During the past year that I’ve been working on this blog, a lot of people have asked me – aside from the general inquisitions about my seemingly morbid interest in anything dead and dying: “Claudia, what is this death awareness thing exactly? What does it mean?!” As the concept of death awareness is popping up out of obscurity a lot recently, let me explain it to you.
Warren Ellis is a graphic novelist and author, known for his acclaimed comic book series ‘Transmetropolitan’ and his best-selling novel ‘Gun Machine’. He’s also shared his reflections on technological and cultural matters on several platforms like VICE and Wired and is currently working on his latest novel ‘Normal’, a provocative techno-thriller that comes out later this year. I picked his brain on morbid matters and his own contemplation of death.
Readers of this blog often reach out to me to tell me they appreciate the information they find on here or to share their own experiences. Some of these stories truly move me and sometimes they inspire me to share them with you in return.
I got an email from Ruben the other day, a musician from Germany who lost his sixteen year old daughter. He told me he agreed with my urge to break the taboos around the subject of death, as through the death of his daughter he experienced this taboo in his surroundings himself. Here is Ruben’s story.
Through her photography, Ellen Rogers (1983, Norfolk, United Kingdom) uses mythological and religiously inspired themes in an almost ethereal way. She uses traditional techniques in her work, like hand coloring her analogue prints, and thereby gives them new dimensions. I have been following Ellen’s work for many years now and am thrilled to share this interview with you where she tells me about her insights into the ultimate unknown – that which is never possible to capture, but which lingers on in her art so clearly as well as all the other extremes of the human experience: death.
On a gorgeous summer day last week I decided to venture out to a tiny village on the outskirts of Amsterdam: Ouderkerk aan de Amstel. Of course I was on a death-related mission. This picturesque town happens to be home to the oldest Jewish cemetery in the Netherlands, Beth Haim. I had seen a few images of the place online and was instantly triggered by the intricate tombstone carvings I spotted. Little did I know that this place is the ultimate heaven on earth for a graveyard-girl like myself. Warning 1: this post is very photo heavy. And – warning 2 – it may provoke the sudden urge to visit Ouderkerk aan de Amstel as soon as possible.
It is commonly believed that through dreams, our subconscious mind processes everything we experience in our waking state. Mixed into surreal adventures that often lack a sense of logic, our dreams can vary between euphoric astral adventures in which we are able to levitate or travel through time, and the darkest of nightmares that include such horrific things, we hardly understand upon awakening how we could even come up with that. As Freud called it “the royal road to the unconscious,” dreams about death and dying can suggest a phase of transition or transformation. But when death actually takes place in our reality, we tend to dream about this specific death a lot. Let me share my death dreams with you, and explore how the process of grief continues on while we are sound asleep.
Earlier this month I visited Oberhausen for Acherontic Arts festival with my friend and partner-in-crime photographer Nona Limmen. We had one day left in Germany after the festival and decided to visit the nearby city of Duisburg. Now to be honest, Duisburg itself wasn’t very impressive, but it did turn out to have an epic cemetery!
Dutch movie director Tom Six (Alkmaar, the Netherlands, 1973) is best known for his horror trilogy ‘The Human Centipede’ – a cult movie so shocking it has been banned in several countries. I was interested in learning more about the person behind this controversial work of film-art so I asked Tom what inspired him to make this, and how he really feels about the inevitable human end of human life that comes with death.
Dutch artist Janno Hahn (1980) is a “typo-graphic-designer” who combines his own distinct style of typography with graphic design in his numerous projects, varying from printed typefaces to art installations. As he also creates tombstone designs and his work has a certain air of existentialism, I thought it was a good idea to ask Janno about his thoughts on death and the process of creating a custom made hand carved tombstone.
Christian Fuchs (Lima, 1979) is a Peruvian artist who gives new meaning to the concept of ancestor worship. Through his photography he transforms himself into his relatives by creating self-portraits inspired by their portraits and paintings. He brings them back from the past, using himself as both a vessel and a canvas. I spoke with Christian about his intriguing family history, his various psychic experiences and the impact of the recent death of his beloved grandmother.
Through her detailed drawings and paintings which contain a strong narrative element, Elisa Pesapane (1979) gives expression to the subjects that most inspire her. With references to the world of literature, she creates images that have a deep personal resonance. I had a humbling conversation with her about her two stillborn daughters, processing these experiences through creativity, and the idea behind her stunning Danse Macabre drawings.
After my mother passed away last month, I took a trip to Iceland to clear my head and renew my energy. The landscape and climate perfectly fit my mood, yet it being unknown territory put things in a different perspective and helped me transition into a new beginning. I visited two cemeteries during my stay in Iceland’s winter wonderland: one in downtown Reykjavik and a smaller one in Vik. If you’re into snow covered graves and tiny wooden churches, I have some treats in store for you!
As my mother entered the final phase of her life due to terminal cancer, these past few months I was faced with the challenge of putting A Course in Dying into practice. What was most remarkable to me during this process is how some of my experiences were not at all like how I had imagined them to be. In the light of truth and the ultimacy of reality, I feel it is important to share this honest account with you. To give you an insight into the various scenarios of how we cope with death and loss.