Short

EVERNESS – the art of being dead

When somebody passes away, the way in which they are remembered and commemorated is left largely to the friends and family they leave behind. But what if living individuals could exercise more choices regarding their death and legacy? Cemeteries in the UK offer the option of booking a plot in advance of one’s death. Should the living then not be able to determine more than merely the space they will occupy in the cemetery after they die? Should they not also be able to book the kind of space they would like to occupy in their relatives’ memory? If they can choose their plot, and whether they will be cremated or buried in a casket, could they not also choose the way in which they would like to be dead?  People use a certain style in order to design their way of living, their own art of living. Could not a similar sense of style be deployed in fashioning different modes of being dead?

Everness is a speculative design and architecture project that explores the possibility of offering the living an opportunity to design their own ways of being dead.  Everness would provide individuals with the ability to curate environments of remembrance that reflect their lived experiences and that serve as a kind of “conceptual cemetery” after their passing. These “conceptual cemeteries” would be a kind of personalised archive of the deceased’s memories that would contain the deceased’s most formative lived experiences and thoughts. Everness would allow the ‘Not-Yet-Dead’ to design how these experiences and thoughts are organised and represented in the archive that will survive them. The existence of such an archive would create a new representational space for the ‘Others’1Relatives and friends of the deceased; those who have been left behind to reflect upon and reinterpret the life of the person who has died. This process of ongoing re-interpretation of their memories of and relationship with the deceased person can be called the art of being dead.

Companies that seek to maintain a connection between the deceased and their relatives already exist, but their approach is often underpinned by the notion of death as a disorder or malfunction depriving humans of their loved ones. These enterprises seek mechanisms of bringing back the departed from the after-life, of designing digital representations or digital legacies that can live on forever. ‘liveson’2https://twitter.com/_Liveson is an app that was designed to work within twitter but due to great controversies after it was first launched, it is not being used anymore, for instance, analyses the entirety of an individual’s tweets, learns the patterns in their language and continues to tweet on the deceased’s behalf from the grave. The ‘lifenaut’ website3https://www.lifenaut.com/ allows people to record memories and experiences in the form of mind files (mind files reflect one’s digital life. They are a compilation of saved digital reflections of one’s self, such as stored emails, chats, blogs, texts, uploaded photos and videos, search histories, which might be used in the future by artificial intelligence software in order to reanimate and recreate the essence of a person so that they might inhabit cybernetic environments or be transferred into another form, such as a robot, a hologram or an avatar. In this way, the surviving loved ones can hope to one day interact with an exact robotic copy of the departed that is always there to have a chat or keep one’s company over dinner. ‘eternime’4http://eterni.me/ preserves thoughts, stories, and memories and creates avatars as a digital alter ego that lives on after people die. These companies rely on people’s insistence on maintaining their existing relationship with the deceased, of extending their lost presence into the future. They struggle to design a digital immortality, reflecting human vanity and its desperate struggle to defeat death.

Instead of trying to replicate the living in non-human, digital form after they die, Everness embraces death as a condition distinct from life with its own set of limitations and possibilities. Everness seeks to extend the Dead’s presence beyond their death in the form of a dynamic and evolving conversation with the Others. According to Derrida, the act of creating an archive both records an event and at the same time provides space for the consideration of that which has not been originally considered, grasped, or experienced during the actual event. It follows then that the archive is a site for the potentially possible. In the case of Everness, the archive is a place where secrets can be kept safe, in safety deposit boxes that only the Dead, while alive, can access. The Dead assigns these deposit boxes to be opened by specific people that are provided with a key after their death . This grants the Dead the possibility of expressing those facets of their identities that they kept secret during their lifetime from beyond the grave. The archive that the Dead leaves behind becomes a site of ongoing discovery and re-interpretation for the Others —a dialogue between the living and the dead. The Dead might not be able to respond in this dialogue, but they can at least speak.

Diagram representing the aims of Everness and the provided services in four successive stages, described in detail below.

 

Archival area: private safe deposit boxes provided by Everness for the customers to store their personal archives in various forms (scripts, drawings, photographs, diaries, recordings, etc.)

 

Examples of private archives processed and interpreted by creative employees that form the archives and produce representations of them.

 

After the Dead passes away, Everness would notify the relatives and friends of the deceased that they now have access to the Dead’s archive.  Through their engagement with the archive, the Others begin to observe, interpret, and translate both the traces of existence left behind by the Dead as well as the ways in which the Dead has chosen to preserve and represent them. Thus, the Dead triggers a kind of dialogue with the Others out of which grow new kinds of memories and interpretations of the Dead. In order to enhance this process of reinterpretation, Everness would have a variety of designers, artists, musicians, and writers on staff who would work with the Others to create new representations and interpretations of the archival material. These works of art, music and writing would be added to the Dead’s archive such that the process of remembering and interpreting the Dead becomes an ongoing evolution.

Examples of public presentation in galleries of the representations and re-imaginations of the archival material. 

 

Based on the decision of the Dead (as specified in the will, and also taking into account permission from the Others), Everness permits the public to access the representations of the private archive. The material produced by the creative workers is exposed to a wider network of potential communication and interpretation. The ensuing dialogue with the public creates an additional way of being dead. This could occur either in an online space, or in a real space such as a gallery exhibition. A dialogue unfolds with unknown Others, observers without previous relations to the Dead, who only enter into communication with the deceased following and due to their death. This creates a situation in which strangers seek to navigate the individuality of the Dead only after the latter’s subjectivity in the real world has already been erased. The space of collective memory created would be constantly updated as relatives and friends and the public upload new material and comment on the existing contents of the archive. Re-commissioning new creative employees to reinterpret the archive could also be a means of updating the artwork exhibited in the public archives.

Everness website, where the representations of the ‘ways of being dead’ are uploaded and can be accessed by the public, who can comment on each artwork.

Examples of re-interpreted private archives. Different creative employees can be commissioned at regular intervals in order to produce another interpretation-representation of the original archive, as a new kind of commemorative ritual.

 

Everness provides the Not-Yet-Dead with a say in how they would like to be engraved in Others’ memories. They can indicate their preferred ways of being dead, which their relatives and friends may then use in the process of redesigning their legacy. Everness reconsiders the notion of death by bringing together the deceased and the Others in an ongoing dialogue. Unlike heirlooms that are left behind to fade in time and become distanced objects that no longer maintain their original significance in relation to their owners, the archives of Everness would reflect the subject’s lived experiences and would be used to redefine and generate new ways of remembrance. These new modes of being dead become the product of another kind of art, the art of being dead. This kind of art is given its content by the Not-Yet-Dead, is interpreted by the Dead’s friends and family, is represented by the creative workers who play the role of mediators, and lastly is re-interpreted through the perspective of unrelated observers. A dialogue-network is created between the various parties, transferring the traces of the dead’s existence into a space of dynamic and collective memory. Everness lays the groundwork for a new kind of memorialisation process. The space inhabited by the Dead is no longer limited to the plot physically occupied in the cemetery but has expanded to become a dynamic and evolving space of collective memory in which the Dead continues to have some degree of agency.

References   [ + ]

1. Relatives and friends of the deceased; those who have been left behind
2. https://twitter.com/_Liveson is an app that was designed to work within twitter but due to great controversies after it was first launched, it is not being used anymore
3. https://www.lifenaut.com/
4. http://eterni.me/

Maria Tsilogianni is an architect and critical design practitioner who recently graduated from Goldsmiths University of London with an MA in Design Critical Practice