The Death Of Roses brings gifts, welcome and unwelcome.
The Death Of Roses was an accident. In October 2016, I needed a last minute Halloween costume because I’d misplaced the make-up I needed to do a broken doll’s face. With only a few hours to come up with a new idea, I looked at the lace and rose gothic dress I’d planned to wear, remembered a skull and rose head-dress I’d recently been given and the phrase ‘the death of roses’ popped unbidden into my mind.
‘But what does The Death Of Roses do?’ I immediately asked myself.
I knew that the phrase ‘The Death Of Roses’ would be meaningless to people: to give her a bit more heft, she needed some kind of shtick so I decided that she would hand out rose mottos. In a flurry of activity, I hit the internet to collect a selection of phrases, poems and lyrics that mentioned roses and then printed, cut and folded them into little ‘rose fortunes’.
In retrospect, it’s no accident that my instinct was to give out rose mottos – my recent art has been very focused on the concept of the gift and I’ve become increasingly fascinated with the interactions, obligations and cultural meanings involved when you give something away, especially in the context of art.
Dramatic red and black make-up with thorns and black roses drawn on in permanent marker (not too permanent on skin, thankfully!), a lace rose choker and a handbag made of red fabric roses finished my transformation into The Death Of Roses.
I circulated at the event, walking up to people and saying, ‘good evening, I am The Death Of Roses, would you like a rose motto today?’
As soon as I started handing out the rose mottoes, I realised that I’d created something far more compelling than a simple Halloween outfit and that it was an art performance piece.
The interactions with people were fascinating; some people were suspicious, some assumed that I wanted to be paid but usually people instantly ‘got it’ and most absolutely loved it. I would hand an entirely random rose motto to a person, only for them to read it and be staggered by how beautiful it was or how resonant it was for their life. It was a powerful experience for both me and the people I interacted with.
It was immediately apparent to me that I could take the idea much further. The Death Of Roses ‘wanted to be real’, so I started thinking about other events she could attend and whether I could create a mythic figure by ‘seeding the culture’ with the idea of her. I’ve been very immersed in David Southwell’s Hookland of late and his work on that ‘real folklore from a fake county’ has inspired a lot of my thinking around The Death Of Roses. There’s a good interview with David here or you can follow Hookland on Twitter for a bit of daily weirdness.
So who exactly is The Death Of Roses and what does she mean?
Truthfully, I’m not entirely sure yet because she’s still developing. Obviously given her name, she’s an avatar of death, but as with the Death card in Tarot, I feel she is more about transformation and change than literal death. I think of her as bringer of truths but sometimes not gentle ones – roses have thorns, after all.