Alt-Death?

Alt-Death.com is a curated compendium of the ways in which an emerging counterculture of artists, designers, therapists, academics, ritualists and activists are changing the mortality narrative.

My name is Tony Wolf and I was born and raised in New Zealand. My background is in what governments and corporations think of as the “cultural sector” and most of my career has been spent as a tutor/choreographer in the performing arts industry (theater, TV, movies and video games) and as a writer. Now based in Chicago, USA, my personal passions include museum studies, fringe history and similar esoterica, and I’ve written several books and produced two independent documentaries along those lines.

My abiding interest in mortality dates back to my early 20s, when I lost two close friends; one to suicide and the other, in 1993, to a motorcycle accident. Building on a long-term affinity for “creative, secular spirituality” – what I now think of as Poetic Faiths – I devised and enacted my own memorial rituals; now, three decades later, I’m very glad that I did that.

In 1998 and again in 2003 I produced several large-scale ritual performances challenging entrenched mainstream cultural perspectives on death, inspired by the themes of the European Danse Macabre and the Mexican Dia de Muertos. Thereafter I continued to develop my own practice privately, drawing upon diverse sources including:

  • Oscar Wilde’s writing on the “Confraternity of the Faithless”
  • Federico Garcia Lorca’s Play and Theory of the Duende
  • the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
  • the poetic Paganism of Tom Robbins
  • the Aquarian idealism of Liong and Faye
  • the carpe diem spirit of the Dead Poets Society
  • Knightriders
  • early ā€˜70s folk rock
  • Terry Davisā€™ novel Vision Quest
  • the heroic existentialism of ancient Icelandic philosophy
  • shugendo-style bone games
  • the bohemian death-positivity of Harold and Maude
  • etc.

After my father died in 2016 I became increasingly immersed in the contemporary death-positive movement. In December of 2020 I traveled back to New Zealand for a vacation and family reunion marking my mother’s 80th birthday. While there, we received the devastating news of a death in the American branch of the family. Weeks after we returned to the USA, the COVID-19 lockdowns began. With time on my hands and mortality on my mind, I set about organizing, augmenting and refining the worldview I’d been cultivating for many years; some of the fruits of that work are presented on this site.

My Way of Life and Death essays and video presentations have been featured via Morbid Anatomy, the Atlas Obscura, the Spiritual Naturalist Society , Reimagine and OnlySky. Between July 2021-July 2022 I created and curated the public art installation “… with hope that this assemblage of rubble would become a shrine …“. In October of 2021 I convened and participated in the inaugural Memoria Symposium and I occasionally teach the popular Art of Ritual course via Morbid Anatomy. In September of 2023 I collaborated with artists Virgil Wong and Bridget Carey on a virtual reality near-death experience and memento mori ritual event, held at the Morbid Anatomy Library in Brooklyn, NYC.

I have a particular interest in new forms of thanatopositive ritual art and in the potentials of re-enchanting the secular world through the exercise of Poetic Faith in Lorca’s duende, imagined as an initiatory creative force inspired by the truth of mortality. My totem in this work is the rosy skull.

My questions are; how can we, as mortal humans, best lead meaningful and fulfilling lives? What is the art of being well-remembered? What is the Way of Life and Death, for ourselves and for our world?

In that spirit – memento mori ergo carpe diem.