One of the most eye-opening experiences I’ve had regarding death was on a tour of The Island Crematorium in Cork, Ireland. I’d never been inside a crematorium, or funeral home for that matter, and I was very taken aback by how the layout and architecture of the crematorium impacted one’s thoughts as well as emotions. As one of the directors led us around, I found that the atmosphere was very peaceful and seemed to be separated from the outside world; perhaps this was due to the high walls and tunnels or that it is on an island. The director took us into the different sections and rooms of the crematorium and explained what occurred or happened during funerals. He discussed how a ceremony would typical run and even showed us what the audience would see when the body would be taken back to be cremated at the end of the ceremony. The casket laid in a little cut out section of the wall in the front of the room and painted glass doors book-ended each side. Once the ceremony ended, the doors closed together, hiding the casket. To see this acted out, it was very surreal and also I felt like the closing of the doors could act as a type of closure for the friends and family of the deceased. The director took us then to a room with all the urns people could choose from. It was interesting to see the variety in the different kinds of urns. They ranged from small boxes, to vase-like urns or decorative jars and there was even one that was inside of a teddy bear. This tour made me think about how important it is for us, as humans, to deal with death through ritual and made me reflect on how I think about death.
Here is a link to the site of The Island Crematorium. It has a really nice virtual tour of The Island Crematorium and I definitely recommend using it!
The presentation of art/artifacts in museums involve the art’s value, respect for the artist[s], and accessibility by the public, but how does this change when presenting subjects such as human remains? Everyone handles the subject of death differently which applies to how people handle seeing death as well, especially human remains. How can a museum handle the issue of presenting human remains? One interesting experience I have had for the display of human remains is of the bog bodies in the National Museum of Archaeology in Dublin, Ireland.
My expectations differed greatly than what I saw. I expected to see glass cases throughout the room with the bodies inside. However, there were tall painted cylindrical columns with information about the bodies interspersed throughout the room. These information panels on the outside of the columns told the viewer everything about the body itself, the history and also had a faint sketch of the body. If someone wanted to learn about the bog bodies but did not want to see the bodies themselves, this way of presentation benefited their interests. If one wanted to view the actual body, they had to enter the opening in the column which went down inside of the column to where the body was located.
Before this visit I had never thought that the presentation of human remains in a museum may disturb some individuals but I think this way of presentation done by the National Museum of Archaeology was very sensitive and thoughtful for all visitors. It allowed those who wanted to see the bodies to see them but also hid the bodies away so those who did not want to see the bodies didn’t have to see them.
This sensitivity to presentation is also apparent in the Michael C. Carlos museum. The mummy that is on display is located in one of the side rooms so if a visitor does not want to see it they do not have to enter this offset room. The sensitivity to the presentation of deceased is an important aspect museums have to face when wanting to display human remains.