A special gallery in Hanover:

metavier − A conversation with the mortician and gallery owner Sven Friedrich Cordes

Death in all its facets as the theme of an art gallery: founded in 2018 in Hanover-Linden, »metavier − Galerie vom Anfang und Ende« (Gallery of the Beginning and the End) by mortician Sven Friedrich Cordes pursues a very special approach that has already led to a number of interesting exhibitions.

October 18, 2021
metavier, Susanne Benze, Wer zuletzt lacht
metavier, Susanne Benze, Who laughs last

»Día de Muertos«, »Out of Nowhere« and most recently »Unclear Circumstances« are the titles of some of these exhibitions that deal with death. How it affects life, the body, the bereaved, society at large. What is appropriate in dealing with death, how does one want to relate to it − and what reactions are socially acceptable? metavier addresses all the questions of this topic, offering an open space in which a wide variety of contemporary artworks are presented. Each exhibition is accompanied by an artistically elaborated »funeral feast« that invites visitors to engage in dialogue. Furthermore, the Deathcafé takes place every Thursday during the exhibitions, allowing for an informal exchange about death and mortality. We spoke with mortician Sven Friedrich Cordes, the owner of metavier, about his gallery:

Mr. Cordes, as the owner of a funeral home, how did you come up with the idea of founding a gallery?

As a funeral director, I deal with death on an operational level every day. So it seemed logical to me to promote an artistic-intellectual examination of the complex of themes. I also identified contact with our target group as a critical point. No one likes to come to us without a concrete case of death - the inhibition threshold is simply too high. Day after day, I notice how much people need information about death. After all, it is an incredibly complex and important topic that is relevant to all of us.

What do you see as the focus of your gallery? Do you represent a fixed portfolio of artists? Do you see yourself more as an exhibition organizer or is the focus on sales, as is the case with classic galleries?

Positions are exhibited that fit the thematic complex of »beginning and end«. These can be concrete or abstract approaches. All works are also offered for sale, although we do not yet have a fixed portfolio of artists.

What goals are you pursuing with metavier?

First and foremost, it's about inviting people to openly and critically engage with death − and to do so without a raised finger or the particular interests of those involved that have been represented in previous discourses.

»People quickly notice that both the gallery and the funeral home deal with death in a lively and unconventional way.« −Sven Friedrich Cordes

Death is the overarching theme of the gallery. After your exhibitions so far, what conclusion would you draw in terms of visitors' reactions?

So far, we have received exclusively positive feedback on the exhibitions, although some positions have definitely crossed boundaries.

How has the view of death changed among visitors to the gallery and Deathcafé over the last 18 months of the pandemic?

Since the pandemic, death has been more present in our society than it has been since World War II. I have the feeling that people reacted to it in panic at the beginning, but in the meantime a kind of new normality has established itself. Actually, that's exactly what we wanted to achieve with our program.

Does art have the power to make people aware again that death is not a failure of medicine, but a natural phenomenon?

When I look at the position of death in art history, I have to answer this question with a resounding yes. After all, death in art is not a modern phenomenon. Ultimately, however, it is up to us humans to engage with it and accept death as a natural phenomenon.

How can metavier, as a combination of art gallery and funeral home, contribute in its unusualness to changing the perspective on death and making it easier to deal with it?

The symbiosis of metavier and Friedrich Cordes Bestattungen is clearly about a low-threshold approach to the complex of topics. People quickly notice that both the gallery and the funeral home deal with death in a lively and unconventional way. This makes it easier for people to talk to us about planning their own funeral or about the loss of a loved one. Ultimately, however, the counseling process is not a one-way street: we, too, learn from the families we support − just as we also develop new ideas through the examination of artistic positions and from conversations with gallery visitors, which we then implement in the context of mourning or life celebrations.

In your exhibition »Who laughs last...« from August of this year, which combines death and humor, one notices that you do not shy away from unpleasant questions and aspects of the topic. For example, will the extreme issue of infant mortality also be addressed in the discussions and will it perhaps soon be the subject of an exhibition?

Currently, we are indeed planning an exhibition on infant mortality with a focus on orphaned parents. Taboo topics don't get easier if you continue to keep them quiet.

What about suicide, where the numbers of young people with suicidal thoughts have risen, especially during the pandemic?

We had planned a project on suicide the year before last, which we unfortunately had to pass up. Suicide is still a topic that is high on our agenda.

Andre Germar, Perdoname Madrectia pormi vida Loca San Salvador 2011 2014_7
Andre Germar, Perdoname Madrecita pormi vida Loca San Salvador 2011-2014

Scars can be witnesses of how someone has escaped a possible death for the time being. Occasionally, this has been dealt with in art, such as in Mapplethorpe's photographs of Warhol's scarred torso after his gunshot wounds. You took a similar tack in 2019 in your first exhibition with Andre Germar's photographs of dangerous gang life in San Salvador. What was the reaction to that exhibition?

Many visitors reacted with incredulous amazement after learning the story behind the pictures. Germar's images seem incredibly perfectly staged on the one hand − as if they were catalog photos, and yet at the same time bear witness to incredible suffering. Death and suffering are everywhere, but it's up to us whether and how we perceive them.

Andre Germar in der Ausstellung »Perdoname Madrecita pormi vida Loca«
Sven Friedrich Cordes in the exhibition »Perdoname Madrecita pormi vida Loca«

The skull in works of art has lost its meaning as a warning of mortal threats, is decoration on clothing, watches and jewelry. Do you rate this as an open approach to death that takes away fear, or is it more a sign of ignoring it by trivializing it?

I think it's more a sign of the loss of meaning and the inflationary use of signs in the pop cultural context. Death is so present everywhere on the one hand − and yet we repress it by using the formerly meaningful signs in an inflationary way. A paradoxical situation.

More and more, society talks about »dying well« (usually death in the family environment is meant). How can art focus on the topic of dying instead of death and support or guide this development? Or the subject of mourning, which is even less in the public discourse?

I think that memento mori encompasses dying and mourning in addition to death in the narrow sense. Ultimately, all three topics are equally hushed up. Andre Germar's exhibition is also a good example here: his depiction of young murder victims has inspired many people to also think about their own dying. Death is often associated with a long period of suffering. As macabre as it may sound, this is no longer the case if you are killed in a shooting.

Has the gallery also changed your work as a funeral director?

The gallery has also changed the way we look at death and our daily work. I remember Andre Germar choosing for his exhibition a picture of a murder victim lying in a pool of blood. At first, this caused me concern because, after all, grief and bereavement counseling sessions are held on the premises. However, none of the mourners were bothered by it − on the contrary.

Thank you very much for the interview.

More information about the gallery and the exhibitions at metavier.Art.Salon

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