Sarah Frey | May 2, 2018

 

As I sit down with Claire Strauss to talk about her upcoming show Masking Death and Life, I realize that our public setting may have not been the best option to discuss the recent passing of her husband, part of the inspiration for the work, and the overall subject of death. But after our conversation, I realize that part of Claire’s work is to encourage society to acknowledge life’s finiteness, and the coffee shop eavesdroppers may have been impacted by our conversation around the work’s central message.


Masking Death and Life is a collection of masks that Claire created in response to the passing of her father while she was in University, and more recently, the death of her partner, James Kirby. “I found that using language to express how I was feeling was just so limiting” says Claire. “The masks are a medium that are so much better at unfolding abstract ideas.”

 

“I found that using language to express how I was feeling was just so limiting”


We took the conversation a step back, and talked about traditional western death culture. “After someone dies, there’s this checklist” explains Claire. “Call the funeral home, call the obituary [section], book the plot. The mask making for me was going beyond the checklist.” In the months leading to her partner James’ passing, ‘going beyond the checklist’ was a significant process in how the two came to terms with the mortality that they were about to face. With creating art being a large part of their lives, James’ diagnosis sparked them to get more involved with how they were going to dictate their own death culture. Together they made James a casket, and took photographs of his sugar-skull painted face, an exploration into the Mexican death culture practice.


Claire continues, “We don’t use a lot of masks in our culture. So when I first started making them, I was surprised at the support for people being interested in the medium, as well as the idea.” While our society tends to think of the use of masks in grief in order to hide or abstract what you’re feeling, Claire’s work aims to call attention to your emotion, and own it. 

 

Winter Kiss, by Claire Strauss


In making the masks, Claire took a great deal of inspiration from her own feelings and from the images of death and decay in the natural world. “We have seasons inside us” explains Claire. “I believe that if we find a healthier way to face death, we’ll have [lives with] less regret.”

When asked what she hopes people will take away from her show, Claire shares: “I hope that they think and ask about their own death, and realize it’s not so scary. Life is not about having a bucket list, it’s just about recognition.”


Masking Death and Life is dedicated to James Kirby’s life, and opens in the Yukon Arts Centre’s Community Gallery, May 4th at 7pm. Special thanks from Claire Strauss to the ongoing support of Arts Underground, Patrick Royle for use of his studio, and to Telek Rogan, Hannah Zimmering, and Kelly Kirby.