At Pullman Gallery’s ‘Coffin Talks’ Exhibition, South Side Artists Talk Death and Grief

PULLMAN – A new community art exhibit hopes to make it easier for Chicagoans to discuss loss, death and grief.

The show’s opening night, Coffin Talks: A Happy Little Show About Death and Grieving, runs from 6-10 p.m. Friday at the Block House Gallery, 11137 S. Langley Avenue. Organized by volunteers from the PullmanArts collective, the show brings together artists who have expressed death and mourning in different ways. There will be food and drinks.

Ellen Kaulig, who curated the art exhibit with the help of Frankye Payne, another PullmanArts volunteer, said participating artists were not limited in their expressions of death and mourning.

“Death and bereavement are topics that everyone has such different opinions on and approaches to it,” Kaulig said. “Telling people how to approach death or grief isn’t really honoring individuality or how people deal with that part of life that no one ever wants to talk about and no one really cares about.”

Coffin Talks features the work of five artists and creators: Carla Bruni, Andy Bullen, Linda Beierle Bullen, Phil Thompson and Aquarius Ester.

The idea for the show came from Kaulig and Payne, who were inspired by Bruni’s ceramic miniature insect coffins, which will be featured in Friday’s show.

Bruni said Kaulig and Payne were interested in doing a show with themes similar to those she explored in her work.

Payne said the show was also partly inspired by the collective bereavement society run over the past few years and how people can “deal with these things that are often overlooked”.

Bruni, a curator who works for the Chicago Bungalow Association and teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, began learning ceramics during the pandemic. An artist friend had given Bruni clay when she felt isolated in the early days of the pandemic in 2020.

Around the same time, Bruni found herself drawn to insects and the importance of their lives. She had also studied Buddhism, which helped her rethink her outlook on life and death, she said.

“The bug thing came, it’s like it happened,” she said. “It was like all these people were dying and we had no way to grieve. I had several people that I knew – five people died during the pandemic that I knew of, and there was no no way to have a ceremony for them. And it was horrible.

“You just start thinking about how precious all of life is, and [creating the bug coffins] was something I could do at home.

Painted with a variety of colors and patterns, Bruni’s ceramic coffins aim to honor deceased insects while highlighting how insects are neglected in society.

Credit: Provided

Originally from Roseland, Ester will perform and present a 2017 short film titled “Ambivert” which she directed during a panic attack Downtown. Ester filmed the experience on a Go-Pro and edited the footage to depict her experience with fibromyalgia and chronic pain. She also deals with bipolar disorder, PTSD and OCD, she said.

Much of Ester’s art serves as a means of expression while also being an important part of her recovery from mental health, she said.

When Ester was approached to participate in Coffin Talks, her father had recently passed away, she said. Working on the show was healing for her, she said.

“All of my work is really just a representation of how I feel about mental chaos and how I use art to achieve that,” Ester said. “A lot of the lessons I learned in life happened publicly. I would have a lot of really big panic attacks or blackouts and psychosis, and I’m going to go through a lot of those things publicly.

“I use my job to help me process this and to help show people that it’s not an embarrassing thing. It’s something that happens to a lot of people…”.

Spouses Andy Bullen and Linda Beierle Bullen have lived in Pullman for over 25 years.

In addition to creating digital databases for the state and being a Pullman historian, Andy Bullen writes alternative historical fiction. At the event, he will present his alternative historical fiction, which humorously questions the social and political ramifications of vampires having always existed alongside humans, with photos, excerpts and props to support his work.

Linda Beierle Bullen is a textile artist who makes quilts influenced by other cultures and their ideas of death and bereavement. Two of his plays will be featured on Friday’s show.

Thompson will present five memento mori pen and ink drawings that depict skeletons living everyday life in modern times.

The Coffin Talks gallery will be open until September 10. All videos released on Friday will be uploaded at a later date, Kaulig said.

Kaulig also hopes that everyone who attends the art show can take something away from the work they see.

“Aquarius is really trying to help people heal,” Kaulig said. “Andy tries to entertain people. So even among the participants, what they hope people take away from the show and their work is different. And there is something beautiful in that.

“I really hope people come away with a new perspective, personally, whatever that new perspective is. It’s up to them. But I hope it’s something that makes people say, ‘Hey, I had never thought of it that way.’ »

Block House is open Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. There will also be free film screenings each day the gallery is open that address death and grief. Follow the gallery here for more information.

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