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"death" Tag


21g


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

THE DOCTOR OF DEATH

On the 2nd of March at 14:35 I was sitting in the Starbucks at Rembrandtplein, ready to meet the “Doctor of Death”. It may sound like the title of a Blockbuster but in fact the Doctor of Death really exists between us. In Amsterdam. There are many more who have the same job like him but are not willing to talk about it. Believe me, I tried.

I meet Hans S. with mixed feelings. First of all because I was happy to finally find someone who wants to talk about his work and his feelings enrolled with it.

How does it feel like driving a Van filled with tools, make up, a cooling table and 2 big canisters of formalin? Does he whistle when he drives to work?

I was nervous, excited, but mostly curious to find answers to all the questions I had in my mind. It didn’t even matter to me anymore that I was sitting in a Starbucks coffee, listening to jazzy tones and observing the stage, filled with actors

A CALL FROM MY MEMORY

When I was asked to contact a person who’s work we are interested in I saw many pictures in my unconsciousness, but only one was very sharp. It was the picture of a Thanatopracteur. He looked into the camera (it was a scenery of a documentary I watched years ago), commenting: “I am not thinking about the fact that the person is dead. If I would think about his life, I couldn’t do this job as I would loose the focus.” The camera slides back and you see the surroundings of a body, covered by a clean, white sheet which is as stiff as the body under it.

FORMALIN VS. CELL EATING ENZYMES

A Thanatopractuer conserves dead bodies temporary with the help of the conscious use of chemicals. Four minutes after someone dies the body starts to decay. Blood circulation and respiration stops, the body doesn’t get oxygen and starts to release carbon oxides which cause an acidic environment. The low ph level causes cell membranes to rupture, releasing enzymes that would eat the cells from the inside out,……[x]. The “Doctor of Death” slows down the process by exchanging the body fluids, restore or reconstruct body parts in some cases and cover the appearance with make-up.

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TO MAKE-UP THE DEAD

Hans S. told me his daughter describes her dad as someone who “makes dead people look beautiful“. In that sense he gives people who are left behind the opportunity to say goodbye on an open coffin in a respectful way. Especially when people die unexpected the left behinds want to get the chance to see the person one last time before the coffin is closed forever. Hans S. said that otherwise you don’t consider someone as dead. You need to have the visual proof, see the dead person to truly understand the consequences.

NASAL FORCEPS, MEDICAL SUCTION PUMPS AND MORTUARY TROLLEYS

My first intention meeting a Thanatopracteur was all about attending a practise. I was interested in the tools he would use and the process itself as I imagine it a strange scenery and atmosphere to see someone working on a dead body.

Unfortunately it turned out it is not possible due to hygienically reasons and privacy rules. Therefore I had to work with the information I get from the talk.

THE GERMAN CODEX

The most fascinating topic for me became funeral rituals as part of a culture and how they see death in the context of life. During my research and comparing funeral rituals from different cultures my own culture became strange to me. It seemed like other cultures like the Mexicans make death part of life and even celebrate it. In Germany funerals proceed a specific codex [x] in which some points can be designed free depending on the way the body is buried.

I have never been at a funeral as I never lost a close person. I can only make assumptions for myself, exploring the territory like a journalist but also as a concerned. One day I will be at a one.

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THE FUNERAL AS A MEDIUM

I based my design object now on the idea to figure out what would help me to process the loss of a person and make use of the funeral as a medium. The funeral as a medium has the potential to help the bereaved to let go their emotions and share it. Everyone in the funeral came with the same intention and feelings as they had a story with the person who died. This creates an invisible bond between them which helps to feel no longer alone with your grief.

What if there was a room or space after the burial where you could go alone or together to transfer your emotions to an object and let it go whenever you feel like?

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THE RISE AND FALL

The first idea I had was to create an installation with small, handmade objects from different materials that would refer to the person who uses it. Each object would be linked to a ring with a thread and on the ceiling there would be hooks attached. The Thread would go threw the hooks to make the object rise.

However when I was working on the objects I felt there was something wrong with it. It seemed too artificial, too complicated and overloaded. The thread reminded me of a doll house theatre and I felt the technique of rising something would keep your mind rather busy than free.

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THE SUM OF 21g

However I still wanted to work with the body and the funeral as a medium to create a ritual, a shared experience for and with people who need to free their emotions.

While I was working on the objects I developed a feeling for the weight of different materials and started to become interested in it. I remembered from my research the story of a Doctor in the early 20ies, Ducan McDougall, who measured the weight of 5 persons just before and after they died. The result was, that their bodies lost 21 grams after the Doctor considered their death.

SCALE IS A BIT__!

I started to fell in love with the number and made it a restriction to create as many objects I can that would weight 21g in a sum.

I became inspired by the aesthetics of weights for precision scales and wanted to make objects that work as rings. Each ring would have a specific weight attached but will be carried by the person who chooses it.

 Immediately I began working on the objects in metal. However I didn’t had a precision scale during that time. When I already created a small metal collection I finally get a precision scale.

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The precision scale made me realise to stop working in metal and find other materials instead.

THE UPSIDE AND DOWNSIDE

During the process the way how to carry the object became really important. As a jewellery maker I am trained to see the ring-head upside, on the hand. In Jewellery terms it is so to say the main character of the Design. But do I want to communicate that?

((((CONTENT)))) >  DESIGN

The Design of the objects became less interesting to me than feeling their individual weight. It was like you are holding something fragile in your hand and you want to protect it.

So I stopped considering the objects as rings that would decorate your body but start to explore the content. When the object is hanging from the finger you are more sensitive for the weight. You can close your Hand around the object and feel the shape, the surface, the temperature, the weight and it is energy. You start to imagine what could be inside and take all your time you need to carry it with you during the funeral. You would be free to test the other weights or talk to other people to exchange your experience.

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THE WEIGHT OF LOSS

Duncan McDougall was obsessed with the idea to proof that the human have a soul by trying to measure it. For me as a creator it was interesting to work with the restriction of 21g. It became a challenge for me to be directed by a precision scale as it make you operate like a scientist.

The final piece will look like a wooden box on which surface there would be a formula resulting in 21g. Opening the box you would see different handmade weights not only from metal that you can carry with your finger. The box would be a suggestion to  put your thoughts of the dead person into the object and feel the weight of your memories, your thoughts and emotions. They will always stick to this object and you can carry it whenever you FEEL like.

CAPTURED AND CARRIED FOREVER.

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NOTES FROM THE DEAD


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

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Dying is something we all have to face one day.

When it finally happens, we trust on the people closest to us to give our remains a place to rest, playing the right music at our funerals and keeping us from being forgotten, by remembering us, and telling stories about us to our grand kids.
 
But what if a person dies who doesn’t have any close ones to remember them…
Who doesn’t have friends or family to attend their funeral..
 
In Amsterdam it happens multiple times a year.

 

The Pool of Death

Drug addicts, drunks or abusers rejected by friends and family…

Illegal migrants, wanderers and hobo’s without papers, permits and names…

Rejects and the misunderstood, whose mental disorder kept them living in seclusion… Recluses who cut off all social contacts or lost everyone that was ever dear to them… Elderly who outlived every last relative… Youth, abandoned and unable to survive on their own…

The pool of death is a group of poets, who honour the lonely deceased.

As the sole attendant of a lonely funeral they accompany the lifeless remains to the grave where they recite a specially written poem.

To write about someone, and give their story to the world, a poet needs to learn as much as they can. Like a detective, they look for clues. They visit the homes of those lost, talk to their neighbours, and search through city archives gathering as much information as they can to form a sense of the person that was.

The same week i received the assignment (to meet up with someone that inspired me), I attended a funeral, my second of the past two years. This very present sense of death and mortality made me think of the Pool of Death and the Foundation of Lonely Funerals, a project by artist/poet F. Starik.

 

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 Frank Starik

I had met Starik once before, about a year ago, when he was clearing out his workspace. He was leaving his current atelier to work from home, and couldn’t bring all the things that had come to fill that space. I got a tip from someone very close to me who was helping him sort out what he would take with him from what he would sell, that the rest would be thrown out.

Amongst all the things, I found this big box. Inside it, were all these wooden crosses. They were old crucifixes that all seemed to be missing their christ figures, leaving them to look like movie props for an old Hammer production starring Christopher Lee. When I asked him why he had so many of them, and what happened to their prophets, he addressed me in the solemn but raspy voice of a chain-smoking reverend:

“Well my son, I have dedicated a great part of my life to freeing Jesus from the cross…he’d been hanging there long enough!”

When I later continued my look around, I found an army of Jesus dolls lying carefully displayed on the ground, as if they were all out sunbathing on the beach.

Along with the crosses, I left with some old photo works. Most of them were collages made on old canvas frames, all black and white.

 

 The Detective

On an early Sunday afternoon I went to my appointment with Starik at his house.

Next to his writing table stood an enormous plant and above his couch hung a note saying: “we are decent and normal”. Some of his work’s consist of a note or message, handwritten on a painter’s canvas. I really like these works. They might seem simple but they work really well.

I was curious about the proces of writing a poem for a person that just died, in total solitude. Somebody you’ve never met: how do you learn about them? Are you allowed to visit their homes and search for clues like a detective?

He told me that sometimes it was very difficult, depending on the situation. He was allowed to go into their homes, but a lot of times these were in total chaos. The anonymous deaths are often discovered when the neighbours call the police to complain about the smell. It can be weeks before they are found, and by then, the bodies are in a state of decay. But sometimes you can find something that can be of use. He confirmed my suspicion and said it was very much like being a homicide detective. He always makes a talk with the neighbours, and if the person still has some long lost family members, searching the city archives can be a big help.

Sometimes people have a strange relationship with public workers, relationships that in a way replace the lack of closeness with anyone else in their lives.

He told me of the anonymous death of an autistic man, who had a special relationship with his plumber. Being extremely parsimonious, he was particularly stingy about his water-heater, and feared spending even a single cent too much. Every day he would blow the flame out, fearing it was burning away a lot of unused gas. Sadly he was never able to reignite the flame, so every day, when he needed hot water, he would call the plumber to reignite it. Because the plumber understood the man’s condition, and knowing this system would actually cost him significantly more than he was trying to save, they worked out a deal. Each day he called, he paid only 10 euros. This was still significantly more than he would pay if he simply kept the water heater running..

He also told me about another man who fabricated the whole of his own history. Among the stories he told people is one about him as an important war hero with the resistance. His long lost family members however, said he had actually been working for the Germans. He kept on with these stories for so long that he came to believe them, and lived on in his own fantasy, in his own fabricated biographies. In the poem Starik wrote for him, he kept those fabricated stories alive and didn’t kill them off.

 

 The Design

After you die, you sort of live on in marks you’ve left behind..in handwritten letters and notebooks…in old grocery lists…in doodles and scribbles… because handwriting is really someones second voice. Handwriting is personal, has a character that speaks for itself: a voice that is read instead of heard. Reading a person’s script, you can almost hear a person’s voice talking.

 
De Dichtkist

 
I wanted to make a sort of vending machine, containing unopened letters written by somebody that passed, so that the living could receive letters from the dead.
This transformed into the big turning of the wheels, and then to the transfer turning of a scroll from the bottom to the top. Inspired by Starik’s written canvasses, it became a sort of alter, displaying a composition of words.

 
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De Dichtkist (translates into “sealed burial box with poems“) is a tribute: a coffin for handwriting, an open casket, a single space for the second voice and all of its marks to collect, and with a bit of turning, display. As it fills up, that turning can lead to a sort of conversation. The second voice can speak with itself. Built from the wood of century old doors, de Dichtkist houses the marked memory of lives that will some day, come to end.

 

the family of man


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

This second book the family of man attracted me in a different way. printed in 1955 it was at the time  – ”the most ambitious and challenging project with photography that had ever been attempted” (three million photographs were originally collected from amateur and professional photographers (not to mention more than a handful of gems by Henri Cartier Bresson). 10,000 of which were included in the MoMA exhibit while a further 506 photos from 68 countries were chosen for this publication (now that’s a die-hard archiving project!!)

“The Family Of Man” was originally produced for the museum of modern art in new york- not with the intention presenting the photograph as art but to show – ”photography as a dynamic process of giving form to ideas and of explaining man to man.” -to teach man about himself in all his various creeds and shades (this book was much before its time and although it did not have the intention of formenting multicultural acceptance it probably had a great influence and later gave way to books such as the 1968 random house publication The Colour of Man.) in the foreword Edward Steichen explains that his family of man was created in the passionate spirit of devoted love and faith in mankind.”.  and this i feel is what drew me to this book. pictures of birth, love, life and death shown with tangible empathy and passion. pictures of every possible ethnicity.  tribesmen from papua new guinea, native americans, french peasants, maori. this book although outdated is not without some degree of power still as can be seen by the frequency it has been rented out in recent years by people with a similar curiousity and interest to mine.

rietveld library number - 760.3 / stei / 1


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