Death + Art / Architecture

Death and Art: Walking on Eggshells by emma PERRY at 50a Contemporary Art Space, Cumbria UK

Walking on Eggshells
A New Art Exhibition by emma PERRY
50a Contemporary Art Space (and online)
South Street
Egremont, Cumbria

Attention all Death Reference Desk readers in the UK: you do not want to miss the newest art exhibition by emma PERRY. Her newest project, Walking on Eggshells, is a mixed-media installation that critiques modern representations of death. Emma is currently working on her Master’s Degree in Death & Society at the University of Bath and is one of my Advisees. I find her work really engaging and worth a visit. But hurry up. The exhibition is only up until August 1.

Walking on Eggshells

Here is some more information on Emma and her work:

Emma Perry was born in Ashton under Lyne, Lancashire. She obtained a BA (Hons) Fine Art at Cumbria Institute of the Arts and continued her studies and achieved an MA in Contemporary Fine Art in 2007. Emma is currently studying again, for an MSc in Death & Society at the University of Bath, but continues to produce work in Lancashire. Since the late 1990s her creative output has involved a variety of media such as installation, sculpture, film, photography, performance and olfactory pieces. Her work explores issues surrounding death and how it can be represented and perceived by society. Emma Perry’s work is often confrontational, controversial but always engaging and thought provoking, and allows for the once taboo subject of death to be seen in a new light.

Walking on Eggshells

And here is more information on the exhibition:

The exhibition Walking on Eggshells is on display at 50a Contemporary Art Space, South Street, Egremont, Cumbria. For those unable to attend the exhibition Emma plans to allow a wider audience to experience her work at their leisure. The work is available to view online; Emma invites you sit down to spend some time viewing her work and leaving comments, thoughts and sharing your reactions on her website at: The comments left both in the art space and the website will assist Emma in her research for her current dissertation in which she is exploring the relationships between non-traditional art spaces in the context of her art practice.

Make some time to see the exhibition in person or online. It is worth the time.

Death + Art / Architecture Monuments + Memorials

Minneapolis Event: Death and Memorial Tattooing Lecture by John Erik Troyer, Ph.D.

Free Public Talk: Death and Memorial Tattooing
When: Wednesday, July 29, 7:30pm – 9:30pm
Where: West Bank Social Center, 501 Cedar Avenue South, Minneapolis 55454 (above the Nomad World Pub)

Ok. So it’s a little weird to promote my own talk this way on the Death Reference Desk, but as many people know I am called to perform… to the DANCE….

Tattoo for Jean Troyer

For this talk, I will present some new research on Death and Memorial Tattooing. I am interested in how people choose to remember/memorialize a dead person and/or pet with a tattoo. I will be joined at this talk by Awen Briem, Minneapolis tattoo artist extraordinaire, and the tattooist who has inked six of my seven tattoos. Since 1994, and through several tattooing sessions, we have spent A LOT of time discussing memorial tattoos. You have to talk about something while the needle works…

In late June, I presented some of this research at the Envisaging Death: Visual Culture and Dying symposium at the University of Birmingham, England. My talk was entitled A Labor of Death and a Labor Against Death: Memorial Tattoos in Late Modernity — I can promise that this talk on Wednesday night at the West Bank Social Center will be a lot of fun. Awen and I both want the audience involved in our discussion of Memorial Tattoos.

Feel free to e-mail me with any questions:
And check out Awen’s amazing Tattooing Blog.

Yours in Death and Tattooing….

— John Troyer

Cemeteries Death + Art / Architecture

Condo Columbaria? Mountain View Cemetery

On July 11, 2009, Mountain View Cemetery—Vancouver, British Columbia’s only graveyard—invited the public to an open house to showcase its new buildings and columbaria. On-the-spot grave look-ups, four different cemetery tours, Chinese joss paper demonstrations, a string quartet, harpist and free popcorn all made for a pleasant day for cemetery boosters, curious potential customers and taphophiles such as myself. I attended two of the tours and explored on my own the whopping 106 acres of the grounds.

John Atkin, tour guide

Opened in 1887, Mountain View contains 145,000 interments at 92,000 grave sites. By the mid-eighties the cemetery had no more plots to sell and, hemmed in by houses, had nowhere to expand. Even the designated cemetery pathways, recognized as prime real estate, have been filled in with graves. According to John Atkin, civic historian and tour guide extraordinaire, 86 percent of British Columbians prefer to be cremated. Inspired by this statistic, the city approved construction of columbaria, providing 2,200 urn spaces to tap this market.

Columbarium main pathColumbaria side pathColumbaria condos

Click the photo thumbnails to see larger images. Each compartment, or niche, can hold up to two interments of cremains. Customers (residents?) can choose to be in the main columbarium wall, which forms a courtyard around a portion of the Masonic section of the cemetery, or in smaller, tower-like columbaria that line a path toward a newly restored water fountain.

I can’t help but notice the parallel between the smaller columbaria architecture and Vancouver’s condo-saturated skyline. It seems Vancouverites can rest in peace as they live—stacked in tall, stately structures. Accordingly, niches are priced with costs increasing the higher one resides above ground: the bottom row (with the worst view?) is $2,600, the second from the bottom costs $3,100 and all others fetch $3,800.

Mother marker, laid flatThe Masonic section was chosen for the columbaria due to its traditional graveyard aesthetics. In the 1960s a city bylaw stated all headstones would be knocked flat unless the family requested otherwise. The purpose? To most efficiently mow the lawn. Well organized and fiercely traditional, the Masons busted out the phone tree and the requests poured in, rescuing the Masonic graves from certain obscurity.

As part of revitalization and restoration initiatives, repentant cemetery officials have been turning markers upright, but it is a slow process—not terribly expensive, but there are thousands upon thousands of laid flat headstones to contend with.

Other points of interest:

  • Mountain View has no regulations regarding body preparation for burials. Embalming is not required, nor are vault liners or even caskets. Due to lack of space, however, few burials are performed. To be interred in the ground there today, a family would need to have a plot purchased decades ago.
  • When markers were laid flat, the granite bases from military graves were used in the construction of the Stanley Park seawall.
  • More than 10,000 infants—stillborn babies or those who lived only a few days—are buried in three sections of unmarked graves at Mountain View. The largest area now has a dry streambed memorial of over 6,000 stones, with each stone representing an infant. Families can purchase larger stones to have the child’s name engraved on it.
  • Located on the edge of the cemetery, the Vancouver Crematorium is a privately owned operation, a revelation which shocked and wounded the Canadian audience. As an American, I found this interesting—in the United States no one would question or even notice such privatization.

Lorraine Irving, TaphophileThe other tour guide, Lorraine Irving of the BC Genealogical Society, focused on the lives and deaths of individuals in the cemetery, passing around copies of historical photos and reading from obituaries and contemporaneous news articles. I also noticed a few portable information stands placed by the graves of BC notables.

This got me thinking… wouldn’t it be great to have cemeteries geotagged so as you wander around the graves and tombs, photographs, time lines, family trees, obituaries and other related info about the deceased would pop up on your phone? You could write personal remembrances that others could read, as well as visit distant cemeteries virtually. It’d be best open source, perhaps set up like a giant wiki to which anyone could contribute. Genealogists would freak.

I *ahem* highly doubt I’m the first person to have this idea—nor will I be the last to have no means to pull it off. But a girl can dream…

Another markerSomber girl markerMasonic marker
cremation Death + Art / Architecture Monuments + Memorials

Mixing Death: Cremated Remains in the Ink of Memorial Tattoos

Olympia Resident Has Ink, Cremated Ashes Under His Skin
Christian Hill, The Olympian (July 10, 2009)

Memorial Tattoo with Cremated Remains This is a wonderful article on Memorial Tattooing, or a tattoo that an individual chooses after a person or pet dies. The article also explains an old tattooing practice, namely the putting of cremated remains in the ink used for the tattoo. After my parents die I plan on having their cremated remains mixed into ink for new memorial tattoos.

Death + Art / Architecture Funeral Industry

Wilhelm’s Portland Memorial Funeral Home


I spent Memorial Day not so much remembering the dead as being introduced to the dead. You see, I spent the day at Wilhelm’s Portland Memorial Funeral Home, the first and oldest crematory west of the Mississippi. Located in Portland, Oregon, Wilhelm’s is a funeral home, mausoleum and crematory — a large operation and one that’s been in business for over 100 years. Portland Memorial Funeral Home merged just last year with Wilhelm’s Funeral Home. And, in an interesting turn of events, there are plans to convert the former Portland Memorial Funeral Home into a folk music venue serving wine and beer as reported by the local neighborhood newspaper, The Bee.

Each year on Memorial Day, for one day only, the buildings and grounds are open to the public. There was an article in the Oregonian that profiled one of the private and most elaborate family tombs containing the Rae family sarcophagi — which is only opened for 90 minutes each year, on Memorial Day. The Rae’s were a prominent family in turn of the century Portland that made their money from the timber industry. The “Rae Room”, as it is known, is the most elaborate of the tombs on the grounds. It has its own private entrance, ornate wrought iron gates, imported Italian marble and solid bronze sarcophagi.

I spent a few hours on the grounds and in the vast network of buildings exploring the labyrinthine levels and myriad, never-ending corridors. It’s really quite impressive and the blend of old and new makes it an especially interesting place to explore. New construction blends well with original architecture, although there is certainly a feeling of distinct and discreet change in tone and style as one enters a new section. One of the highlights of my visit was seeing the various urns in their “niches” as they are called. The variety is pretty astounding — from humble and plain to ornate and fancy, with the standing of Portland’s wealthiest and middle-class in evidence. In death, it seems, we are all still not equal. As a librarian, I was especially taken with the urns that take the form of books on a shelf. Whole families have been memorialized in this way with mother, father, son, daughter “bound” together and held upright by bookends on either side. Since I forgot my camera that day, I was only able to take pictures with the camera on my phone — and they unfortunately didn’t turn out very well. Plus, I think you had to get the permision of management to take photos anyway. Here’s a great example of what I’m talking about. It’s an image from the Oakland Columbarium.

I highly recommend visiting this unique Portland landmark if you get the chance — and as a member of the living if you can.