What does it mean to curate a life? I ask the question because that’s what I think a small group of us have been doing in recent weeks as we first conceived and then convened the celebration of Chris Seeley’s life, at Matara on 29-30 June.
I seem to remember that the term “curate” has ecclesiastical origins: the title given to a priest charged with the “cure” or care of souls in a parish. It comes from a time when caring for souls was taken seriously and it implies both a significant responsibility for others and a relationship with something greater than ourselves.
Curating, in this sense, we discovered, requires much more than aesthetic judgement (though that was certainly involved). If all we had done was to display the artifacts emanating from a lifetime of artful practice the event would have been a mere exhibition: the ultimate retrospective. Instead, we invited folk to come together in an artful community inspired by Chris’s work and life.
Looking back on those two days of convivial conversation, cooking, singing, poetry, dancing, drumming, sharing memories, telling stories, clowning, painting, drawing, looking, reading, meditating, walking, laughing, and weeping, I see them rather as a collective act of love: a deepening and renewal of our relationships with Chris and with each other.
With our help, Chris finally claimed her identity as an artist. In doing so, she implicitly demanded that we also consider what we are making of our lives. And surely that is the measure of great art.
In his wonderful poem Archaic Torso of Apollo, Rilke stands in front of a fragment of a classical Greek statue and is confronted by its power and beauty. It appears to him to be suffused with light coming from inside; it must be alive he says in the final verse, otherwise the stone…
would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.
I read this and see a portrait of Chris: bursting like a star from the borders of herself; no part of her that does not see me; and the unspoken challenge that was her gift to so many of us…
You must change your life.