I recently read an article in the New York Times by Caitlin Doughty called “If You Want to Give Something Back to Nature, Give Your Body” about human composting or natural organic reduction.The rituals of death and how we navigate them as a society have always fascinated me.
The process Doughty describes is revolutionary in terms of burial practice and environmental practices. Since I read Jessica Mittford’s 1963 “The American Way of Death”, an expose on the funeral industry, I have thought of embalming as a horrific practice. Human composting is the antithesis of embalming. I think it is fitting that we evaluate all our practices in terms of their environmental impact.
I was searching out antique invoices to work with and came across this beautiful 1922 invoice from Portland Oregon for embalming supplies. I appreciate the contrast of the beauty of the letterhead illustration with the awfulness of the drain tubes listed below. Mysteriously, the invoice was being sold in Canada. I wonder how it got there?
I could not help but be inspired by the human composting article. The hands are from a vintage prayer card and are a strange unnatural hue with the ultra pink and deep purple, which put me in mind of how embalming fluid works with dyes to give a “life-like” appearance to the deceased. The mushrooms become a halo, radiating out, life coming from death. Another piece that also uses this concept is “Death Certificate.”
I am interested in using elements that mimic others although they are not similar at all, for instance the fungus becomes sleeves. I also enjoy the challenge of working with invoices that have an assertive image with strong design. The process becomes something of collaboration, I have to find a way to create something that complements and hopefully enhances what is already there.
See more works from the “Death Becomes Her” here.