Designing Death: Challenges and Aesthetics for the 21st Century
Date: Wednesday 15th March 2017
Time: 18:00 – 21:00
Venue: University of Greenwich, Stockwell Street Building, 10 Stockwell Street, Greenwich SE10 9BD
Death is personal.
Death is social.
Death is constructed.
Death is meaningful and meaningless.
Death is ritualised but also intuitive.
Death is annihilation and transcendence.
Death is art and science.
Death is human.
Dying is one of the most personal experiences we will have in our lives and yet there are still norms for what bereavement and funerals should look and feel like.
This panel will consider the growing movement which questions whether any models or systems of categorisation still speak to our contemporary understanding of death. Funerals in the UK now have more scope then ever to be a richly personal occasion and design is contributing to this movement. The funeral industry is adapting to the contemporary need for more individualised rituals and people’s desire to use funerals as a creative opportunity to further embody or understand the lives of the dead in an individual way. These shifts challenge what the dead mean to us and how bodies and environments merge to create new associations and experiences of death.
As people begin to identify themselves as non-religious or explore incorporating a plurality of religious identities that combine and augment existing rituals and practices the question of what to do with the dead, both literally and socially, becomes ever more complex. Contemporary design methods are uniquely placed to contribute to the development of new rituals and practices around death and bereavement. As design has been opened up beyond the world of products and has begun to intervene and work within systems under labels such as service designer, experience designer and co-designer, the idea of designing for a purpose that puts emotion and experience at the center of the design is establishing its place for a range of companies and services.
The Design Council’s May 2015 post Reinventing death for the twenty-first century reflects this shift by detailing some of the challenges and ways that design could intervene within end of life care, both in terms of the appendages linked to dying at home but also in terms of new rituals, breaking taboos and the introduction of new technologies where appropriate. Additionally design competitions such as Designboom’s Design for Death, the Future Cemetery Project and OPENIDEO’s Reimaging End of Life have opened up this topic for discussion within the design community.
Ivor Williams is a designer who specialises in death and dying, through his work as Senior Design Associate at the Helix Centre and his research and consultancy group Being and Dying. He explores the use of technology-for-good as co-founder of the design company, Humane Engineering. Their first product, Cove, is a music-maker designed to support grieving adolescents.
Louise Winter is a writer and the founder of Poetic Endings – a modern funeral service offering ceremonies of style, substance, relevance and meaning. She’s also the editor of the Good Funeral Guide – the only independent resource that exists to help the public get the funeral they want.
Dr. John Troyer is the Director of the Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath. His interdisciplinary research focuses on contemporary memorialisation practices, concepts of spatial historiography, and the dead body’s relationship with technology. Dr. Troyer is also a theatre director and installation artist with extensive experience in site-specific performance across the United States and Europe. He is a co-founder of the Death Reference Desk website (http://www.deathreferencedesk.org), the Future Cemetery Project (http://www.futurecemetery.org) and a frequent commentator for the BBC.
Dr Ros Taylor MBE DL
Ros is Clinical Director at Hospice UK. She combines her role at the charity with her work as a palliative doctor at the Royal Marsden Hospital in Fulham, London, one of the world’s leading specialist cancer treatment hospitals. Ros joined Hospice UK as a director in October 2014. Prior to that she had been a trustee at the charity since 2009 and was also the Director of the Hospice of St Francis in Berkhamsted, a position she held from 1996 until 2015. She has a special interest in medical education, medical humanities, ‘whole person care’ and has lectured widely, both nationally and internationally. Ros is also a Deputy Lieutenant in the County of Hertfordshire and was awarded an MBE for Services to Hospice Care in 2014.
Stacey Pitsillides is a Lecturer in Design at the Creative Professions and Digital Arts Department, University of Greenwich. Her research considers how technology and design shift our understanding of death and bereavement. As part of this research she has curated events for public engagement that question legacy and aesthetics. These include Love After Death for Nesta’s FutureFest (https://www.loveafterdeath.co.uk/) and Material Legacies for the Stephen Lawrence Gallery (http://www.greenwichunigalleries.co.uk/material-legacies/). In addition to this she is on the standing committee for the Death Online Research Symposium and has been the co-facilitator of three unconference events discussing issues of death and digitality.