The Wake (or After You’ve Gone)
performative installation, 2011
Great Aunt Ida Steele died on the farm in the fall that year. On the evening of her death her body was laid in wake in the parlor of her house. Most of our family were sharecroppers, but Aunt Ida having come into money somewhere down the line was rich and her house proved it, filled to the brim with all the family’s antiques. On the evening of Aunt Ida’s death the parlor was lined with folding chairs, her casket which was pushed against the back wall stood open, lace covered her face. The family sat up with Aunt Ida in shifts and at midnight the neighbors came with food. Relieved from their quiet mourning, the family rose from their seats, chucked up the fire, and gathered in the dining room to eat. They ate and laughed and told their stories. But suddenly the room fell silent. And then they heard the sound of crackling. Rushing into the parlor, they found the entire room engulfed in flames. And there in the middle of it all lay Aunt Ida. The family got excited, the neighbors got excited and everyone began preparing Aunt Ida to be wheeled out of the house in her casket.
On the evening of Aunt Ida’s death the family held a wake and on the front lawn the neighbors and family gathered around Aunt Ida’s casket as they watched the house and all the family’s finest things burn to the ground.
The Wake (or After You’ve Gone) is a performative installation that focuses on one moment taken from this family narrative – the family, putting their mourning momentarily to rest, leaves the parlor and enters the dining room to share a meal together. In this installation, a canvas backdrop of the family farm hangs in the center of the room, straw is strewn across the floor forming a stage. Throughout the performance the characters enter the image, sit at the table and feast. The sound of a ticking clock and distant conversation is projected from wooden funnels and old megaphones transformed into speakers. The speakers lay on the straw across the room. The performers are silent, the only live sound is that of the forks, knives and spoons hitting the plates. A bell is rung, the backdrop shifts and another pig enters the stage piling more food onto the table. Flat Granny is present, extracted from her last living image. She dines with the family, her presence from beyond the grave.
Performers: Jessi Walker, Kristen Drake, Mike Newbern, Stephanie Austin, Megan Cochran