In February, 1999, the novelist Iris Murdoch died from complications relating to Alzheimer's Disease. Dame of the British Empire, author of twenty-six novels, philosophical works, poems and plays, she was considered one of the most gifted and intelligent women in Britain. That such a mind could succumb to the ravages of Alzheimer's underscores for me the fundamentally contingent nature of consciousness itself. John Bayley, professor of English and Murdoch's husband of 43 years, chronicled their life together, most notably, the final years of their marriage, in two extraordinary books, Iris, an Elegy (1999) and Iris and her Friends (2000).
My artist book and installation of paintings originated in response to the empathy and sobering insights of those two books, as well as to the works of Murdoch herself. In exploring responses to Alzheimer's, I have grouped my images according to the four elements, air, water, fire and earth, which the Greeks believed constituted both the human body and the extended cosmos. Emulating Greek attention to deep patterns of order structuring inner and outer, mind and body, human and divine, these categories correspond to the classical or mythological (air); the subjective or internal (water); the scientific or medical (fire); and the empathetic or interpersonal view (earth) of this condition.
- Amy Gogarty