The SLA Art Space in Chelsea currently presents “Highgate: The Persistence of Memory and Disintegration,” a collection of black and white photography by Brooklyn-based photographer Kristina Juzaitis.
Highgate is one of the seven largest cemeteries in London, and Juzaitis presents 13 black and white gelatin silver prints taken during several visits to the historic burial ground. Highgate opened in London in 1839 as a resting place mainly for the rich and famous. The cemetery comprises two sections: East Cemetery, where Malcolm McClaren, George Eliot, and Karl Marx are amongst the most famous “residents,” and West Cemetery, “home to the most impressive architectural features of Highgate Cemetery: the Chapel, Colonnade, Egyptian Avenue, Circle of Lebanon, Terrace Catacombs and the mausoleum of Julius Beer.”
What: Photographs by Kristina Juzaitis, “Highgate: The Persistence of Memory and Disintegration”
When: November 19-December 24, 2021
Where: SLA Art Space, 307 West 30th Street, New York City
The cemetery had been abandoned for many years, and ferns, ivy, cypress, and other shrubberies began to overgrow its impressive monuments and structures. A charitable group, The Friends of Highgate Cemetery, was eventually formed to save it. The group carefully restored Highgate to its grandeur. It is now maintained in a state of willful neglect, appearing untouched by human influence.
What intrigued Juzaitis the most about Highgate was how the cemetery revealed the true effects of aging and nature.
One of her works, “Disintegration II,” powerfully conveys the passage of time by depicting a headstone enveloped by leaves and vines in the shape of a wreath—inevitably, a significant portion of the headstone will be covered, eventually, causing it to disappear from view.
In another work, titled “Twilight,” we see several headstones situated on a craggy hill in a wooded area, looking rather crooked and sinking below into the soil. “I think what was happening in the ground was that the coffins were caving in,” Juzaitis explains. “Now they put coffins in the ground with concrete to keep them from caving in, but [back then] they didn’t anticipate that it was going to create these valleys for these headstones.”
“The Divide” depicts a cypress tree rising from a deep, rounded, shabby brick structure that reveals, on its sides, two openings that resemble doorways. Juzaitis says that the photograph is “everybody’s favorite, such a great structure, a thousand-year-old cypress tree and they built this trench around it. It’s a perfect circle, and it’s just amazing to see in person.”
You also see many imperfections in the soil caving in the photographs “Highgate East II,” “Highgate East III,” and “Colchester,” which all show headstones and grave markers leaning off to one side looking just about ready to fall over.
The cemetery has remained virtually unchanged in its nearly 200-year history. “I love the fact that they don’t fix anything like the Victorian Obelisks broken on the ground. It’s the way it’s supposed to be; I love it,” Juzaitis says. When Juzaitis began photographing Highgate in 2012, she captured the scenes during different seasons and hours. A couple of years after starting the project, Juzaitis lost her mother. Then, in the following year, her father passed away, and, in 2019, she lost her sister. These significant losses, and in such a short period, made Juzaitis’s visits to Highgate even more poignant as they also became a source of healing and a way for her to come to terms with the losses of her closest family members. “It became almost like a place for me to kind of take it in because it’s so quiet there and nobody’s around. When you’re creating artwork, you get into a completely different space so I could hear [my parents’ and sister’s] voices and conversations that I had had with them playing in my mind,” she says.