As foliage begins its visible descent into decay and animals prepare for hibernation, the once lively excitement of growth in Spring and Summer has shifted into anticipation of nature’s death in the chilling months of Autumn. But as Saturday’s Waking Death gallery opening at Casa has shown, death mustn’t always be a morose, fear-filled affair. Dynamic, vibrant, and engaging, the event that asks visitors to take a moment to contemplate endings was an exciting and welcoming environment from the start. Lethbridge’s arts community showed up enthusiastically and dressed to impress.
While there were several works making their debut on Saturday night, the Waking Death exhibit was the focus of the evening, featuring a gallery with paintings by local artists, photographs of Australian prisoner’s death masks, and captivating textile work, among other pieces.
The highlight, however, was without a doubt the enormous crochet skeleton made by Shanell Papp, which was paraded around the block.
Accompanied by two haunting parade leaders on stilts, a crew of colourful ghosts and most of the exhibit attendees, the parts of the skeleton were danced around the exterior of the Casa building by a ghoulish group. “Just follow the ghosts and they will lead the way,” declared Mia Van Leeuwen, choreographer and one of the event’s organizers, who kicked off the sunset procession. As the convoy of participants entered the building, the troop of unexpectedly lively ghosts sang a soundtrack like an angelic choir, and a choreographed performance saw the crochet parts of the skeleton laid across the room like a textile puzzle, demonstrating just how very immense it really is. According to Van Leeuwen, it took about 20 hours to arrange the choreography, but many more planning the costumes.
Papp says she worked on construction of the skeleton from January to September of 2020, crafting the various bones and organs. At the time she had no idea she would witness her piece at the centre of such grand pageantry three years later.
“When you make something so large and strange, you don’t ever really picture it having some sort of larger, stranger life,” says Papp, who added she is grateful to see her work as part of a multidisciplinary event.
“As an artist, I’m working and labouring on my own, so it’s nice to be part of theatre.”
The exhibit opening and parade are just two of the many free events the Waking Death collective has planned for the months of September and October. For a complete list of events and details, visit www.wakingdeath.ca/events
By Theodora Macleod, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Sep 12, 2023