Is it a universal impulse to try to communicate with the dead? For the first years after my brother died, I would tweet to him: “Dear Chris you are still the funniest,” or, “Dear Chris I miss you at every age.” These tweets were simultaneous acts of grief and a conscious narrative device – a deliberate performance in a communications medium. Since tweeting so often feels like shouting into the void, I reasoned that the void was as good a place as any to send my missives.
GRIEFWAVE is an elegiac response to the life and death of my brother, Chris Reimer (1986-2012), a Calgary-based indie musician. It is also a meditation on the oscillating nature of loss and grief, and the ways in which mourning changes when it takes place in public, digital spheres.
GRIEFWAVE is conceived as memento mori, as dream fragment, as electronic wind chime, as sound wave. GRIEFWAVE layers my attempts at spiritual communication with images and sound recordings on a series of webpages that invite the viewer to choose from several options to continue on to the next page.
Collage and palimpsest are frequent creative devices in my writing and art practice; my brother's music practice was very similar. In his ambient recordings, Chris blended the sounds of his environment into soundscapes. Similarly, in my poems I collage found text and seemingly unrelated lines to produce dissonance. I utilize collage and palimpsest as devices for this project as homage and continuation of a mode of practice I shared with my brother.
GRIEFWAVE is conceived as memento mori, as dream fragment, as electronic wind chime, as sound wave.
The inspiration for this project began as an experiment while on a two-week residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts in February 2013. A version of it existed online over 2013-15 (title: "Let's Improvise a Bone Graft"). In its earliest iterations, I used the electrical circuit as a central organizing device, inspired by the electric diagrams my brother made for the guitar effects pedals he was building at the time of his death. Reconceptualizing the project, I have shifted the central metaphor to be the waveform: sound waves, ocean waves, waves of emotion, and so on. The structure of GRIEFWAVE mimics the waves of emotion experienced by an individual in mourning. Each page has one or more counterpoint pages that amplifies, reduces, or mirrors the images and emotions from the original page in a screen-based journey that combines analog and digital, artificial and natural. I juxtapose elements of the natural world like water, fire and trees with the glitchy sounds of analog synthesizers. Google search results appear above sound clips of boots crunching through snow. Poems scroll across pages of digital collages. The mood is ephemeral and dreamlike. The tone ebbs and flows, much like our collective connection to our departed loved ones.
Some selections from this project have previously appeared in public: Online magazine The Rumpus published an essay I wrote about working on the first iteration of this project. Literary journals Joyland and Matrix published text versions of some of the poems; a selection of the poems was also shortlisted for the LitPOP contest in 2014. Slides adapted from the first version of the project appeared as digital billboards for Wordfest's “Word Powered Art” project in the City of Calgary in 2013.
Artistic explorations of grief and mourning are timely and relevant as we endure the many losses of the COVID-19 pandemic; GRIEFWAVE seeks to offer an interpretation to those seeking answers and solace, just as I have been.
I gratefully acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.