Kim Dorland: Terror Management Theory at BEERS London

‘Terror Management Theory’ is Canadian artist, Kim Dorland’s first solo show at Beers London, which explores a reimagining of the concept of Memento mori.

Dorland has long explored the concept of Memento mori, which translates to ‘remember death’ or ‘remember that you will die’ . It is the medieval practice of reflection on mortality, especially as a means of considering the vanity of earthly life and the transient nature of all earthly goods and pursuits. Memento mori has been an important part of ascetic disciplines as a means of perfecting the character by cultivating detachment and other virtues, and by turning ones attention towards the immortality of the soul and the afterlife. Before his death in 180 AD Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote, ‘Death smiles at us all, all we can do is smile back.’

The fascination with death has been linked with art for centuries, with the most recent cases being traced to the Victorians whose Memento Mori photographs depicted the bodies of deceased family members, morbidly posed alongside the living. This way of thinking has been lost on modern western cultures, and so for Dorland ‘Terror Management Theory’ is about a modern reimagining of Memento mori that confronts viewers with the knowledge of our deaths.

Dorland’s paintings featured at ‘Terror Management Theory’ consist of his trademark subject matters: solitary figures in dark forests and eyes gazing ominously back at viewers. Also featured in the works are vampires, zombification, biohazards, traditional Memento mori skulls, and other stereotypical horror classics such as haunting sunsets, dark forests, and long haired girls. Dorland uses the stunning landscapes of his native Canada as inspiration to create these beautifully ominous paintings. The colours Dorland has chosen to use are simply exquisite: a mixture of beautiful, bright and bold colours that contrast perfectly with the extensive and thick use of black, creating stunning yet horrific, otherworldly scenes.

As humans we are constantly faced with the threat of death and the ‘ending of times’; The Great War, World War Two, the Cold War, and the Millennium Bug are all modern examples where humanity seemed to lie under a proverbial Sword of Damocles. According to the story, Damocles was pandering to King Dionysus, exclaiming that Dionysus was truly fortunate as a great man or power, surrounded by magnificence. Dionysus offered to switch places with Damocles for one day so Damocles could taste that fortune firsthand. Naturally, Damocles quickly accepted that proposal. Damocles sat down in the kings throne surrounded by every luxury, but Dionysus, who had made many enemies, arranged that a huge sword be hung above the throne, held only at the pommel by a single hair from a horse’s tail. This evoked the sense of what it was like to be king: though having much fortune, always having to watch in fear and anxiety against dangers. Eventually, Damocles begged the king that he be allowed to depart, realising that he no longer wanted such fortune if it came with great danger. Dionysus made it sufficiently clear that there can be nothing happy for the person over whom some fear always looms. And yet as humans, whose lives are short and fleeting, with the constant fear of death, we are told to live our lives happily.

Dorland’s paintings are hauntingly beautiful, and incredibly immersive for viewers as the paint has been liberally applied, bulging away from the canvas, creeping closer and closer to viewers. Expressive themes of mania and horrific glee are explored through the paintings as viewers experience the extremely haunting ecstasy of artistic expression, life and eventually death.

‘Terror Management Theory’ is on display until October 6th at the BEERS London gallery. More information may be found here.