Every Ocean Hughes

born 1977, Easton, MD
lives in Stockholm and Easton

First developed in 2019, Help the Dead is an experimental, participatory performance that includes elements of pop music (as performed by multidisciplinary performers Colin Self and Geo Wyeth), theater, and call and response. It grows out of the artist Every Ocean Hughes’s own training as a “death doula”—someone who helps accompany the dying into their next journey—while also meditating on “queer death,” mutual aid, and the societal aspects of surviving and dying on planet Earth in contemporary times. In this, the audience is implicated and plays an active role, through invitations to contribute to the ongoing action.

The work takes on a new resonance in its US debut at the CWRU Health Education Center. Furthermore, as part of the concluding events of Oh, Gods of Dust and Rainbows, the performance plays a larger structural role. The triennial has been curated through a process of “slow curating” that reflects and responds to the context of its own making. Although Help the Dead was chosen for inclusion in the triennial before the Covid-19 pandemic, its meaning and teaching have shifted inevitably through this historical period. By appearing at the show’s close, Help the Dead suggests tools, including song, movement, and collective reading, that the exhibition’s many participants—artists, partners, and visitors alike—might take forward into the future.

A uniquely structured piece of live art, Help the Dead anchors the show’s belief in art—particularly in its most experimental and non-normative forms—as an agent of transformation and mode of healing. The work emerges as a powerful example within the long tradition of theatrical and musical rituals that help communities to process and integrate terrible losses.

Sheila and Eric Samson Pavilion at the Health
Education Campus of Case Western Reserve
University and Cleveland Clinic

Every Ocean Hughes, Help the Dead, 2019, Supported by the Case Western Reserve University, Putnam Fund

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