contain the voice of at least one individual who is now dead and another who is still alive. Without exception these recordings are among the most priceless belongings of the people who lent them. Most are the echos of parents, children, siblings, grandparents, and friends who have died. There are also a few recordings of moments of relationships in progress. The voices are unrestricted by the curtain, but, because they are broadcast at a low volume, they call for quiet concentration near the curtain to be received. This can be viewed as representative of the few precious possessions which survive and transcend mortality—our relationships—and our need, if they are important to us, to give them careful attention. So much of our journey through life is taken up by pursuits and activities which cannot pass with us through the veil, but, we believe, loving bonds can.

If you have comments, insights inspired by or interpretations of the living and the dead you’d like to share we’d love to hear them.

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