Someone started describing Death & The Maiden as "summer camp for brainy goth girls" and that is Really Accurate.
Though levels of goth aesthetic varied widely, all of us had stories to tell about being weird in middle school (mine was about making felt hats and convincing stores to sell them when I was 11. It wasn't all death related weirdness.) We went down to Winchester Cathedral at one point to tour some of the monuments. The university and the cathedral are close enough to take a nice walk between, so we streamed down the hill and into town like a chatty, black clad river. Some folks with limited mobility took taxis, and when we arrived we found them by looking for "the other crowd of witchy women." I've never seen quite so much skeleton fashion as I have this weekend. I wore a lot of green.
Several presenters were freshly minted PhDs, and others have been professors for years already. Every single paper that was presented was fascinating and displayed a deep, deep knowledge of their topic, most were also explicitly intersectionally feminist. I'll write soon about my two favorite presentations, but I need to process them a bit more before I post about them. In the mean time, know that there are multiple women in the world who are using bio archaeology to fight the patriarchy and that's pretty darn cool.
Everyone was kind and friendly. I had incredible conversations at every meal- though sometimes my words got away from me and I suddenly discovered I had explained my entire Master's degree piece of a table full of people asking me insightful questions about my art. I didn't mean to dominate the conversation, I just Really Care About The Topic!
There were so many conversations that began with, "how did you get interested in death?" and that can't help but end up as a vulnerable, caring conversation. There are several people I intend to keep in touch with, and at least one that I've already invited to stay with me in Seattle. (ps. Death Salon is in September, just about a month away- there is overlap in the organizers of Death & The Maiden and Death Salon - they've organized TWO conferences within a month and a half of each other! I really hope they get to have some sleep in October...)
Eough procrastinating- let's talk about Bells.
For Whom The Bell Toils is a collection of (currently) 84 bells, all labeled with some type of work that occurs around the end of life. Participants are invited to ring the bells that resonate with their experience, and create new labels for types of work not yet honored by the piece. That's it. It's really simple.
I was nervous about For Whom The Bell Toils. I've been nervous about it. It's done and I'm still a little nervous about it. Here's the thing though, it is conceptually REALLY sound. (heh. puns.) I have reasons for things. A couple attending the conference helped me put the bells away and excitedly told me what they thought, interrupting each other to agree with more detail. They pointed out the piece's subtle feminism- none of the bells are gendered, and none of the work is *technically* gendered, though most of the work on the labels falls to women. So if you're a woman and you're ringing bell after bell after bell, it becomes clear how much you have done. And if you're a man who has not rung very many bells...well. That's something to think about, isn't it? Because as you read the labels you think about who, in your experience, did do the work- even if it wasn't something that you personally took care of.
Was that intentional? Yeah. Yeah it was. It's also why the labels are all hand written, because then they are a visual reminder of an individual's work.
Some people cried. Some people took the band of 16 water buffalo bridle bells labeled "mediated family conflict" and shook and shook and shook the whole thing. Some people read the labels with their hands behind their backs, lightly touching bells here and there. There are some videos on twitter if you search the hashtag #deathmaidenconf and I'll post some here soon.
The sound was beautiful, the concept is solid, the aesthetics...yeah, those could totally use some work. But this piece is ready to travel, and I'm going to be working on that next. So there we go. I'm really glad I came. 36.5lbs of bells and all.