• Catherine Wynne-Paton

Arron Kuiper’s sculpture becomes hub for conversations of our loss.

Arron Kuiper is an artist based in North Wales and studied Fine Art at De Montford University and Cardiff School of Art & Design.  

He’s since had a solo show titled Terra Infirma, won the Meynal Fenton Prize at the ING Discerning Eye exhibition 2011 and has shown work at the BEEP International painting prize.

Like many of us, Arron Kuiper has been keeping a close eye on the UK Coronavirus fatalities; uniquely, he has been memorialising them in an immense feat of stamina by shaping a 3D figure suspended within transparent gel to represent every person lost.

He’s struck a chord with people and his project has provided an arena for us to talk about the individuals we’ve lost prematurely due to the pandemic.  While the whole crisis affects each of us in various ways, all our suffering is valid, however it plays out and the feeling of uncertainty and of loss are resonant of our current context.

Arron wanted to see the people in the numbers “to show that each digit was a very real human tragedy, and not just part of an abstract total from somewhere “other” and so since the 21st of March he’s been adding figures daily and the piece now contains over 43,000 hand painted figures (as at the end of June 2020) using three different colours spread uniformly across the populace, colours associated with face masks and PPE, the defining imagery of the crisis.

Creating a gel sculpture to mark each person, even when only known through daily death toll figures brings the reality of the scale of the loss into the physical world, no longer simply numbers on a screen.  We all face bereavement at some point in our lives and when it happens, people you interact with fall into two camps; those willing to engage in discussions of and around death, and those who avoid it as if it’s catching, as if the very words around death are contagious.  

This grief we are experiencing now is like nothing we’ve faced before, for some it is a not-so-distant threat, for others it is something they are living with every day, from the raw state of initial numbness and shock and the gaping hole of loss appearing to be permanent, until gradually it is not, until, over time one begins to learn to cope in a new way, to find new ways of being out of something that doesn't make sense.

“Death is quite taboo in our culture, so I feel that thoughts and conversations about it are generally healthy and, at the moment, important.”

Artists are often agents for change and Arron is certainly this, living in rural Wales and working from a shed in the woods, Arron Kuiper was already used to semi-lockdown before the onset of the crisis.  His project began in an almost reactionary fashion and by making something physical out of the death tolls being cited, he made the losses tangible in a way that others can connect to and engage with.  The process is a kind of catharsis, providing a defined space, at least in virtual space, for now, to face head-on how we feel, what can be done and what we are doing to address issues that have surfaced and are yet to come to light during this bizarre and traumatic time.

The resulting sculptural painting, created by a process which Arron has developed over 15 years, having viewed the piece entirely online I am curious to know what this piece will reveal on closer inspection.

And I might just get a chance to see it for myself as it's due to appear in an exhibition arranged by Umbrella Cardiff when the lockdown is eased in Wales.

Arron has done that elusive thing of creating a work of art that is both true to himself, speaks of our time and thoroughly engages with our reality, inviting us to openly talk about death to fully embrace our time here.

Arron’s website: Instagram: @arronkuiper

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