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Grief and loss; living with the presence of absence. A practice based study of personal grief narratives and participatory projects

Kirkpatrick, Davina


Davina Kirkpatrick


The thesis develops work started on the MA in Multi-Disciplinary Printmaking. It addresses the question - Can personal grief narratives explored through contemporary arts practice,auto-ethnographic writing, and the participatory performative act of making and being in specific places result in access into, the potentially, restorative space of mourning; moving between what continues to exist and what is missing in the physical world? This troubles at the Western societal idea of getting over grief and presents an alternative model of walking with and alongside loss as well as providing opportunities for conversations and ‘metalogues’, following Bateson (1972).

An investigation follows, through a phenonmenological methodology of repetition, into the functions of articulating loss and absence through stories in exploring personal grief narratives, through contemporary arts practice and the participatory creative enacting of rituals in specific places which involve the interweaving of people, objects, place and story, so as to externalize emotion through creative activity to match the void of absence. Testing Foucault’s (1989: 208) notion that “a work of art opens a void,” an opportunity to question without always providing reconciliation or answers.

Through an interwoven exploration of theory and practice utilising Law’s (2004) ‘method assemblage’ of presence, manifest absence and Otherness, the practice element creates both the representational and allegorical; objects and gifted objects (forms of presence), documentation of performance/ritual, some orientated around specific external sites thus allowing an examination of loss of place as well as loss of people, (forms of manifest absence) and one’s response to and ongoing relationship with the presence of absence as ways of exploring grief and loss (what is hidden or Other,).

The participatory projects and interviews with 7 artists (across artistic disciplines) enable conversations and sharing of understandings of loss. They provide multiple perspectives,viewpoints, and voices for the thesis.

New knowledge is formed in the methodological and iterative dance between practice,reading and writing. The presence of absence becomes, to borrow a musical term, an ostinato through the repetition, variation and development of practice. Meaning is re-interpreted and transformed through evocation and noticing, allowing an examination of the pain ofgrief and loss. These combinations model new possibilities for enabling others by offering ideas and choices of how we might live with the presence of absence. The thesis shows the power of metaphor and story to alter the self, give back a sense of choice and control and
find equivalence to the intensity of grief. Through creating objects and rituals, writing and sexual encounter, through the examples of other artists’ practice and the sharing of extended conversations multiple layers of meaning are revealed, how they work in relation to what continues to exist and what is missing in the physical world.


Kirkpatrick, D. Grief and loss; living with the presence of absence. A practice based study of personal grief narratives and participatory projects. (Thesis). University of the West of England

Thesis Type Thesis
Keywords grief, loss, presence of absence, repetition as praxis, method assemblage, arts based research, phenomenology, auto-ethnography, narrative enquiry, place based research, participatory, creativity, moments of intensity
Additional Information Additional Information : There is a chaptered DVD that accompanies the thesis


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