Life after death

By GREG COOK  |  December 11, 2013

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ICONIC The shrine at the heart of the installation.

The heart of the installation is an elaborate shrine in a corner with an icon hovering at the center made from a rusty shovel that’s been turned into a winged angel amidst a wreath of baby’s breath. Hands reach out from behind. One offers an apple to a cardboard foal nursing from a skull-headed horse; the other fires arrows at a skeletal bird across the room. Crystals dangle from the ceiling. Rough wood planks serve as a backdrop to it all. And fake flowers bloom along the floor behind lit votive candles. The shrine combines Schaff’s fire and brimstone Christian imagery, inspired by medieval and Byzantine Catholic art, with Younger’s engagement with pagan spirituality.

Along the wall at right are three smaller shrines featuring tin can lanterns suspended from tree branches, dioramas (a man in the clouds, paramedics lifting a body into an ambulance near a giant dog that’s become mountains) and arrangements of curious things on shelves (a threatening rattlesnake, fake flowers, a crucifix, bullets, bones, a bird wing). Tacked among all this are cards from funerals — “Eunice Schaff/February 9, 1918-August 31, 2013,” “In Memory of William Judd Schaff/February 21, 1943-January 31, 2000,” and so on.

Younger and Schaff both have a strong goth streak — skulls and death and graveyard flowers. Goth is a tricky style, thrillingly cool and dark, but it can also feel like just playing at notions of death.

Schaff’s funeral prayer cards root the duo’s intriguing images and sculptures and accumulations of fascinating things in real loss. And the struggle to make peace with those losses. Somehow Schaff and Younger also honor the love that makes the loss so damn hard. Or as Schaff says, “to find the joys that still exist even amidst the losses.” There’s a sense of grief, but also warmth.

Jori Ketten, who runs the gallery, has done superb matchmaking in bringing Younger and Schaff together — two top local artists combining to temper their weaknesses and achieve beyond their individual powers.

Follow Greg Cook on Twitter @AestheticResear.

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