Amalia Calderón

Fake-Eco Evaluation: Still Life at Mediamatic

Is death truly sustainable?

Death is one last action - a body left to account for. Some of us have already given it a thought, but how hard have we thought about our upcoming deaths, really?

Mediamatic´s Still Life: death, design and sustainability project envisions the environmental impact of now longer living beings. The Mediamatic team pairs up with funeral director and curator Susanne Duijvestein in a series of lectures and workshops revolving around the rituals and stories of dying.


Still Life: Alkaline Hydrolysis Event at Mediamatic -

Their events have tackled the architecture of death itself: why and how we destroy or preserve our bodies. The Still Life group has presented more sustainable alternatives to processes such as burial and cremation of a body. What about compost?, they say. I´d love to think of myself as unceremoniously dropped into the right container, ready to become fertile hummus. Such projects are already being explored in places like Washington and Belgium, and Mediamatic itself has entertained this line of thought with projects such as Bodies of Change -an installation of mushrooms growing on a mycelium shroud.

What about dissolution? Water cremation, aquamation and resomation are some of the nomenclatures given to “alkaline hydrolysis”, a liquid process originally designed as rapid animal-bodies decomposition. Aquamation emits close to zero greenhouse emissions, but its price surpasses that of cremation -although not that of a traditional burial-. This type of dissolution brings back a war of the dying methods, and also to the old capitalist tale of ecology-as-permanently-unprofitable.

Said tale gets proven untrue time and again, and yet it does lead to a much more pressing issue: is the ecological discourse all too profitable? Bios Urn is a biodegradable urn design that will utilise your ashes as soil to grow into a tree; incidentally, any type of tree you desire. The urn is entirely made of biodegradable material, but it requires cremation first. The Living Urn -pun intended?- costs vary between $129.00 and $159.00, depending on the type of tree. The profitability of these supposed “green deaths” is unaccounted for.

Still Life chooses to re-imagine funerals through their workshop on designing shrouds. Choose your own mortuary textiles, make them sustainable. As uncomfortable as it may seem to some people, we must think more of death.  “Can I afford to make my death ecological?” is perhaps still out of reach for a significant part of the population, not just in economic capacity but also in the matter of rituals. Death is constructed not just as a natural process, but as an interaction of living and dead. Nurture may nuance grief in theory, but what is the real environmental impact of dead bodies? 

Human shrouds are a small part of a larger picture that imposes death as an absence to the living, but also, as a threat to the non-humanly made. Cremation and burial are ecologically toxic processes which continue to claim their dominance in the process of dying, even though their well-known unsustainability. Saying goodbye is hard for one body, yet we can prevent it from killing others: human death must be reinvented. Our own practices of death should reach towards sustainable rituals that defend life through other bodies. Maybe dumping bodies in the river is a more effective form of nurture towards other beings; maybe humanity need not be preserved in a coffin. 

Bodies, bodies, bodies. Human bodies. Our body seems to be sacred -even after death, but the reasoning for this remains obscure. What lingers is a disturbing afterthought: do we have more rights in death than other living beings, or nature itself?