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The Autopsy of Loss


I(rise) Letting go 

How do we creatively move through grief using  artistic ritual?

This is a psychological experiment that blends clinical viewpoints with the skills of artists as guides in healing from a significant loss.


What we are beginning to realize is that our traumatic experiences are, in fact, stored in the body, and healthy healing simply can’t be accessed on an entirely intellectual level.  As this is the case, what does the individual need to be able to process these emotional connections that we can’t reach by means of our higher brain functions?  Can this be appreciated by our scientific and logic seeking culture?


                   Who better than artists, and their art-making rituals, to show the way.


There are universal transitions that individuals need to push through - from the internal chaos at the point of loss, until an individual reaches personal insight and reintegration of that loss into their world view. Experiencing the loss of a significant relationship is a fundamental life passage and we would like to shine scientific light on what that process could look like in the hands of those who understand the healing potential of expressive arts. Artists feel emotions implicitly and intuitively, as well as explicitly, giving them a unique perspective.


We can read about grief and healing in books, learn about the stages, talk with a therapist, compartmentalize it, and even avoid it because these powerful emotions are creating spiritual, physical, behavioral, and philosophical responses within us. 


We believe that many people will connect with the topic of this collaboration because all of us have experienced some form of significant loss and the resultant grief in our lives.   We haven’t always been able to heal cleanly despite all information and programs available.  There is still a need to find other ways to cope and recover. The artists in this project want to share what they have learned about the science behind art as therapy and offer examples of the rituals we all can use to conceptualize and understand the beautiful process of reintegration after loss. 



The project sets out to discover the ways an art form can be used to guide us towards healing from significant loss through the ritual and the science of art as therapy. To do so, many questions need to be answered. Scientists attempt to intellectualize grief and in so doing attempt to take these intense emotions out of the body. If intense emotion is stored in the body, how do we, as artists, move through it in a more productive and healthy way?


  • The end result of an artist’s work is often missing the evidence of the process of healing, though intuitively we might know it has occurred or is occurring.   The final work is polished and appreciated as such. But how does a musician pour emotions into a melody or a song? Where are the ragged first drafts and what is the process by which the artist completes it?  Is there healing in these rituals that demand the body be present through its senses?  How does the photographer find the images that tell the story of their internal world and why is that important? What does the path through the mental landscape of a poet have to feel and look like as they search for the words that strike meaning?  For this project we have four artists working in different media who have decided to share that path and those rituals.  In the gallery we will share the sculptor’s process as it seems the most physical and external of the media represented here. The sculptor’s process is messy and easily followed.  The movements are active and results are easy to see across time. 


  • Those of us ensconced in the empirical evidence that guides our society may have come to believe that art has had its day, its moment, but the newest evidence tells a very different story. Layered atop our other objectives is our desire to reveal some of the science behind art as therapy.   Much is being discovered in the scientific community only now, but as artists we recognize that these results have always been an intrinsic part of our understanding of the world.  It is very exciting to see the artist’s work beginning to carry a more weighty meaning and importance in a culture that lives by the rituals of its scientists rather than that of the artist.  How does the ritual of art making have the potential to carry even more meaning in the future as we link science and art and how does healing through that lens look?


  • The struggle to make sense of that which cannot be made sense of on an intellectual level may be accessible through Expressive Art Therapies.  In individuals that continue to grapple with the destructive energies of anger, sadness, and loss, are they are the people who have felt that they have no other recourse? Can using the energy of grief be turned into a guided process that can be made meaningful to everyone as a path to healing? How can these processes return us to a constructive energy that can turn loss into something we can reintegrate into our life story and perhaps become something defined as beautiful?  How has that creative energy transformed loss for others? 


Project Description: 

This is a that uses different media to describe the ritual form that the transitions from loss to healing can take over the stages of grief.  The setting will be drawn from the life in a laboratory and art studio. This “home laboratory”, we hope, will help to define the dual nature of the project and yet be able to bring together the artist and the scientist and reveal how they are interdependent in discovering new ways  to heal the emotional aspects of trauma and loss.  Both art making and lab work demand engagement in repetitious behaviours  that have meaning for the individual– in this case one to heal the self  (the artist) and the other to discover how we heal (the scientist).  This duality can and does exist within the individual who is living through the process of grieving in our society. The understanding of science may be greater than the understanding of art-making at this time, but with new discoveries of emotional trauma and its effects on the brain, new doorways of artistic expression for opportunities that science alone can’t provide may become available.  

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