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(Archive) Touching Death

An urn embraced by a skin like texture, injected with the DNA of the deceased.

This project was part of DDW 2022
Touching Death Reconstruction — © Lauren Raaijmakers

We were violently confronted with death at the start of the pandemic in 2020. We were forced to rethink our approach to mourning. The symbiotic urn created by Lauren Raaijmakers (1996) after her grandfather passed away by Covid-19 presents a new approach to our mourning rituals and objects.

The pandemic and our mourning process

The pandemic gravely changed our ways of interacting with death, the dying and the mourning process. The fear the world felt all at once made etchings in our memories.
We were forced to keep our distance and meet online, grieve on our own. Yet where possibilities diminish, new prospects arise. It was heart wrenching when my grandfather died of Covid-19 and I wasn’t able to say goodbye or hold my grandmother's hand during the process. I was forced to grieve in a different manner. It was then that the thought of an urn embraced by skin came about. The urn evokes touch and closeness. It demands a different approach towards the object. Not a stagnant ‘death’ object but one of interaction and life.

The abject and the skin of milk

The urn does not only evoke touch. The complicated interaction between the dead and the living may also evoke abjection. In Julia Kristeva’s “Powers of Horror '' she explains how the Abject appears to the self as a threat to system and order. Therefore one tries to expel the Abject to establish oneself. Within the urn there is a tension between the living and the dead. It aims to disturb a system where death and life are strictly separated. Embracing the ashes with a skin like texture that carries the DNA. Evoking touch for an object that is deemed to be untouchable. The contradictory structures, shapes and natural materials leave a sense of unease.

The hair, the blood and the scoby

The skin-like texture from the urn is made out of a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (scoby) which grows on top of kombucha. The mother scoby keeps bringing forth daughter scoby’s and they start growing their own family tree. Introduced into this family of scoby’s is the DNA of the deceased, the hair, the blood and the isolated DNA. The long family bloodlines running through the skin like texture embracing one's ashes. Until the urn will start to break down itself.

Play video

test phase - wet scoby with DNA — © Lauren Raaijmakers

test phase - dried scoby with DNA — © Lauren Raaijmakers

test phase - miniature urn — © Lauren Raaijmakers

test phase - big wet scoby with DNA