16:34 | 16:35 Megan Murphy & Greta Umbers, July/August 2022

Posted by Fiona Cable on

At 16:34 on the 14th of September, 2019, Callan (Megan’s son and Greta’s brother) was alive. At 16:35, his life and the complex patterns of generations past—reaching back, all the way to the stars—collapsed into that single minute as his heartbeat faded away to stillness. There was before 16:34, and now there is after 16:35. The same world but fundamentally different.

16:34 | 16:35 (the moment of transition between life and death), considers the psychological space formed by loss, and attempts to contend with the dislocating presence of eternal absence, and to reconcile the precariousness of life with the necessity for restoration and continuation.

As grief is both a collective and an individual experience, Murphy and Umbers chose to produce independent bodies of work they would later integrate as one. 

In her practice, Umbers considers how the past informs the present, and how the body holds emotional memory.

In 16:34 | 16:35, she examines how grief, loss, and mental instability cause an emotional and cognitive dissonance that alters the rhythm of life, confusing biographical temporality. Her use of graphite generates a play of light that reflects simultaneous timescales, locating one in the past, present, and future.

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Before the minute of 16:34 | 16:35 Murphy’s art practice was focused on the threads running between universal consciousness and the self, and what role epigenetics plays in how intergenerational transmission impacts our lives. 

Murphy’s previous series - Sand Marks explored the connective thread of past and future. They were an unrecognised premonition of that final minute.      

‘My works in 16:34 | 16:35 represent a fraction of the feelings I have been processing over the death of my son Callan Umbers. He was 30 when he died in September, 2019. It took me a year and a half to step back into my studio and pick up a paint brush again. Each time I began to paint, the emotions would rise and tears would follow and I felt I couldn’t carry on. When I tried again from another angle, the same thing would happen. It was too overwhelming, too agonising and too empty. I kept thinking as I stared at the canvas, why bother, what’s the point? The absolute worst thing in the world has happened, my son has died, he is no more. These thoughts were overtaking any possible meaning or worth, so the work needed to come from a disconnected yet intuitive place. I had to step aside and just let them happen. The paintings that emerged were small and controlled, not letting me scream, perhaps even looking after me, as I hunched over them, curled up with a tiny brush. And yes, I still cried, but at least they let me paint them’.  Megan Murphy

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