Human Ash Sculptures


Written by Madeleine Cowley
31 Tuesday 31st May 2011

Why did you decide to use human ashes?

As designers, the issue that we have tried to address is the way technology (or humanity) has made it possible to extend our lives almost endlessly. Yet what is eternal life good for if we continue being excessive consumers who strive for more and more products, regardless of the consequences?

If we continue our ongoing drive for progress, one day we might find ourselves turned into the very products we create. We are material substance (waste) just like the products we make. Worldwide 465,000 litres of human ash are produced a day, which could be reused through 3D printing. With our method we could offer grandpa a ‘second life’ as a useful rocking chair or even as a vacuum cleaner or a toaster. Would we become more attached to these commodities if they were made from our loved ones?

How did the ‘Consume or Conserve’ project come about?

We participated in the Grand-Hornu Images exhibition in Belgium in 2010, the exhibition was dedicated to the idea of progress within design, designers were asked to respond to problems such as technology, mobility, consumption, the rituals of life and death, wellbeing, innovation and the environment. For a long time, progress was embodied in the industrial creation of new products, products that responded to real needs and aimed to improve daily life. The designer held a key place in the creation of these objects and was often associated with the ideology of progress. Taking this past role into consideration, it seems that now is the right time to invite designers to rethink this notion of progress. What responsibility does the designer have in relation to the industry and more generally to the public?

Can you describe the production process?

Human ashes, adhesive and water are combined in a process of rapid prototyping or 3D printing.

The Weight of a Honeycomb. Honeycombs have been used in allegories as an attribute of the golden age, diligence and labour. Here the scales weigh the value of this attribute, while the bee questions the meaning of a single life.

Where did the inspiration come from for the still lives you made?

We used the visual language that can be found in 16th and 17th century Vanitas still life painting. We found that these paintings give a hint of human presence even though they only depict objects for example fruit, flowers and insects. Paintings executed in the Vanitas style are supposed to be a reminder of the meaninglessness of earthly life, they represent the transience of life, the futility of pleasure, and the certainty of death. We created three still lives in which this symbolism is visualised. They are digitally fabricated out of human ashes and question the value of life and objects.

Detail from Birds and Toaster. The bird can be found on vases in still life paintings. Here it represents life and death as it’s reborn out of it’s own ashes. The toaster symbolises this incineration. 

How would you respond to this work being described as macabre?

We want our products to be talked about, we want to provoke a dialogue so any response is welcome.

Dung Beetle and Handheld Vacuum. Dung, which could be seen as waste by some is used by dung beetles for either food storage or as a brooding ball, thus maintaining and producing life. 

Will you be taking commissions for the ash still lives in future?

It isn’t our first intention to produce sculpture from human ash in future. We have been pleased to hear that people have expressed an interest in being reincarnated in such a way.

Would you consider having your own remains used in this way?

Yes, I would like to be made into a small radio.

More information about the design Studio can be found here

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