Numerous shrines stand alone along the rural roads of Greece, mostly signifying road accident deaths. There are also some that are erected due to accident survival and to house a flame for the saint that guards the village. My main fascination lies with the notion of remembering a death. Unlike the relatively new phenomenon in the UK of placing flowers at the scene of the accident, it appears to be the culture of the Greeks to make the ritual more domesticated.
These objects emulate a house with a roof, a door, a window and mostly an incredible view. Interestingly each shrine has its own unique quality representing an individual. Externally they can appear ornate or basic but their main objective lies in containing the memory of a soul. The act of lighting a wick or an oil lamp is repeated on a regular basis, depending on how recent the loss may be. The mourner chooses to enclose indexical items, though contained in a personal shrine they still stand on public display. While the body of the deceased has been laid to rest elsewhere, their memory is maintained at the point life stopped. The contents seem to envelop incredible meaning in being a still life of a ‘stilled life.’
The importance of housing a memory is vital in protecting it. In Gaston Bachelard’s book The Poetics of Space he states ‘Memories are motionless, and the more securely they are fixed in space, the sounder they are.’
1 Here he speaks of a house but this quote can similarly be held against the small shrines that represent such a structure. Driving through the dramatic landscape one takes in the beauty but one is also continuously interrupted and haunted by the presence of loss suffered by the people of Greece. Though the memories are not contained within this seemingly infinite rural space, the shrines remain contained by the landscape.
1 – The Poetics of Space; p.9, Beacon press, 1958