Sunday, November 14, 2010

Momento Mori

This phrase, or the idea of this phrase rather "Remember to die" or "Remember you will die" is a notion I have seen resurfacing time and time again lately. Not that it has ever gone away or will every go away. I know it seems morbid blogging about this but to me this idea is more about life than it is about death. It's a reminder of our mortality but in the sense to remind us to live our life while we can as life is the most fleeting possession we can claim as our own.

In ancient Rome, the words are believed to have been used on the occasion when a Roman general was parading through the streets after a victory in war. Standing behind the triumphant general was his slave, who was tasked to remind the general that, though his highness was at his peak today, tomorrow he could fall or more likely be brought down. The servant conveyed this by telling the general that he should remember, "Memento mori." Or more likely that the servant said instead, "Respice post te! Hominem te memento!": "Look behind you! Remember that you are but a man!", as noted by Tertullian in his Apologeticus.

The thought of Momento Mori really took hold during Mideval European times when Christianity reigned supreme. The notion of Divine Judgement, Heaven, Hell and the soul brought not only death but the thoughts of how to live one's life to the forefront of the mind. To the Christian, the prospect of death serves to emphasize the emptiness and fleetingness of earthly pleasures, luxuries, and achievements, and thus also as an invitation to focus one's thoughts on the prospect of the afterlife. Even though I am learning ephemeral pleasures are fleeting and worth no more attention than the fly on the wall, I have a hard time devoting my life to something I may never know if it exists or not, until I experience it for myself. Instead, I focus my thoughts on loving the tangible keystones of my world, friends, family, the joys of knowledge and wonder.

Maybe this is why Felix Gonzalez-Torres is my favorite artist. He understood life is perishable and that everything we hold dear should be treasured before it fades away with time. The paper stacks and candy mounds where the public is encouraged to take them until they are all gone... In fact, much of his art can be seen as a memorial to his long time boyfriend Ross Laycock.

"Above all else, it is about leaving a mark that I existed: I was here. I was hungry. I was defeated. I was happy. I was sad. I was in love. I was afraid. I was hopeful. I had an idea and I had a good purpose and that's why I made works of art. "
— Felix Gonzalez-Torres

Seize the day my friends!