Here is Allison Elizabeth Solso’s 2015 dissertation on the theme of “vernacular memorials”; the often-temporary shrines constructed by bereaved families and friends at the sites of often-violent deaths. An excerpt: My relationship to these spaces was always confused, even as I did my best to maintain respect and some modicum of decorum. The need to … Read more“Beyond Memento Mori: Understanding American Religions Through Roadside Shrines”
By Tony Wolf During late January of 2020 I returned to snowy Chicago from a three-week long vacation and family reunion in sunny New Zealand. During the trip we’d celebrated my mother’s 80th birthday with a surprise party and also received the devastating news of a death in the American branch of the family. At … Read moreThe Vanitas Shrine: Remembering Death and Seizing the Day
Here is the Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca’s mesmerizing 1933 lecture/essay The Theory and Play of the Duende, as translated by A.S. Kline. Some excerpts: Those dark sounds are the mystery, the roots that cling to the mire that we all know, that we all ignore, but from which comes the very substance … Read more“All that has dark sounds has duende”
By Tony Wolf Several years after staging The New Danse Macabre in Wellington, New Zealand, I had become part of the regular faculty of the Stamping Ground Festival of Dance and the Action Arts in Bellingen, Australia. Stamping Ground was the brainchild of veteran dancer/ choreographer Peter Stock, who wanted to encourage greater participation in … Read moreThe New Danse Macabre at Stamping Ground (2003)
Click here to read the Atlas Obscura’s excellent account as to why the New York City skyline is currently lacking an enormous owl-shaped mausoleum. The early 20th century French architect Maurice Guillemot described Andrew O’Connor’s monumental design in these terms: This gigantic bird of night looms up from its pedestal, a startling apparition, enigmatic and … Read moreThe Might-Have-Been 200-Ft. Tall Owl Mausoleum in New York City
Artist Jim McKenzie’s process in sculpting Friends with Death is documented here via stop-motion animation. Reimagining the Reaper is important work as we move towards a more thanatopositive cultural outlook. In McKenzie’s vision, eternal Death pauses for a moment, entranced by the transient beauty of life in the form of a turquoise-winged butterfly. If you’d … Read moreJim McKenzie’s “Friends with Death”
The Reaper has seldom been portrayed so sympathetically as in this depiction by the Baltimore-based artist Robert Warren Harrison, whose work often touches on the theme of mortality.
By Tony Wolf The evocative yin-yang juxtaposition of flowers and skulls has a curious artistic history encompassing Catholic reliquary, 17th century Dutch vanitas painting, Mexican folk-art, Edwardian art nouveau and ’60s psychedelia. In combination, they offer a startling and provocative alternative to the black-cloaked, scythe-wielding figure of the Grim Reaper, whose imagery is inextricably tied … Read moreThe Skull and the Flower
The practice of thanatocentric pilgrimage is too often reduced to tacky “ghost tours” and their “true-crime” equivalent. Fortunately, the Atlas Obscura offers this open-ended list of alternative, off-the-beaten-track memento mori destinations, from Harry Houdini’s grave in Queens, NYC to the Shah-i-Zinda Necropolis in Uzbekistan.
In this short video, visualization artist Martin Janoušek evokes French architect Etienne-Louis Boullée’s imagined cenotaph for Sir Isaac Newton. Boullée designed the “Temple of Death” in 1785 and while it was never built, his pioneering vision has inspired generations of architects. Here’s further commentary on Boullée’s epic notion of memorial from Professor Erika Naginski of … Read moreEtienne-Louis Boullée’s “Temple of Death”