october/ december

How I have started
When I started my research about crisis I decided to explore the area of psychology. I was looking for objects which can help us in crisis situations by being utilized as a psychological support, for example:
- Soft toys (the transitional objects described by Winnicott)
- Dolls
Some dolls can give some psychological support to children who have a physical disability or family issues. In this case, they are used for role playing and storytelling.
Another interesting kind of doll I have found is the Fon statuette. It is linked with the Hoxosuxide ritual of the Fons (an ehtnic group from Benin) for mothers who have lost their baby. After her baby's funeral, the mother receives a little statuette. The whole mourning process she is going to go through is then based on the statuette. The mother starts feeding it, washing it and steadily taking care of it somehow as if it were her own child. After some time has passed and thanks to the coercion of her relatives, she steadily stops considering the statuette as her child and tends more and more to deify and venerate it. What Sigmund Freud called the principle of pleasure (the step of the mourning process before the acceptance of death) gives way to the principle of reality (when death is accepted) and the mother eventually acknowledges the loss of her baby.
(THOMAS L-V., Rites de mort. Pour la paix des vivants, Fayard, Paris, 1985)

The Fon statuette really made a great impression on me because of the ritual process this object would initiate to respond to the crisis of loss. However, I have not carried on researching on loss and the rituals related to it straight away. I decided to research on something more general: the loss of someone.
Therefore I made a map of concepts related to death. From that map, I started to look in the area of ageing, changing and evolving that I have put in red on the map (at that point I was a bit unsure, that is why I did not choose to explore the area of the rites. However I have come back to it a bit later)

I also made a map of design projects dealing with death, funeral rituals and mourning. At that point, as we had a workshop on risk management, I chose to analyse and classify my references with the technique and words used in risk management.

For more references, here is an interesting link about an exhibition called "post mortem" held in Milan in 2006 with the work of the students of the design Academy of Eindhoven.

Here are some of the first experiments I made about ageing and evolution. By experiencemting, I was trying to emphasize these processes of ageing and evolution in materials. I started with natural materials and carried on with more artificial ones (I only put the images of some of them).
My goal at that stage was to experience with materials in order to use them, afterwards, in objects that would evolve over time.

I also made some experiments with MDF, trying to see how it could grow overtime in contact with water. On the left is the piece at it was at the beginning, on the right is the result.

I also experienced with paper. The change which occurs over time in this trial is very quick (it took around 8 minutes to happen).

After the presentation of my research and experiments to my tutors, I was told to come back on the concept of death with which I had started. I was told to define more precisely what I wanted to do in this area and what I was interested in.

Design Writting:

In the meantime, I got interested in the Wabi sabi japanese aesthetic that I found really relevant with the experiments I was just doing on evolution of materials.

As we had to write a little text for the design writing course, in order to make a booklet, I decided to write on the Wabi sabi aesthetic:

Here is my text:

Slow down, look around you, release control and accept things as they are
When asked what wabi-sabi is, most Japanese will shake their head, hesitate and offer a few apologetic words about how difficult it is to explain.

In his short book entitled Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers, Leonard Koren explains that the reason for this difficulty to explain what wabi-sabi is, even for Japanese people, is that there are hardly any books neither teachings of it. Indeed, wabi-sabi implies an intuitive worldview in contradiction with any rational worldview, and is therefore, not easy to sum up in a textbook.
This aesthetic of Wabi Sabi which can also be, in its fullest expression, a way of life has retained my attention because it proposes a apprehension of the things around us which is miles away from the one we usually have in Western societies. Moreover, this apprehension of the world responds quite well to my personal researches on loss, ageing and death.

Whereas Western societies and cultures believe in progress and technology, wabi-sabi is characterized by the fundamental uncontrollability of nature. Wabi sabi is about acceptance and appreciation of nature. It accepts the functioning of the universe where everything is in constant motion, evolving from or devolving towards nothingness. Consequently, nothing is ever complete or perfect and Wabi sabi appreciates this aesthetic of the crude, the corrosion and the contamination. As an aesthetic, Wabi sabi also appreciates looking at the hidden things and getting interest in the ugliness: “to experience wabi-sabi means you have to slow way down, be patient, and look very closely.”
All these ideas about an acceptance of the universe are linked with Buddhism which meditates on impermanence. These meditation are a traditional Buddhist antidote to craving and attachment and therefore to the fear of death and the will to struggle against it. You can really only hope to control and possess something which is unchanging. If life is chameleon, then ultimately it is ungraspable.
Could we, Westerners, by the loan of this Wabi Sabi aesthetic on impermanence, be helped to accept more easily the natural order of things?
It will certainly not lead us to the point where we can live our life more lightly and can seize death as a spiritual opportunity, but it will be a good start just to help Westerners to start considering death as something natural, part of life. It will alleviate therefore, a huge amount of suffering.

New brief:Just after this presentation, we were asked to make a table for the interim show at school. This table should have one leg and this leg should embody our concept. The idea was then to link all the tables together and to present our projects and experiments onto it.

At that stage, as I wasn't sure anymore what my concept was (death?; loss?; rituals?), I was a bit confused. I finally decided to build a table that would die over the time of the exhibition (one week and a half). I had few ideas but I finally decided to make a table that people would interract with and would make it die steadily.

I made a table out of separated square pieces of wood and asked people to take one of them. To encourage them to do so I thought each piece of wood could be one of my business card. Each time people would want to take a business card, they would participate in the process of dying of the table. However, as the point of the exhibition was not really to make contacts, I finally changed my mind.
I choosed thre quotations linked with my project wich are:

Things are either devolving towards, or evolving from, nothingness.

While te universe destructs it also constructs.

New things emerge out of nothingness

Leonard Koren, from his book Wabi sabi: for artists, designers, poets and philosophers.

Onto some of the pieces, I wrote a word of the quotation and left a note for visitors, asking them to participate in the reconstruction of the quotation on the poster by picking a piece from the table.

Table Instructions:
1) Please take one of the leg’s pieces:
(Warning: be aware that by taking a piece of the leg, you make its life shorter.)
2) Check if a word and a number are written on the piece you have taken.
3) If yes, take a piece of tape and use it to stick the piece of wood on the appropriate place on the poster to reconstruct the quotation.

The table did not completely work as I was expecting it. Indeed, it was suppose to fall completely in the end. However as the table top was not well fixed to the table, it did not carry along with it the whole leg. But it still ends up with a nice aesthetic of crisis.


New brief: Two weeks to produce an object following the theme of our crisis.

Research: The five main losses
As I was still unsure what my main focus was, I decided to explore the area of loss.
I found out that a human being throughout his life has to deal with five main losses:

  1. -the losses of personal objects
  2. -the losses linked to the self esteem, the self image (illness/ handicap; unemployment/ retirement).
  3. -the losses linked to one’s belief, hope… (ambitions, ideals…)
  4. -the losses of loved persons (departure; death)
  5. -the losses linked with the development.
    Since the day he was born to the moment he dies, the human being has to support and overcome different bereavements due to different losses. He has to renounce to different things:
  • renunciation of the maternal symbiosis
  • renunciation of the state of child;
  • for the couple, renunciation of the ideal child
  • renunciation of the child who becomes adult
  • renunciation of the youth
  • renunciation of the parents (the protectors they were become protégés)

Losses and rituals
I became particularly interested in these last main losses, the losses linked with the development, because of their link with rituals. As these big losses are universal and difficult to overcome (each stage of the development requires an important psychic reorganization to reach the next stage), “rites of passage” (concept defined by Van Gennep) can be practised to cope with them. The rites of passage are social practices that aim to limit the individual difficulty that each one has to cope with during a loss and to replace it as a universal emotion and issue. Rites of passages help to stop the flow of time for a while in order to accept the loss and the new situation. However, even though rituals are necessary, they are more and more forgotten by our society and tend to disappear.This made me come back on the interest I had at the beginning on the topic of death.

Our relationship to death

I read different texts (wrote during the 70’) stating that death is a topic which puts people in a awkward position and that is tried to be avoided.
They state three main problems:
-dying becomes a technical problem which happens in the hospital (the medicalized death) which brings a distance between the dying person and the family.
-the simplification (or retraction) of the funeral rituals, linked with a certain disappearance of the religious beliefs and the development of individualism, provokes a tendency to forget the deceases. (BAUDRY P., La place des morts, enjeux et rites, L'harmattan, Paris, 1999.).

Here is the statement made by Louis-Vincent Thomas at the end of his book (rites of death):

“A familiarity with death should be recreated, that is to say, we should put a stop to the denial of death on which is based our way of life […] Meanwhile we change the words, two things can be changed about the funeral structures: the invention of a system of symbols in reference with the modern techniques and the re-socialisation of the funerals. The funerary ritual of the future will only fulfil its function as a therapy on these two conditions”.

The funeral rituals
I became particularly interested by the funeral rituals rather than other types of rituals for different reasons:
First of all because the loss of a person through death is certainly the most difficult loss to overcome and rituals are particularly needed in these situations. Indeed, funeral rituals, even if they have been discarded a bit few years ago (hence the statements just quoted above, made during the 70'), have never completely disappeared. Now, there is even a new lease of interest for rituals. However, are the old rites are often not adapted anymore (one of the reason why they were discarded) people have a tendency to change them, to reinvent them.

So, here are the problems with funeral rituals nowadays:

-Most of the time, funeral rituals that exist are not adapted anymore. They are not adapted for atheists for example (rites, most of the time, come from religions, there aren’t a lot of laic rituals), and they are not anymore adapted to our contemporary mentality and way of living (ex: most of the time, people dye in hospital, as a consequence, the veillée funèbre is not possible anymore).

-Individual tentative to recreate rituals can have some bad consequences. (ex....)

Given all of these facts I decided to propose my own answer to the problem.

At this stage, I really did not know how I would do that but with all my research about the new way to cope with death and the new kinds of funeral rituals, I found out interesting things about cremation and decided to focus on it for the two weeks project I had to hand in at the beginning of December.

As I'm french, I knew that in my country, cremation (which is not the main practice to dispose of a body) usually leads to complains: people find it too brutal and difficult to accept. They complain about the difficulty to see the coffin going into the flames, to see the process of burning. The explanation of this difficulty with cremation is mainly due to the fact that there is no rituals practised around it to help the people to cope with the situation. However, in England, where cremation is much more common, there is a much more established way to deal with it: there is a ceremony and people don't seem to complain. After a ceremony of farewell, people see the coffin varnishing symbolically behind curtains. The mourners do not deal at all with the burning process which is done later withouth them being present.

Then, during my research, I found this very interesting article:


This is from a man who has been to a buddhist monastry and who attended a cremation there. In his text he explains the difference there is with the ceremony around cremation in England By doing that, he is raising the another problem there is in the way we're dealing with cremation in Europe: we just do not want to be confronted to it. If this one is maybe not making the mourning of the deceased more difficult (I don't know...) at least, it does not help in the problem of non acceptance of death as a natural process in our society.

So, I found this remark interestant and I thought that it could be interesting to develop an object that would remind, at least symbolically, this hidden process of cremation. As the cremation last more or less one hour and a half, I tried to develop something that would last this long.

I did experience with paper. I try to see how I could burn it:

More than being a good way for the time requirement, I found this solution interesting as it also permit, by the burning process, to draw something (first sequence of the video) or cut a shape (second sequence of the video). The object would remind the process of cremation and, on the other hand would not end up leaving an idea of destruction.

I experienced with paper by making a structure out of it, a structure which would destroy, dye in one hour and a half. Some of the trials where successful, some did not work at all.

The object I proposed in the end was an object in two parts; one part which is left with the body before cremation, the other which is kept.

Once the funeral ceremony finished, at home, the mourner can commemorate the burning process thanks to this object. The structure of paper kept will disappear like the one left with the deceased.

As I was thinking that it would be dificult for the person to see disappear everything from the object, I tried to find a way to leave a trace.
Personnal critics about this project
With the research I did afterwards (see the January part), I think that the intimacy object is maybe not the solution. Indeed, I discovered through my research that this is the situation people are tending to: mourn on their own, mourn in the intimacy and this is maybe not the right solution. People need collective rites to mourn and to support the grief they are facing. I think this object should imply a collective ritual and should be better adapted for that.

New research

While I was working on this project I also carried on a bit with the mdf trials I had started in October. I tried to see how I could use the property of the mdf to expand in order to mould shapes with it.

I started with a really simple way: I cut 45° pieces in a board and made a parallelepiped. I put it in a tube and made it expand.

Although I was wishing something more perfect (the cylinder obtained was not completely full of mdf) I found it satisfying and interesting because of the particular aesthetic obtained.

Here is another trial I made with a tube and two strings.

Before further development I would like to see how easily the results can be fixed. Indeed, they tend to crumble a bit once dry.