WE ARE ALL DYING: research
ICONS OF LUXURY
There are many different forms of luxury and the word luxury itself is very subjective. A luxury is a different thing from culture to culture, person to person. So in order to focus my energy within my thesis research I chose to focus on icons of luxury. Direct visible portrayal of luxury through items that they own. I also felt this links more to the reason I believe luxury items are so common within the region, which is that it is to increase one's reputation within society, to be respected more or valued more as a person because of your wealth in being able to afford these items.
One of the first research steps I took, was to simply ask girls in my university walking passed my photoshoot stand if i could take a quick few images of their handbag. I managed to collect about 33 different designer handbag images to make gifs within about an hour. This helped me understand, and also demonstrate to others the extent of luxury, that we’ve all possibly becomes so accustomed to that we no longer see. I think taking these handbags out of their usual settings and minimalising them to these rotating gifs and putting them all together is a very good way to see that and then demonstrate that through those gifs. This also led me to other ideas and worked well as a starting point of research.
For one of my main points of research, I looked very closely at Arabic poetry to understand the way in which death has been portrayed and reacted towards within the region. I chose poetry because I felt that in order to understand the way in which death is reacted to, I needed to look at the way in which it is viewed from a religious perspective, a traditional perspective and a cultural perspective and I feel as though poetry encompasses all of these views and more. An interesting observation I made while looking at poetry was the connection between almost all of them in the way that viewed death. Death was seen, particularly back in the day, as almost a relief from life. My assumption is that looking at the history of the Arab world, the oppression, war and struggles the nation went through led them to take solace in a life outside of that. Islamic scholars would write poetry and refer to life as a “prison for the believers” implementing that those prisoners are only set free after they pass away into the next life. Mean while an existentialist such as Elia Abu Madi uses death to criticize the rich and comes to a nihilistic conclusion that humans are unified by their mortality. Khalil Gibran romanticises death to the extent that he says: “Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.”
Looking at the way in which death was portrayed in those times alludes to the lives they lived and it is hard to believe that they were such luxurious lives or even very happy. The reality of our time, however, especially within this region is very different. Luxury living is not only common but it is a norm and it defines many lives, and as a result of this death has yet again become taboo, unspoken of, and tucked away. So what happens when you bring back the conversation of death with luxury objects people have now become mundane to seeing in their everyday lives? Perhaps it causes them to question the value of those objects within their lives, or the value of those objects when they die and then compare them.
As a point of precedence, Damien Hurst was a particular artist I looked at for inspiration. This is because conceptually, his work is very relevant to the topic of my thesis. He works a lot with death and he also works with luxury and tries to show his own interpretations on those concepts through his own methods to present his ideas and interpretations.
Some of his work that I have an interest with specifically, are his Fly Paintings - which the quote above is about, and his piece “Death is Irrelevent”.
The collage above is of screenshots of various Instragram posts under the hashtags #qatarluxury or #qatarliving etc. The images are a great example of luxury living in the region and really highlight the reputation issue as they demonstrate people showing off their wealth to a greater extreme. As I’ve stated before, sharing our wealth or lives with people is not something specific to the gulf region, it is now a global trend and is only growing as technology and social media progresses. However, I do still believe that the level of wealth and the way in which it is demonstrated and represented here is definitely unique to this region in an interesting way.
I decided to use these instagram posts in my receipt printer project (explained further in the projects page) , as it would help to really demonstrate this as an exess and to present it to an audience on a receipt that is so flimsy and degradable with images that people deem to have a lot of value, creating a juxtaposition that causes the viewer to see this display of wealth differently.
As another point of research, I visited a cemetery here in Doha. This was a very intersting and scary experience for me as I went alone and was very overcome by the silence, stillness and emptiness of the desert plane with block of concrete as tombstones.
One thing i noticed that I was most interested about visiting there was the unity of all the graves. Coming from the west, I’m very used to seeing graveyards that are not so unified, with some tombstones very clearly demonstrating the wealth of a person. But here it was very different, almost all of them don’t even have the names of the person written, so theres really no way to know anything about the people buried there. There could someone who lived in a palace and had a very wealthy life, buried next to someone who worked for them and no one would have a clue.
I found it interesting how this contrasted with the way of life here. Life here is all about making sure people know who you are, what family you come from and how much money you have. But death seems to be the complete opposite of that culturally, because when you’re dead why does that matter?
Not only did this help me in my research and give me ideas for other projects, but it also helped me solidify the reasons why I am using death to look at luxury living in the first place. It is clear that there is a cultural understanding in the irrelevance of luxury after death, so can that be used to imply their irrelevance even within life?