Gravis is a project founded by Glasgow-based mixed-media artist Leo Valenti, which seeks to explore grief and breakdown the taboos around death while involving art. Leo shares more about the project and his experiences while showcasing related artworks below.
"Only The End"
Mixed Media (Photography and digital)
I made this piece in response to an answer on one of the surveys I conducted before starting Gravis. The question was "What would you have on your gravestone if you were to have one". It struck a chord with me. I had never thought in this way and it took me by surprise, it was interesting to see how many people thought of their death ending with themselves and how many felt as though they were part of a bigger picture.
I started Gravis during the first lockdown as a way to cope with my aunties death. I grew up in a religious family and had never been to a non-Catholic funeral before this one. It shocked me how much easier it was to deal with her passing when the funeral focussed on celebrating her life, as opposed to the traditional Catholic way of praying for her entry into heaven.
We all at some point have felt disenfranchised grief. The kind that you couldn’t exactly take a day off from but feels so personal.
I’d never felt so connected to my grief before and it got me thinking of how as a queer person I experience grief in so many different ways. I started to look into disenfranchised grief and saw how prevalent it was in other communities. We all at some point have felt disenfranchised grief. The kind that you couldn’t exactly take a day off from but feels so personal.
One example of this is the Pulse Nightclub shooting. Every queer person was undoubtedly grieving that loss. It shows up so often in the world yet it is the least talked about. The Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality, trans day of remembrance, a breakup, being disowned from family for being queer, we have intense bodily reactions whenever these life events happen and it is because we are grieving for people we have never met or situations beyond our control. That is disenfranchised grief.
Gravis in its essence works towards talking more about experiences that affect everyone.
Due to the pandemic we are hosting everything online which has worked in favour of this workshop, it means that people from all over the world can participate and share! They are currently being run via Zoom and the website Padlet, which allows us to create a big canvas full of links, comments and photos which works perfectly as you can go back and have a look and add onto it at any time. I am trying to get to the stage where there is enough demand for them to happen once a month.
The aim of Gravis is to shine a light on grief and really own it.
The aim of Gravis is to shine a light on grief and really own it. A common misconception is that you have had to experience death to come to Gravis, it isn’t only open to people who have lost a friend or relative, because grief can stem from so much more, even in unexpected places.
There is no exact end goal with Gravis either, it is all about what you as an individual take from the experience. In just talking about grief, we are already pulling apart that it is taboo. We are taking control of our own experiences in a safe environment.
This piece was made using monoprinting techniques and then collaged together. It shows a person in a bird cage, I wanted to highlight the preservation of life through objects, how we can carry pieces of our loved ones with us wherever we go to remind us of them.
At the beginning everyone is invited to introduce themselves with their name and pronouns. They are also asked to message me privately if there is any particular trigger that they would rather not discuss, just so that I can move the conversation away from that if it arises. Mental health resources are also provided.
In the workshops I like to first talk about some artists who focus on the concept of grief in different ways. These are different each time, and so the experience is totally unique every session. There will then be an opportunity for the participants to create a piece of art, or a poem, or just go off and find another artist that they feel reflects their idea of grief. It is a very open environment and anything is accepted really.
Everyone is then invited to talk about what they have found/made and we can discuss. It’s amazing how many different takes on grief pop up every time, I really do learn from this workshop as much as I teach!
Although there often isn’t a theme for each session you’ll find that what we talk about ties together nicely, and everyone can take a little piece of that knowledge home with them. I do like to have a vague harmony between the artwork that I talk about each time, whether that be all female artists, art from people of colour or artists who focus more on the physical aspects of grief.
Art to me is like having a window into the brain. Through art we can express what we find hard to talk about, and we can relate to each other without having to say a word sometimes. Grief and art tie together, because like grief, art is often best felt in its entirety, and shared amongst those who also seek to understand.
"Mother Wife Rebel"
I made this piece in response to an answer on one of the surveys I conducted before starting Gravis. The question was "What would you have on your gravestone if you were to have one". This one was so simple yet it showed me exactly who that person was, it had such amazing energy and I was so drawn to it. I wanted to keep it simple and capture the rawness of their words.
How should grief be looked at in our society?
For me it’s not so much about how grief is looked at in society, it is more about IF it is spoken about at all. In the western world we are taught to repel death, like it is some kind of ending. Through my research I have found that death is shunned in the west, it isn’t celebrated and is in fact feared. I would like Gravis to be a safe place for people to get together and express themselves through the catharsis of art, music, writing or just talking. I hope that it allows for healing more than anything else. I know that running these workshops has certainly helped to heal a lot of my grief.
Gravis on Instagram: @gravisproject
Leo Valenti is a 22-year-old freelance mixed-media artist based in Glasgow. His work explores the human psyche and how we form relationships with each other. The main theme being celebration - a homage to his trans and queer identity and living fully as himself.
Instagram: @_meopeoleo / TikTok @meopeoleo /