Remains to be seen: Group art exhibit examines death and grieving

Rachel Grobstein created miniature memorials including this ghost bike based off of a shrine in Bushwick.
Courtesy of Rachel Grobstein

This show is to die for!

A new group art exhibit digs deep into the way that women deal with the grave topics of death and grieving. “Death Becomes Her,” opening at Bric House on Feb. 19, features work by 10 female artists, each exploring the end of life in her own way. One artist will showcase tiny versions of the street shrines she encountered while living in Bushwick, which both commemorate bikers and pedestrians killed by cars, and provide a warning about street safety.

“These memorials and shrines are increasingly being used as calls to action,” said Rachel Grobstein, who now lives in Philadelphia. “The ghost bike is a really important sign for people to slow down — especially in New York City, where you have all these bike deaths.”

Among Grobstein’s creations is a 5-inch-long ghost bike, based on an actual white-painted bicycle near her former Bushwick studio that honors 23-year-old cyclist Timothy “TJ” Campbell, who was fatally struck by a garbage truck there in 2010.

Rachel Grobstein has created almost 30 of the small shrines. Photo courtesy of Rachel Grobstein

The artist has made almost 30 miniatures shrines, basing each on photographs she took of their real-life counterparts. She used materials like gouache paint, polymer clay, wire, and cloth to make tiny beer cans, toys, clothes, flowers, cards, and other objects left at the memorials by the victims’ loved ones. 

Memorials like these have become all too common around the borough, said Grobstein, but she says that shrinking the shrines down into works of art brings them renewed attention.

“Once I started paying attention they’re everywhere, which is kind of sad,” she said. “I think a miniature is a good way of drawing attention to something that often gets overlooked.”

The small models draw attention to the many shrines around the borough. Photo courtesy of Rachel Grobstein

The artist will show six of her pieces at the Bric show, which will turn its usually cheery open-air gallery into a tomb-like environment, with atmospheric lighting and a more intimate enclosure.

The Downtown arts organization has partnered with Green-Wood Cemetery to produce the exhibit, and several death-themed events will take place in the graveyard over the next few months. Performance artist McKendree Key will lead “5 x 10 @ The Catacombs,” three discussions about death, dying, and the hereafter at the Cemetery’s underground Catacombs in March. And the immersive performance “Only Remains Remain” by Freya Powell on April 11 will draw on the Greek tragedy “Antigone” to create an elegy for the hundreds of unidentified migrants buried in mass graves in Texas.

“Death Becomes Her” at Bric House [647 Fulton St., at Rockwell Place in Fort Greene, (718) 855–7882, bricartsmedia.org]. Feb. 19 through April 19. Opening reception on Feb. 19, 7–9 pm. Free.