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What is Left? A new exhibition brings an empty home in Lancaster to life
Artist Ellie Harrison, who’s portrait also appears as part of the exhibition. Photo: Roshana Rubin-Mayhew.

LANCASTER.- What is Left?’, an intimate exhibition of photographic portraits - which include local people from Lancashire – will premiere in the city on 19th May before embarking on a national tour. The reflective exhibition features a selection of the 50 portraits taken as part of the national body of work, and explores how a loved one who has died is remembered through an object they have left behind.

The series of photographs will be exhibited throughout a small empty cottage at 1 Thurnham Mews, in Lancaster, and depict people from a wide range of ages and backgrounds holding a meaningful object inherited from a lost loved one. The exhibition is the result of a collaboration between Leeds-based performance artist, Ellie Harrison and London-based photographer, Roshana Rubin-Mayhew, who visited each participant at home to capture their stories in their own surroundings. The pictures are brought to life by an audio interview with each individual and a specially designed transcript booklet of their story, and is accompanied by a bespoke ‘viewing’ chair, chosen by the artists to reflect the environment where the portrait was taken.

The powerful combination of image, text and sound allows audiences to fully immerse themselves in each participant’s personal memories of the person they lost; some celebratory, some provocative and others, simply reflective. Portraits of people from Lancashire include Sophie, who holds her father’s homemade jars of jam and John, holding his father’s Mitre Block, a carpenter’s tool.

Following a pilot project last year, of 11 portraits and texts, the artists were awarded Arts Council England funding to expand the project for a national tour. Ellie and Roshana have spent a year working with local community groups and bereavement charities, including Cancer Care Lancaster, to find suitable individuals and families willing to share their memories and experiences. What is Left? in Lancaster is sponsored by and delivered in partnership with Lancaster Property Management Network, Live at LICA, Lancaster University and Lancashire County Council.

Ellie Harrison, whose portrait also features in the exhibition, holding a pair of leather gloves inherited from her mum, comments: “One thing that really struck me working with people from all walks of life, young and old, was how glad they were to have the opportunity to talk about their loved ones, as so often people experiencing grief seem to worry about making those around them feel awkward by talking about someone who has died. Everyone involved seemed to enjoy the experience of picking an item to represent the person they had lost.”

Roshana Rubin-Mayhew added: “I’m interested in how we extend our sense of self into the objects around us and how the objects spoken about in this project take on the characteristics and nuances of our relationships with the people we have lost.”

Continues Ellie: “That’s a really fascinating concept which I hope this exhibition successfully explores. It often got people thinking ‘I wonder what material possession would best represent me – what would make that connection between the memory of me and what I leave behind?”

‘What is Left?’ is part of Harrison’s body of work, The Grief Series, which sees her using a seven-stage ‘grief model’ from popular psychology and working in collaboration with other artists to produce a number of projects which include performance, photography, installation and sculpture to examine each ‘stage’ of grief.

‘What is Left?’ opens in Lancaster before touring to Barnsley and Portland, ending its run in Stockton on 31st October. The 2014 tour is produced by The Performing Office and co-commissioned by The Civic, Barnsley; Live at LICA, Lancaster University; ARC Stockton and b-side festival, Portland and supported by Arts Council England, Lancashire County Council and East Street Arts.

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