At a Loss

A couple of weeks ago, I travelled down to Art Central Gallery in South Wales for the launch of At a Loss, an exhibition that explores grief and loss through creativity. My short animation, Longings & Belongings is being screened there in a show that has brought together artists from around the world. 

Still from Longings & Belongings, 2022

I wondered if the exhibition would feel too sad, but engaging with the many different approaches that the artists have used to explore this universal subject was ultimately very comforting. It felt like a space in which we could have conversations about our experiences and know that they would be understood.


At the exhibition launch, people spoke of their losses in a matter-of-fact way, which is often difficult to do within our usual social situations. In Western societies, death is largely a taboo subject, closing down conversations quickly, and this can make things more difficult for the grieving. I know myself that the worry about what to say to someone who is experiencing loss can stop me from saying anything. There’s a paralysis that happens, in knowing that you can’t say anything that’s useful or that can really help the situation, but there is pain caused in not acknowledging someone's loss.


People often post on social media about the death of a loved one and we respond en mass with sympathetic messages, which are heartfelt in their intention. There are never quite the right words to say to a friend who has lost someone close though.

Performance by Dagmar Radmacher

Installation by Inga Burrows

The At a Loss artists have approached the subject sensitively, each having experienced their own loss, which has become part of their creative work. Lead artist Inga Burrows conceived the project after her mother’s death, when she was faced with the left-behind things that accumulate over a lifetime. It occurred to Inga that she could use her mother’s belongings to make art, and she questioned whether other artists were doing that too.


This resonated with me because making Longings & Belongings came from the experience of helping my dad and his two brothers to clear my grandma’s house after her death. Going through the things she left behind was a sad process, knowing that we couldn’t keep most of the possessions that she had collected and cherished. 


There were items that had strong memories for me, and others that none of us knew the history of. A puzzling moment was finding a stack of colour supplement magazines from the Sunday newspapers about the Royal Family that she’d collected over the years. My grandparents were staunch socialists, so this was perplexing. The four of us stared in wonder at this anomalous pile of shiny pictured paper, no-one quite fitting this find together with the person we knew!


The thing that caused a catch in my throat every time I passed it was a pair of Grandma’s slippers placed near a living room chair. These were items so personal to her that it was hard to bear, summoning a huge sense of loss each time I encountered them as we went about our work of sorting through things to bin, to keep, to send to charity and so on.


When I got home, I began to draw a little Cornishware jug of hers that I’d brought home with me. I didn’t know why I was drawing it, but I felt compelled to do it. I began to put an eye onto my drawings, which continued throughout the pandemic year of 2020 and became a strong theme. Eventually, it became clear how to include these images in my main practice, when they became the visual source for the animation of Longings & Belongings, alongside a spoken word and music soundtrack. I am still drawing the eyes, and I think that they are a representation of the memory of a person: the person is not held in the objects we keep, but a memory of them is.

The artists' video works were screened at
Penarth Pier Pavilion, as a special launch event 

The other artists who made the work shown in At a Loss have drawn out threads of stories too, using imagery, sculptural installation, sound, photography, video, narrative, crochet and performance, to make artworks that are very personal, but at the same time have a universal connection. 


Loss is something that we can’t avoid, an inescapable consequence of human connection and love. I look at the things left behind, and I remember the person that they belonged to. I look at the work of other artists and I have an idea of how loss has made them feel. I am comforted by the knowledge that art can help us understand something so personal, yet so vast.


At a Loss is at Art Central Gallery, Town Hall, King Square, Barry, Wales, CF63 4RW from the 7th October 2023 to 6th January 2024.


The At a Loss Project is on Facebook and Instagram.

At a Loss is supported by Art Central Gallery and Vale of Glamorgan Council, with funding from Cyngor Celfyddydau Cymru | Arts Council of Wales.