For the Love of Sarah; An Equivalent Mass

A Sculpture by Brian Mander.

Sarah George Mander, 1956-2006.

My wife, Sarah, died on the fifteenth December 2006 of a metastatic breast carcinoma.The cancer had been diagnosed some twelve years earlier and Sarah had chosen to have a mastectomy. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy had followed with repeated courses of debilitating treatments until it was obviously futile  for Sarah to continue.

Always a realist, candid and pragmatic, Sarah had discussed on many occasions before her death, with me and many of her friends, how I could creatively use her cremated remains. The process of making something of her, has been necessarily cathartic, a way of coping, a way of keeping Sarah vital within me.   

Sarah had majored in ceramics at Brighton College of Art so this made the medium of ceramics an obvious choice for me to research. Practically, this would allow Sarah's bone ash, which varied from a fine powder to quite coarse and granular fragments to be mixed and therefore fixed into another more stable and resilient material.

Bone China seemed the most appropriate medium to use, where traditionally the technique of mixing finely ground calcinated animal bone ash with a fine white china clay slip creates a seemingly weightless fragility and translucence.

For me, the form also chose itself as I still had one of Sarah's prosthetic breasts; a poignant and profound physical reminder of Sarah.

With technical advice and help from Tanya LaMantia, a ceramicist who   works with bone china, we used this to make a mould from which to cast a series of shallow, asymmetric vessels each containing a small quantity of Sarah's ashes mixed into a china clay slip and fired.

I had intended making fifty vessels, possibly as keepsakes for our immediate family and Sarah's closest friend because Sarah had died soon after her fiftieth birthday. There was however, far too much of Sarah's ashes. As it would not have been in my nature to have simply added a random small quantity into the clay slip prior to casting until it was all used, I thought to find another significant number.

A friend had prompted the question about the worth of the vessels; as I was going to make so many, would I sell them to finance the project?

This caused me not only to reflect on the intrinsic value of rare and precious things and of Art; all those things we covet most, but also on the immpossibility of putting a price on a life.

For instance, the value we assign to a diamond is defined as  a carat. A carat is a unit of mass equal to 0.2g. Irrespective of its questionable aesthetics or its contrived worth, Damien Hirst's sculpture 'For the Love of God' is made of a platinum skull which is encrusted with 8601 diamonds with  a value of 1106,18 carats.

It could be said, all that remains of Sarah is worthless dust but to me it is a unique and priceless commodity. Would an equal weight of diamonds be comparable? Sarah's Ashes weighed 449g. Maybe, if such a thing existed, a single flawless paragon diamond with an equivalent mass and a value of 2245 carats?

I have made the first 50 of 2245 vessels; each vessel will contain 0.2g of Sarah's bone ash fired within it; incalcuable.

"The value of Life is made startlingly apparent through death. Sarah loved and was loved; was full of life, a significant presence; a daughter, a sister, my love, my wife, a mother and a friend to many. I hope that what I have made will transcend the idea of a simple memento mori and be a cause to reflect how fragile Life is and how we must cherish each precious moment of it".




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