Passed Away Salon

Pathology and poetry

25 Mar 2009
25 Mar 2009

The Passed Away Salon of Wednesday 25 March 2009 was a special evening about death, with presentations in which death was approached from many different perspectives. Pathologist Frank van de Goot spoke about his job, Marije ten Brink and Kathrin Hero about their website Tot Zover Jij & Ik, poet Frank Starik talked about 'Lonely Funeral' and Emile Zile ended the night with his performance '0 views. 0 comments. 0 responses'. The evening was a great mix of presentations that reflected and commented on each other.


Beeld uit '0 views. 0 comments. 0 responses' van Emile Zile. - Foto gemaakt tijdens de Passed Away Salon bij Mediamatic.

Pragmatic and romantic

Frank van de Goot kicks off the evening with a lively lecture about his work as a pathologist. He briefly speaks about the history of pathology and about the different types of pathology practised by him and his colleagues. He then proceeds to show the audience some of the cases he comes across, with explicit images of corpses.

Van de Goot emphasizes again and again that it is important not to jump to conclusions and to objectively describe what you are looking at. He calls this 'the art of restraint'. For instance, it is not correct to name a cut in the skin of a corpse's body a 'knife cut'. It's better to call this a 'sharp edged perforation of the skin'. After all, you never know for certain what has happened!

The practical approach to death of Frank de Goot is counterbalanced by Frank Starik's story about the project Eenzame Uitvaart, or 'Lonely Funeral'. With a poem Starik pays poetic homage to every deceased person in Amsterdam who does not have anyone visiting the funeral. As opposed to the pathologist' motto of 'Describe what you see, not what you think', the poet's role is to describe exactly what is not there. With the limited information available at the city's Social Service, the poet has to compose his poem.

By writing his poem, Starik wants to 'return the story' to the deceased. In the same way that people give a narrative structure to their life every day, Starik tries to reconstruct the story of someone who is unable to do so himself. Finally, Starik reads a couple of poems from his book De Eenzame Uitvaart. Frank turns out to be an excellent reader and the audience wants to hear more!

Expressions of grief

Marije ten Brink and Kathrin Hero are designers of the online monument Tot Zover Jij & Ik. During the Passed Away Salon they give an introduction to their project. Tot Zover Jij & Ik is a website that relatives can contribute to with a memory of their beloved. Marije and Kathrin show how the site works and talk about the dilemmas they came across in designing.

The audience criticizes certain choices that the users of the site are forced to make. For example, users are required to describe the deceased with a color, and with characterizations such as 'my miracle', 'my enigma' or 'the apple of my eye'. With these options Marije and Kathrin aim to make the user think about what the deceased means to them. They also want to help people who have difficulty finding the right words. But these options have a different effect on some members of the audience. They feel it's forcing them to be sentimental and and ask for the option to fill in their own descriptions.

Emile Zile's performance is not only a beautiful ending to the evening, but also offers another perspective on the discussion surrounding Tot Zover Jij & Ik. '0 views. 0 comments. 0 responses' is Emile Zile's collection of YouTube videos that are made in the memory of a deceased friend or family member. Emile selected videos that are accompanied by the music of "I'll be Missing You" by Puff Daddy, a song that is apparently used a lot in these memorials. During the performance Emile first shows a few videos in sequence and then samples the images and music into a mesh.

The similarities between the videos are striking. Even though they were all made independently, the imagery and music is exactly the same: slideshows with photographs from the childhood of the beloved slowly fade into recent pictures, with texts that express how much the person is missed, and the constant sounds of "I'll be Missing You" in the background. Although everyone has the freedom to creatively express their feelings of grief on YouTube, it turns out that most people prefer working in an existing format.

Perhaps this indicates that the restrictive possibilities of Tot Zover Jij & Ik are often accepted as the helping hand they are meant to be, and not just perceived as a source of irritation. There are many ways of looking at death and many ways to grieve. These can exist side by side or overlap. Eventually people will find their own way of thinking about death and about the dead. And for those who are not thought about, there is always Frank Starik!