Menu

‘You Need Glue, Tampons, and Ice,' Says Artist Every Ocean Hughes

One Big Bag is a picture of a young death doula, a holistic caregiver who attends to a dying person's desires and supports their family after they pass away. A young lady describes the contents of her "corpse kit" in the video, which was created by US artist Every Ocean Hughes, as the objects are suspended from the ceiling at the appropriate heights for their usage on the body.

The list is mundane yet revealing, reassuring and unsettling: glue to heal wounds and tampons to block orifices; food for the living who forget to eat; and ice to cool but not freeze. The doula examines the goods carefully, but also performs a mystery ballet, smashing her fists on her body, slamming her thighs into the ground, and marching about the room with spiritual ardour.

One Big Bag, which was shown with an installation of the dangling goods, represents a transition in the artist's work from abstraction to direct, tangible activity. Hughes, a lovely and exuberant figure with a short bob and wonderful hexagonal brown spectacles, arrives via Zoom from her home in Stockholm.

She reveals that caring for her adored grandma Enid Hughes at the end of her life led her on this road, even though she thought she'd never produce art again for a year. She continued to work as an art professor, but she desired a more practical talent.

"I have a lot of friends who are amazing activists, and I thought to myself, 'What is my service?'" 'Actually, I can do this: I can't turn away,' I reasoned. I can study death and the mechanisms that surround it.'

Hughes, who was born Emily Roysdon, changed her name to Enid Hughes in honor of her grandmother and her love of the sea. Hughes was also moved by her mother's death to pursue end-of-life doula training on the west coast of the United States in 2018, which she describes as a profound and personal experience.

End of Life Doula UK now has 220 registered members and recognizes additional UK practitioners who are not members of the organization.

Hughes hasn't yet practiced, but she sees it as part of her "long-term apprenticeship to death," which began when her childhood best friend died when she was nine years old. Hughes' dearest friend died when she was 15 years old. Hughes, who grew up in Maryland, adds, "I don't even think I can begin to limit the impact it had on me."

"It gave me a strong backbone and resilience, but it also turned me off." For the longest period, I was emotionally suppressed."

She relates her prior works' abstraction to "learning to survive in my head." "From the neck down, I became an intellectual and was much less attached to anything."

Finding an LGBT community aided her in breaking free from the oppression. "People think of queer culture in terms of coming out and sexual politics," Hughes adds, "and that is certainly present."

But it was also meeting a political group of folks who had been through pain and suffering for me."

She discovered it at Massachusetts' bohemian Hampshire College, where she met female artists and zine-makers like K8 Hardy. She later met JD Samson in New York, who went on to form the female punk bands Le Tigre and Men.

After they split up, Samson became her first girlfriend and received a tattoo of Hughes' face on her arm. These encounters, together with the discovery of David Wojnarowicz's renowned portrait of Peter Hujar as he died, "opened this door to art, grief, and queer culture."

One Big Bag has a special relevance in the Covid era, when many families have been forced to watch loved ones die through video chat, although Hughes began working on it in 2019. She explains, "I didn't want to turn it into pandemic work."

"Of course, the context has shifted dramatically." Every day, the whole world is confronted with mortality in a manner that you can't avoid."

She'd rather put One Big Bag in the context of "queer death," a new field of research. This is self-determination, according to Hughes, "for people who are dying to think about the fact that this is their experience."

Lindsay Rico, who portrays the death doula, discusses the significance of various hair braids in death preparation, as well as how a death doula for an LGBTQ+ person may have to defend their choices to families and the healthcare and death sectors to ensure their identity is honored.

One Big Bag gave me a peculiar sense of comfort at the doula's abilities, as well as an awareness of a decent death as the highest form of respect - one from which the living may learn. Hughes concurs. "If you can respect someone's life and their ability to self-determine their death in death, you should be able to do so in life as well."

Naturally, with abrupt deaths, agency isn't an option, and it doesn't extend evenly across racial and economic divisions. "Making this work isn't just about a 'good death,' but also about public deaths, the news, and policy," says the artist.

Hughes' study focused on the remarkable history of Black funeral houses, which played a critical role throughout the civil rights struggle by providing hearses and vehicles to transport leaders across the South in a quiet manner and serving as a gathering place for activists. "Then it turns into a political site, with meetings about organizing and communities taking place in funeral homes."

She took lengthy walks and listened to an audiobook of Frank Ostaseski's The Five Invitations on what death may teach us about life during the epidemic. She adds, "I finally did experience joy about my grief and experiences."

"I finally had this moment where I was grateful for ever having had the relationship and for him having put me on this path," she says, rather than feeling "heavy and sad" about her oldest childhood pal.

This project's accessibility has been a surprise. "People lose control when they are grieving or dying," she explains.

This part of not knowing and letting go is what moves me the most. You have no choice but to be present. If there was ever a time to learn the lesson of letting go in life, this is it." She chuckles. "You have no control over it."

Thanks to at The Guardian whose reporting provided the original basis for this story.

Menu
Privacy PolicyTerms and Conditions
Copyright © 2022 The Art Bay