By Tony Wolf
Since the late 1990s I’ve been sporadically developing a philosophically rational, ecologically sound and communally festive approach to mortality, inspired by the motto memento mori ergo carpe diem – “remember death and therefore seize the day”. My interpretation of carpe diem encompasses Epicureanism as well as the perspective that a meaningful life constitutes the best we can hope for in terms of legacy.
Part of this project involves creating works of art and craft representing the thanatopositive ethos.
Marottes are the most elemental form of rod puppets, common to many cultures and time periods. In the Western tradition they’re most often associated with the figure of the court jester, whose “bauble” typically featured a miniature facsimile of a head, mounted on a wooden wand and adorned with particolored ribbons and jingling bells. A jester’s marotte was used in the exercise of their unique license to disrupt the courtly paradigm.
These flower-skull marottes represent a commingling of medieval Persian and European, pre-Colonial African and modern Mexican traditions within the gestalt of the post-1960s Western counter-culture.
The stark skulls and black ribbons, of course, teach the memento mori. The colorful flowers (made of sculpted and painted pine-cones), iridescent ribbons and brass bells symbolize the carpe diem ethos; most particularly, the notion that the soul might be usefully visualized as those aspects of one’s life that are worthy of respect and celebration after death. The wands are selected and harvested from large branches fallen from local trees, then stripped of bark, sanded and stained.
I’ve been making the marottes as a handcraft/hobby, but – trusting that it will one day be safe for people to gather again – I do intend to put them to more active use.
Until then and as always – memento mori ergo carpe diem.