The Life and Deaths of The Mels (Here Lie the Bones)

by Artist Mel Keiser

May 19, 2023 – July 9, 2023

“Hear, Here: Where Real and Fictional Death Meet,” Saturday, June 24, 2023 at 3pm

“Melga Blank presents “Who is The Mels? An Introduction to Self-Evolution,” Saturday, July 8, 2023 at 7pm

Opening Reception: Friday, May 19, 2023 6:00pm – 8:00pm Free

Melissa-Louise-Keiser’s effigy and casket, made with John Preus. Aspen wood and cotton. Image credit: Clarissa Bonet.

In her work, multidisciplinary artist Mel Keiser claims that she has been several different “mels” since she was born. During her life, there have been (and will continue to be) discrete moments of self-change. However, in her work this is not just a state of identity flux; no, Keiser looks at these moments of change as the birth of a new mel and the death of the old. 

In her ongoing project, The Life and Deaths of The Mels, Mel grieves for her deceased past selves. Borrowing from traditional funeral rituals, Keiser processes the grief—and sometimes relief—of burying past versions of herself. 

We invite you to explore Mel’s work installed at IMSS from May 20 to July 9 in three places: the first-floor Welcome Room (1F), the fourth-floor Temporary Gallery (4C), and outside in the museum’s parkway. While you may come to see how Mel died and what it was like, you may leave asking yourself how many times you, yourself, have died. And how many times you’ve been born anew. 

Artist Mel Keiser with Dr. Melga Blank at the opening of the Museum of The Mels (with Wedge Projects).

Mel Keiser (b.1985, 2003, 2007, 2007, 2011, 2014, 2018, 2020) is an artist who uses installation, performance, object-making, writing, and social practice to study the intersections between non-linear identity, grief and ritual, and institutional epistemology. Her work is a form of autotheory, devised from a series of long-form, interrelated projects that feature frequent and diverse collaborations with fellow artists. 

Keiser is the founder of the Death Studies Research Group at Northwestern University’s Kaplan Institute of Humanities with artist Jeanne Dunning, medical educator Catherine Belling, medical practitioner Joshua Hauser, and historian Sean Hanretta. She also co-founded the artist writing group, between the tongue and the taste with Matthew Goulish in 2017.

Keiser received grants from the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, Northwestern University’s Center for Interdisciplinary Research in the Arts, and the Judith Dawn Memorial Foundation. Her work has been exhibited at Wedge Projects, Filter Space, Martha Schneider Gallery, and Segal Design Institute at Northwestern University. Her written work has appeared in the peer-reviewed Performance Philosophy Journal and a special issue of ASAP/J about autotheory. 

About the Contemporary Arts Program: The International Museum of Surgical Science supports a commitment to contemporary art and artists through exhibitions and programs that use the frame of contemporary artistic practice to examine new perspectives in medical-surgical science and our relationship to the body. The Museum’s Contemporary Arts Initiative includes rotating exhibitions of contemporary art, as well as an ongoing Artist in Residence program.

The Life and Deaths of The Mels: Here Lie the Bones is partially supported by an Individual Artists Program Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events, as well as a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency, a state agency through federal funds provided by the National Endowment for the Arts. It is also funded by The Graduate School Center for Interdisciplinary Research in the Arts, Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, and Weinberg College at Northwestern University. Finally, the project is also supported by the Judith Dawn Memorial Fund and Wedge Projects.

This project is partially supported by a CityArts Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events.

The International Museum of Surgical Science acknowledges support from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.