The McGill International Congress on Palliative Care is one of the world’s foremost conferences of its kind. The North American Palliative Care movement originated in Montreal and it is to Montreal that professionals and volunteers from all over the world still come to discuss, learn and share new ideas.
This year’s Congress will look at where we are in the shadow of COVID 19 while exploring new approaches to end of life from spiritual to social to psychedelic. We’ve seen millions of people die in these past two years, and we haven’t necessarily seen them die better; if anything it has exposed the enormous need for more resources to care for people at the end of life.
We can and will change the culture of living and dying, and one new aspect of that at this year’s Congress is an exhibition of artworks, film and music curated by Kappy Flanders’ daughter Elle Flanders, an artist and filmmaker who has taken up her mother’s clarion call for “a good death.”
The works in this exhibition are from some of Canada’s most significant artists as well as a few emerging talents. They all have unique and interesting approaches to larger life questions that can help us shift our thinking. Art does that; it lodges itself in another part of our brain and helps us alter our perspective through different sensory pathways. If we’ve ever needed a shift in consciousness, it seems now is the perfect time.
Flanders hopes that bringing art and film to this year’s Congress will help stimulate new conversations and ideas and leave us all with a sense of something profound and humbling about our time here on earth.
Ed Burtynsky is regarded as one of the world’s most accomplished contemporary photographers. His remarkable photographic depictions of global industrial landscapes represent over 40 years of his dedication to bearing witness to the impact of human industry on the planet.
For the Congress, Ed will show breathtaking new works of olive trees in Puglia, Italy, affected with a bacterium. Together with his wife Julia Johnston, a serial entrepreneur and a palliative care volunteer, they draw the connections on the fragility of life and our need for comprehensive care at the end.
Spring Hurlbut’s installations, sculpture, video and photography possess an aesthetic continuity that resonates in the tension between clear, minimal means, and complex subject matter. Over the past many years, her work has examined themes of life and death using motifs of stillness and motion. In confronting us with our own mortality, Spring allows us to come to terms with finiteness.
For the Congress we will show Spring's video installation Airborne where she opens six boxes containing the ashes of six people, including those of her father. The work creates a visual language that occupies the aporia surrounding death in Western culture. It speaks to something that Buddhists have believed for centuries; that death is one of the most important moments in life, the moment of freedom and transformation.
April Hickox’s photographic works have mined the distinctions between personal and public sites through film, video, photography and installation. Her investment with objects and the still life is rooted in the narrative histories that individuals accumulate throughout their lives and the ability of inanimate objects to shape memory.
At the Congress we will show a long-term and ongoing series called Observance, in which the artist empties and rearranges flowers in vases, each arrangement standing in for the loss of personal friends.
Alyssa Bistonath's work focuses on themes of memory and belonging.
She was featured in the Art Gallery of Ontario’s “Art in the Spotlight.” and in Canadian Art for her series “Isolation Photographs.”
For the congress we will show the isolation photographs and have further invited Alyssa to create a series of videos that will screen throughout the congress before each plenary.
Amy Gottlieb is a Canadian queer activist, artist and educator. She was born and raised in New York City, moving to Canada in 1972. Her work explores family histories of migration and surveillance and challenges the primacy of cognition over body memories. As an activist, she has documented social movements in the streets of Toronto.
These days, since her diagnosis of lymphoma, she is focussed on memoir writing, creating photo/text pieces reflecting on her experiences of surviving and her capture by the cancer industrial complex. For the Congress, we have published “The Year I Didn’t Die,” a sixteen-part poem which explores many of the contradictions of dealing with cancer in these turbulent times. Her gratitude for the team of doctors and nurses who have cared for her is clear at the same time as she questions the cancer industry, Big Pharma’s profits and our diseased society. While recognizing the beauty and joy in the world, she also recalls the experience of having cancer in the midst of multiple human and planetary crises.
SPRING & ARNAUD
Art, love, and mortality explored through the lives and work of artists Spring Hurlbut and Arnaud Maggs.
Arnaud Maggs, turning 85, embarks on a series of self- portraits that wryly depict his life’s work. Spring Hurlbut, at 60 is creating haunting works that evoke mortality while harboring the certainty that Arnaud’s time is limited. Together and alone, each grapples with the nature of an artist’s creativity where the drive for invention and discovery resists life’s finite reality.
The film immerses the viewer in a world where art and life are indivisible and where the couple’s devotion to each other is
matched only by their dedication to their own work. The camera
captures the visually rich and precise world of these strong individuals;
the texture of their surroundings; the humor of their interaction
and their struggles to bring their ideas to life. The urban feel of the studio and gallery is seen in counterpoint to the artists’ bucolic retreat in the south of France. It is a world shaped by the artists’ commitment to distill what is most meaningful from life to create an enduring trace of their existence.
A Q&A session with the artist will follow the screening.
PERFECTING THE ART OF LONGING
Cut off from his loved ones due to the pandemic lockdown, a quadriplegic rabbi in a long-term-care facility is filmed remotely by his daughter. Offering powerful meditations on love and hope, Perfecting the Art of Longing shows us what it means to be alive in a state of profound isolation.
Kitra Cahana directed this beautiful poetic film about her father and was awarded Best Canadian Short Documentary at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival.