Grief-work performances continue with rending the cloth

Grief-Work is a new development in Helen Kirwan’s Memory Theatre series and her direct response to the poignancy of the pandemic. Currently artist in residence with the Cyprus Academy of Arts Residency Programme, Kirwan presents the fourth in her series of online performances this week.

During this period of much grief and death, her performances allow space and time for moments of contemplation.

Her most recent work explores memory and loss through her characteristic quiet, meditative performances and moving image installations. Her latest project includes her trilogy of videos collectively known as Memory Theatre which were unveiled at the European Cultural Centre during the last three editions of the Venice Biennale.

Grief-Work is part of Kirwan’s ongoing inquiry into mourning and loss. During her fourth performance coming up on Friday at 8pm, Kirwan proposes to simply ‘endlessly’ tear cloth with her hands. Viewers will become immersed in a compelling, absorbing experience as they watch these seemingly infinite repetitions. Kirwan regards these repetitive tasks and absurd processes as metaphors for the mourning process and as a medium for the metaphorical construction of memory.

Since ancient times, funeral and burial practices in many cultures have involved the practice of tearing cloth and garments as tangible expressions of grief in the face of death. In ancient Greece, Clotho, one of the three fates, spun the thread of human fate: her sisters Lachesis dispensed it, and Atropos cut it, thus determining a person’s moment of death.

Kirwan’s work draws on her own experience of mourning the loss of a loved one. In The Tragedy of Hamlet, Shakespeare powerfully expresses how difficult it is for Hamlet to explain the depths of his personal, singular experience of grief and for others to understand it. Kirwan thinks that however difficult, grief needs attention given the number of people who have died during the pandemic.

The restrictive measures introduced to overcome the pandemic, especially on communication with the sick and dying, have intensified and complicated the experience of grief for many. The basic human need and desire to touch has often been denied completely and being forbidden to touch and hug a dying loved one must be one of the most painful and poignant features of the pandemic across the globe. Kirwan’s performances attempt, if only for fleeting moments, to give grief expression and open up spaces and time for quiet moments for contemplation.

During her residency with the Cyprus Academy of Arts, Kirwan will undertake further performances of Grief-Work, from her studio and on location, bi-weekly until mid-April presented online at


Fourth online performance by Irish-British conceptual artist Helen Kirwan. April 9. 8 pm Cyprus time.

Cyprus Mail