"In her ongoing project Clothes for Death, Margareta Kern researches and documents women in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina who prepare and set aside their own funeral clothes.
The clothes, wrapped in sheets or kept in plastic bags and suitcases, ensure they will be dressed in readiness to meet God, and satisfy their wish to give pride and comfort to their families.
Kern’s photographs are (also) staged. But if the vanitas is a meditation on the transience of earthly pleasures, the interiors Kern photographs appear stark, even austere; and the women here need no memento mori, no reminder of the brevity and frailty of life. The custom they practise is, in itself, a means to confront death, perhaps even control it.
In order to see, we need some distance. Kern sets the camera at the eye level of the woman she is photographing, but always with something – an expanse of carpet, a table, a pile of clothes – in between. It is in here that the tension of closeness and distance is regulated. To make the staged nature of the photographs explicit, all participants (with the exception of Liza) look directly at the camera, acknowledging its presence. This outward gaze draws us in, yet also requests that we keep a respectful distance. "
Excerpt from the essay by Pennina Barnett titled A Respectful Distance: The Negotiation of Space in Margareta Kern's Clothes for Death, exhibition catalogue "Clothes for Living & Dying", published 2008, by the University of Hertfordshire.
Pennina Barnett is a Senior Lecturer, Department of Art, Goldsmiths College.
Full essay available as a pdf on www.margaretakern.com
Clothes for Death series consists of photographs and short videos.
Funded by the Research and Development Grant, Arts Council England and Photographic Bursary, National Media Museum, Bradford.