Noted: How We Remember the Dead
Two common factors that unite us all — birth and death — are moments lived beyond our realm, too overpowering for mere mortals to consciously experience. Yet the latter remains the greatest mystery; without any understanding of life after death, all we can do is memorialize those who have left us, creating shrines that comfort the living more than the dead. “We rely on [memorial objects] to safeguard fugitive memories that would otherwise inexorably fade, then vanish,” explains design critic and art director Angela Reichers. “Even when there is no access to the narrative — when no one is available to tell the tale — memorial objects possess a persistent quality at once spooky and evocative.” Over the years, our tributes to the deceased have taken many forms: gravestones, pyramids, urns, jewelry and locks of hair. Recently, these memorials have evolved to meet the changing trends of a modern society.
The most recent trends in postmortem memorials involve repurposing ashes into a useful object. My Holy Smoke is a company that fills bullets with cremated ashes, allowing loved ones to use at their own discretion to honor the “outdoors person in your life.” For the deceased music lover, And Vinyly presses ashes into a 12-inch LP for your listening pleasure. You must supply the audio, as the site states, “This can be music, a vocal recording or complete silence to let loved ones hear your pops and crackles.”
As a growing percentage of our daily lives exists digitally, expect to see more memorials that reflect our online lives. Designer Michele Gauler offers another solution called Digital Remains — a small, silver external hard drive that downloads and preserves the digital life of someone who has passed on. Of course the web reminds us that not all memorials have to be tangible; advertised as “The World’s Virtual Cemetery,” iTomb offers a space for a digital memorial to a loved one.
Do these contemporary memorial objects trivialize death, or are they a modern coping mechanism, lifting weight in the wake of tragedy? Angela Reichers, whose upcoming Sites of Memory project highlights the forgotten memorial sites of our cities, reminds us that perhaps we shouldn’t make broad assumptions about others’ tributes: “Since memorials themselves are mute despite the wealth of information they possess, it is up to the mourner to recount the tale in whatever way is most palatable to him or her.” In the end, the memory of our loved ones is what counts, whether they be buried, cremated or pressed into vinyl for one final dance party send-off.
How do you want to be remembered?