Artist Ellie Harrison exploring the grief of her parents and brother's death in LEEDS 2023 art exhibition

Grief might not seem like an obvious creative inspiration but following the deaths of both her parents and her brother, artist Ellie Harrison has spent the last twelve years exploring grief through poignant, engaging and beautiful performances, installations, workshops and public art.

By Ellie Harrison
Sunday, 20th February 2022, 4:30 pm

This week she has released a new digital version of one of these pieces, ‘Journey with Absent Friends; Explore The Journey’, with the support of LEEDS 2023.

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Since 2010 I’ve been working on The Grief Series, exploring my own relationship with this most emotional of subjects and creating artwork to open up conversations for others. Since then, I’ve been able to engage with more than 40,000 people about their grief through these creative projects, taking them to conferences with nurses or palliative care teams, delivering workshops with primary schools and hundreds and hundreds of conversations with people attending events.

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This week Ellie has released a new digital version of one of these pieces, ‘Journey with Absent Friends; Explore The Journey’, with the support of LEEDS 2023. Picture: Matt Rogers.

‘Journey with Absent Friends’ started in 2018 when I decided to look at where grief ‘lives’, revisiting places that were significant to those people in my life that I’ve lost and engaging with their memory in the landscapes they knew well. This took me to Brownsea Island off the south coast of England, Hamburg in Germany, Scotland’s west coast for the Isle of Arran and back to Leeds and along the way I spoke to hundreds of people about what places mean to them. It really struck me then that grief, like the landscape, doesn’t stay the same, it’s constantly evolving, ebbing and flowing, never the same.

It's so important that we are able to roll with our grief, to give ourselves permission to be authentic in how we feel. When I share my story I am inviting others to do the same in whatever way they feel they can. We need to accept the complex emotions and messiness that comes with grief and connecting with others can help us empathise and understand. I also want each performance or installation to be beautiful and playful; this matters as it’s important that the work is accessible to everyone, whether the person experiencing it is 5 or 95.

This week ‘Journey with Absent Friends: Explore The Journey’ goes online with the support of LEEDS 2023. This means that, for the first time, one of The Grief Series projects – which are usually on-site installations, touring events or performances - is available for people wherever they are. The interactive website follows the pilgrimage we took in 2018 and explores the experiences we collected along the way, as people shared the places they associated with loved ones.

It’s really important to me that people are able to engage with the Series in a positive, heartening way. And that those who participate feel ownership of the projects and benefit from sharing their experiences with others who understand. I hope that anyone who logs on to the ‘Journey with Absent Friends’ is able to slow down and use our trip to inspire them to recall the important places in their lives, the places they feel connected to someone no longer with us, so they can use it as a way to engage with their own feelings.

I feel really passionate about Leeds. I haven’t always lived here but I’ve been drawn by the warmth, openness and honesty of its people and have made it my home. As a city, it is a generous place and I’m looking forward to seeing how, during next year’s cultural celebrations for LEEDS 2023, we make time to listen, to share and celebrate our stories, including those surrounding grief, for the benefit of everyone.

Grief touches us all and while it isn’t a subject usually connected to feelings of joy and fun, I hope that through The Grief Series we can remind everyone of their own positive memories so they can take their own journey through the places that mean something to them.

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