Offering an ever-lasting portrait

THERE’S a room in the Latrobe Regional Gallery where the walls are lined with beautiful faces of people. They may be coming to the end of their lives, but it’s not the end of their stories.

The voices of these 30 palliative care patients are filling the Community Access Gallery, which is displaying ‘The Dreamers’ exhibition until Sunday, 15 March.

They’re telling their story to visual artist Pippa Wischer, who has created a photographic and audio account of “ordinary Australians” in palliative care.

“I’m fascinated by how everybody has a story to tell and believe we can all learn from other people’s experiences,” Ms Wischer said.

“I’m looking to encourage a discussion about death and dying, which has become taboo.

“We hide death behind immaculately clean hospital walls and I think hiding death and hiding from death changes how we live.”

The 49 year-old Melbourne artist first experienced palliative care when her mother was diagnosed with a life-limiting illness and passed away five years ago.

Ms Wischer then photographed a Palliative Care Victoria conference as well as their photographic library, which introduced her to staff, patients’ relatives and volunteer carers.

“What I really wanted to know was what the people in palliative care thought about living and dying,” Ms Wischer said.

“If somebody tells you you’re going to die, and (they) can’t cure you, how do you deal with that?”

Ms Wischer has explored how close humans are to death, destitution and stereotypes through her previous work, ‘Stories from a Caravan’ and ‘You/Me’.

The self-described ‘documentary visual artist’ wanted to “inspire a discussion” about the bigger questions in life, which brought her to beginning ‘The Dreamers’.

Palliative Care Victoria commissioned the work, which includes a book of 40 portraits and stories, after Ms Wischer presented a mock-up project in July 2013.

Acting senior curator Shelley McDermott said she hoped the community could capture the exhibition’s emotional power.

“I hope they realise although it’s emotionally confronting and difficult, it’s also really beautiful,” Ms McDermott said.

“There’s a bit of hidden humour, too, for those people who take their time walking through the gallery.”

‘The Dreamers’ exhibition will next be displayed at Ballarat International Foto Biennale from August and Melbourne City Library in September.

Anyone seeking information or support is encouraged to phone Palliative Care Victoria or the Gippsland Region Palliative Care Consortium on 5623 0684.