As the populations of industrialized nations get older (i.e. the world’s baby boomers), aging is a hot topic these days. Computer scientist turned bio-geneticist Aubrey de Gray proposes an incredible thesis that if the muck can be cleaned out of our cells (the mitochondrial DNA), then we can live to be 1000 years old, that’s an extra 900 years or so. He believes we have the capability of finding a cure for aging. Imagine.
Traditionally artists staved off aging by having sought immortality through their artworks. There are notable artists who dealt directly and honestly with aging in their work: Picasso who tried holding onto his potency, Gilbert & George in elderly bodies but with still young lust at heart and John Coplans who is known for graphic black and white photo closeups of his aging body. The Tang Dynasty poet/painters musing about life in their old age. Female artists, hmm? Society doesn’t actually encourage the menopausal “crone” to express herself, so not many women seem to make art about their aging bodies – even an artist such as Louise Bourgeois: in her 90s and she’s still stuck on her childhood. Only Hannah Wilke comes to mind, but she was also focusing on the transitory states of sickness and health.
In this day, where grants, residencies and gallery programs focus on the emerging and the young artist, it is visionary to see the artists who tackle these universal ideas of aging. Especially, now that we are living longer, it is puzzling why there is not much more art about aging. Culturally, this is developed society’s major taboo. Aging equals impending death, and no one really wants to be reminded of such a mortal truth.