Beyond Words: The Art of Suicide

The words I write here have been started and deleted, restarted and deleted, and restarted again more times than I care to remember. Despite having something to say, I feel powerless to bring words to the awkward, painful and devastating subject of suicide. There just isn’t the language to truly reflect the starkness, the isolation, the despair, the tragedy.

You could argue that suicide is our right and a choice, but you could also argue that suicide is a deadly outcome of our inability to talk, share and connect. If we do not talk, we have no chance of soothing the fears, isolation, pain, distress and shame that leads so many to consider suicide as their only option. It is true that suicide is technically our ‘choice’ but in my experience of working with people, suicide is only contemplated when all other ‘options’ seem impossible. When you can only see one option on the table, to take that option is hardly a choice!

So, do people really choose to take their lives, or is it our awkwardness and silence that kills? Either way, it’s clear we need to talk more openly about suicide, but how and where do we start if we don’t have the words? For me, the power of Art is beyond profound. Art has the power to stop me in my tracks, to make me take notice. A fact or quote can be bypassed, even scrolled past (to recognise our modern obsession with Social Media), but art, in its physical silence speaks so loudly that I must stop and notice, I must listen! And when I stop, I respond. If we can really spread the message of suicide AND have it ‘heard’, we may be better positioned to respond to the crisis of loss that need not be taking place.

I will not try to explain further, but I hope that you take the time to view the three powerful pieces of art below. If you are moved, speak up. Let’s find our words and break a deadly silence.

© Project 84 by Mark Jenkins

© Project 84 by Mark Jenkins

Project 84 is a set of 84 sculptures that show visual representations of real men who have lost their lives to suicide and were placed on the top of buildings in London. This thought-provoking art installation, by US artist Mark Jenkins was intended to stop people in their tracks, make them pay attention and inspire much needed conversation and action around suicide.  Friends and family members of the deceased helped in the creation process of the figures. Each one, a poignant reminder of a real life lost.

© Design graduate Fujita Keisuke

© Design graduate Fujita Keisuke

Design graduate Fujita Keisuke made an installation that uses real-time tweets from people expressing suicidal thoughts to activate a motor-powered needle that scratches away at a monolithic block of carbon. Keisuke wanted to highlight the disconnect between the expressed suicidal thoughts and the impact the posts had on users. For each tweet, 0.0054 grams of carbon was scratched from the block – the exact carbon footprint of a tweet.

©SebastianErrazuriz “American Kills” by  Sebastian Errazuriz

©SebastianErrazuriz “American Kills” by Sebastian Errazuriz

“American Kills”, is an installation by designer Sebastian Errazuriz. Errazuriz accidentally found information online that two times more American soldiers had died in 2009 by committing suicide than had been killed during that year in Iraq. He’d never heard this information before, and he was shocked by the lack of attention the statistic had gotten in the media. The artists’ first thought was to post the information on Facebook, to get the word out. But he was so moved by the lack of response that he bought a can of black paint and set out to share the news with the world on the wall outside his Brooklyn, New York, studio.


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