Artist's Statement

Rachel Cox

At multiple times in my life I have assisted with the arrangement of a family members’ funeral. These experiences were accompanied by a flood of never-ending decisions concerned with how objects, people, and spaces should look for a final moment of reflection. The visual choices my family and I made revealed uncanny similarities in our understanding of how everything from color palette, to lighting, significantly assisted our grieving process.

I was struck by the significance of these shared aesthetic expectations, and through further research have located portions of their origins within the history of western cultures as they developed throughout the 19th century. Americans saw a rise of the middle class during this time period and with this came an increased importance on status symbols in life and death. Many of our modern day funerary practices are the last vestiges of these Victorian traditions which championed lavish expenditures on funerary décor.

Drawing from the experiences with the funeral arrangements of my family, alongside the research culled from the histories of modern day funerary practices, I build photographs that explore cultural attitudes surrounding death.

Specifically, I focus on the viewing areas, lounges, and social spaces that comprise the majority of traditional funeral homes. The photographs reveal a kind of theatre; a perceived elegance which is deeply significant for the bereaved. I see inadequacies in these performances as a means to effectively cope with loss, and yet I am inexplicably drawn to these environments; Absence is a protagonist portrayed through a surreal cast of colors, lighting, and other architectural and interior oddities.

The suggested documentary nature of these photographs is subverted by the use of my own staging and construction in order to arrive at a scene that hovers between perceived fact and orchestrated fiction. The photographs are designed to be questioned, and to therefore begin a conversation regarding how contemporary society talks about death.