Since the beginning of civilization, every culture has exhibited ways of keeping alive the memory of the dead.
The ancient Egyptians believed that statues of the dead, once animated through ritual breathing, could appear at various locations.
Other cultures created wax or plaster death masks and displayed portraits of the deceased in their parlors.
The Victorians, perhaps the most death-obsessed folks since the Egyptians, filled their homes with pictures of the deceased and wore locks of the dead person's hair in their jewelry.
Even today, some nomadic Arctic tribes carve wooden effigies of the departed to sleep with or keep them company on family picnics.
Two exhibits explore the ways we keep our memories of the dead alive and re-imagine the netherworld.
Catalina Jaramillo's "You Are Always Here," on view at Dimensions Variables, probes the issues that arise from the death of a loved one, in this case her mother, Yolanda Phillips de Jaramillo.
The artist's mother passed away in January 2010 after battling cancer for nearly a decade. Jaramillo's evocative installation powerfully conveys the obsessive tendencies many mourners manifest when struggling with loss and grief in our culture.
Jaramillo spent the past year working on her poignant project. Queen Victoria, the widow of Windsor, would likely have approved. She wore widow's weeds for 40 years after she lost her beloved Albert. She even had hot water brought for him to shave and had his clothes laid out for him in his chambers every day until she herself died.
But there is nothing maudlin or creepy about Jaramillo's celebration of her mother's life.
The artist employs her mother's belongings almost clinically and in a way that suggests a memento mori, reminding viewers of life's impermanence.
Arranged on the floor, lining the gallery walls, are stacks of her mom's folded clothing and neatly displayed collections of costume jewelry, makeup, fingernail polish, a dark ash-blond hair dye that Yolanda favored, her "living with cancer" books, credit and identification cards, rows upon rows of hairbrushes with her hair still tangled in the bristles, and dozens of family pictures.
Isolated like an island in the center of the space is Yolanda's favorite flowered throw rug and her pink bedroom slippers. The placement of these mundane items exudes almost a ritualistic or obsessive nature.
From a cache of cleaning products to a passel of perfume bottles to a file of hospital forms to Yolanda's deodorant sprays and nylon stockings, the lingering presence of her DNA is palpable. Yolanda's spirit seems to unify all the disparate elements of the installation like a strand of pearls in Jaramillo's touching ode.
A particularly moving segment involves 44 dollar-store jigsaw puzzles arranged in a modernist grid near a window. Yolanda glued her finished puzzles inside the bottom of their boxes. The landscapes reveal snowy alpine settings, lush forest clearings, and gorgeous New England scenes glowing with the bright amber hues of the changing seasons.
Next to them lie Yolanda's knitting needles and bits of colorful yarn. One imagines she used them to while away her time during chemotherapy sessions.
Placed side by side, they offer glimpses into the woman's favorite pastimes and give the impression she was transported to more peaceful, meditative climes while she endured the physical hardship.
For those who are constantly exposed to art, sometimes it's difficult not to become jaded. But at moments when one feels art's transformational power, it inspires reflection.
In the past several hundred years, composers such as Mozart, Berlioz, and Verdi have written choral masterpieces for requiem masses. But it would be harder to strike a more heartrending chord than Jaramillo's choice of requiem music by one of Yolanda's favorite composers, Armando Manzanero.
Standing in the empty gallery, alone with Jaramillo's memories of her mother, one can hear the Mexican bolero singer crooning about lovers clinging to each other in their darkest hours.
As one glances at a Polaroid of Yolanda — her head balding from chemo treatments, bathing with Jaramillo's son — while Manzanero's plaintive wail fills the space, it's hard not to fight a rising lump in the throat.
During the show's opening, many visitors asked the artist if they could take one of her deceased mother's possessions as keepsakes. For April's Second Saturday art walk, Jaramillo invites the public to do just that as a reminder that a part of the dearly departed always remains with us.
In some religions, when you die, you get your ticket punched to Heaven or Hell; never mind the get-out clause. In others, there's the notion of a sin bin where you receive a time-out until Judgment Day or the Resurrection comes.
Catholics, however, have a place called Purgatory, or an in-between space, which is the subject of Miami street artist Typoe's new installation at Locust Projects.
"Purgatory (False Ceiling)" is his architectural vision of the netherworld between Heaven and Hell. It uses as a starting point Michelangelo's masterpiece commissioned by Pope Julius II in 1508 for the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican.
The renegade graffiti tagger created a drop ceiling that is roughly one-fourth the size of Michelangelo's crowning opus.
He used huge images of the Renaissance master's iconic Creation of Adam and Last Judgment printed on paper. Then he wheat-pasted them to his faux ceiling, which dangles from wires a few feet above the spectator's head. He also glued images of Michelangelo's statues of David and the Pieta to cover his mammoth slab of hovering drywall.
Then he booted Michelangelo off of his proverbial scaffold and dropped a can of chunky-style whoop-ass on the venerated painter's head.
Typoe used spray paint, collage, and text to deliver his own hellish vision of life in paradise, where phrases like "snitches get stitches" and "robbin' niggas, selling drugs, stabbing fools" compete for attention with images of bolt cutters, leering gold-toothed skulls, and swaying palm trees that represent the mean streets of the 305.
He painted pubic hair on the Apostles and spackled gaudy lipstick on the Holy Mother's gob.
Just as spectators experience street art in a blur while driving by it, Typoe forces viewers to crane their necks while walking under his sprawling opus pressing down overhead.
The artist has taken his appropriation of religious iconography to an unexpected level in this exhibit. The work is muscular, brash, and unrepentant, as telegraphed by the artist and his crew bragging "We run this shit" here.
Typoe is no Michelangelo, but saints alive — he is a bad, bad motherfucker who makes you wonder what Il Divino Buonarroti might have accomplished if armed with cans of spray paint.