Art of Dying Volume One | Page 44

Response to the project varied. Jenny said that being involved validated her life. Bert, one of the most grounded and spiritual in terms of his reverence for nature and being part of the oneness and wholeness of everything told me, “Anyone who tells you they’re not scared of dying is lying. Death’s a scary thing. We have no idea what’s going to happen. We’re going through this one way door and we’ve no idea what’s going to be on the other side. And there’s no way to get around it.” The last time I saw Daniel, he wasn’t making full sense and knew that he was about to die. Until that point, he said, “Everything is going to be fine. Birth is the big deal, I don’t think death is a big deal.” Twenty-four hours later he died. I showed the completed portraits to three subjects. Everybody was extremely taken aback when they saw theirs. It was a very powerful experience. I put Bert’s portrait on his hospital bed so he could see it as its accompanying audio from our conversations played and he cried. We sat silently for a long time. Bert said that he was deeply grateful. We held each other and he cried again. His tears were of happiness, sadness, and many other things. To have yourself reflected back in a drawing is a very unique and unusual experience, especially when you are on your death bed. Judith brought her entire family to see her portrait at a staged exhibition in San Francisco. She has a brain tumor and is rapidly losing her ability to communicate, so being able to see her portrait and listen to audio from a time when she was able to talk about her experience at a time when she felt more herself was very important. Through this experience, I discovered that confronting death brought people further into the Now while reflecting on their life and their past. This makes sense because suddenly there is no future. This entire part of planning life, making goals and the aspirations that go with them is fundamental to the way we are taught to live; and now planning is over. Harlan and Bert both talked about the importance of the Now and how time is really squeezed into this short period when you don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. The important things become the beauty of the tree outside the hospital window, the sound of the leaves rustling, and the sunrise. Simplicity becomes the most beautiful aspect of life. CLAUDIA BIÇEN Claudia Biçen is a self-taught British- American artist living in San Francisco. Her work has been selected for a number of exhibitions including the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition at the Smithsonian in Washington DC, the Royal Society of Portrait Painters at the Mall Galleries in London and the Pastel Society of America at the National Arts Club in New York where she was awarded the Herman Margulies Award for Excellence. Fascinated by the human condition, Claudia has worked with communities across the world in both mental health and therapeutic art settings. In 2013, she was invited to Project 387’s artist residency where she produced a contemplative art piece in the forest exploring the relationship between transience and wellbeing. Claudia holds a BA in Philosophy & Psychology from the University of Oxford and an MSc in Social Anthropology from University College London. CLAUDIA BIÇEN WWW.THOUGHTSINPASSING.COM CLAUDIA@CLAUDIABICEN.COM 44 | ART OF DYING