LAST WORDS (2019)
From the age of 13 , Nicole Swennen worked as a cleaning lady at St-Anna Hospital, later at the St-Jozef Hospital, where she worked until she was diagnosed with ALS at the age of 62. One month before her retirement.
This artwork resonates her last words.
Artist Tom Herck about Last Words: "A few months after the diagnosis of ALS-myotrophic lateral sclerosis, my mother, Nicole, lost her speech. I asked her to always take notes, which resulted in some 20 booklets with daily anecdotes, correspondences and reflections. The texts clearly show my mother's worries, complaints and pleasure, and indicate how her handwriting changes as the disease develops.
In the notes, the hospital plays an important role, because this was simply her life. I was all the family Nicole had. Her loyalty to the hospital and the obligation to work gave her life meaning. The sincere faithfulness of colleagues who visited my mother almost daily and who even spent nights with her is something very human, which should be experienced by the outside world. I make the people who once knew her feel pride and warmth, and the tell a story about charity for future generation.”
This installation consists of about 19 handwritten texts, presented in plexiglass frames. Tom deliberately chose the plexiglass frames as a reference to gravestones and to the commemorative plaques that can be found on cemeteries and crematories. The last words of Nicole Swennen can be read from left to right, with to the left the beginning of her illness and to the right the end of her illness and the eventual death. Nicole's last words connect the past with the present, and remind us of our own future or mortality. Last words help us lead a better life, coping with change or loss and they support patients making the transition to the 'other side.’
Words, when properly chosen, have so much power in them that a description often gives us more lively ideas than the sight of things themselves. Language is the expression of human communication through which knowledge, convictions and behavior can be experienced, explained and shared. Writing is often seen as the ultimate reflection of human thinking - and thinking as the essence of man. The letters used by everyone get a unique and personal form in the manuscript. Beyond every language barrier and therefore beyond every 'normal' legibility, something higher becomes visible: writing as a universal phenomenon that connects all people.