The DeathTech team are pleased to present two new reports from our Future Cemetery Research Project. This project is funded by The Australian Research Council (LP180100757) with the support of our Linkage Partners, The Greater Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust (GMCT).
The Future Cemetery project aims to identify and critically assess the potential of innovative technologies to enhance the public’s experience of the cemetery, diversify service offerings and strengthen community connections, all in the context of rapidly changing circumstances. For more information about the research, please see our project page.
As part of this project, DeathTech will conduct an annual survey of the Australian public and their attitudes toward how cemetery spaces are used, as well as an annual workshop with death care industry partners. The reports from the first round of surveys and workshops are available for download below.
This week, several members of the DeathTech Research Team were featured in the ABC Radio National programme, God Forbid. Listen here.
Is it possible to be biologically dead, but socially alive? What would that entail? On God Forbid, James and panel find out more about the digital afterlife.
In this episode:
Ever logged into Facebook and received a notification about someone – or from someone – who has died? It’s more common than you may think, and it’s only going to happen more.
We now have the technology to create online avatars that can imitate a deceased person’s speech and mannerisms, based off their digital footprint. It’s a technology that raises questions about the boarders between the living and the dead.
Across culture and religion, rituals for grief and mourning vary greatly. Is it possible to translate these rituals to the online world? Why or why not?
Dr Hannah Gould is a cultural anthropologist and ARC Research Fellow with ‘The DeathTech Research Team’ at the University of Melbourne. She just completed her doctoral thesis on the transforming memorial culture of Japan. She now researches high-tech death – and how the current COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way we deal with dead people.
Rev Dr Robyn Whitaker is a Uniting Church minister and Senior Lecturer in New Testament studies at Pilgrim theological college in the University of Divinity. Her academic specialty is end of world apocalyptic studies. She got her doctorate from the University of Chicago and was a Postdoctoral fellow at the Union Theological Seminary in New York.
During a time of rapid change and global crisis, the interdisciplinary DeathTech team at the University of Melbourne is researching the intersection of death, technology and society. We are exploring practices used to dispose of the deceased, from burial and cremation to newly emerging techniques and designs for the treatment of the dead, for example high-rise cemeteries, water cremation and body composting.
We invite up to five artists to join this collaborative research project, to produce innovative new work on death and disposal for exhibition in Melbourne in July 2021. Specifically, work is invited that responds to our central question:
How might disposal of the deceased be designed in the 21st century?
Works in any media are encouraged, including digital video and/or photography, sculpture, textiles, drawing, and installation.
Up to five artists will each receive an award of $2,000 AUD. Their work will feature in a dedicated exhibition and catalogue. Their work will be selected by a panel comprising:
Simone Slee, Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne;
Edward Colless, Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne, and Editor Art + Australia;
Elizabeth Hallam, University of Oxford;
Tamara Kohn, University of Melbourne,
Michael Arnold, University of Melbourne.
Applications should be submitted by 31 July 2020, 12 midnight [AEST]
Artists are invited to produce new work in collaboration with the DeathTech’s research project Disposal of the dead: beyond burial and cremation.
This research – ever more pressing at the current time of unprecedented global challenge with the effects of Covid-19 – focuses on emerging technologies of disposal in the context of social, cultural and environmental issues, institutional responses, public discourses, personal ethics, and worldviews. It explores innovations in body disposal technologies, their potentials and limitations, and their wider socio-cultural impacts, from the perspectives of designers, death workers and their industries, and wider cultural and religious communities. To see more about this research please see the link provided below.
The DeathTech team invites applications from artists to create work that is integral to this project, its key themes and concerns; the artists’ work will inform the research, as will public responses to the exhibition. The aim is for artists to engage with the team’s research, and produce work that explores significant aspects of death and the technologies that surround bodies of the deceased.
So we invite artists to respond to the question: How might disposal of the deceased be designed in the 21st century?
Art works might, for example, address issues of design, sensory experience, social response, and memory-making in relation to burial, cremation, and/or emerging and future alternatives to these practices.
Five artists or artists’ collectives will be selected through this open call. We encourage proposals that are experimental, and are excited to work with artists in any area of practice including design, research-based artwork, and public art. The successful artists will:
work collaboratively with the DeathTech team
create work that can be displayed effectively at the project’s exhibition venue; each artist will have exhibition space of up to approx. 18m x 4m wall space or 66 meter square floor space (to be confirmed during the development of the exhibition: works need to be responsive to the site)
have their work featured in the exhibition’s dedicated catalogue
have the opportunity to offer their work for sale at the exhibition
be invited to participate in associated events at the exhibition
Proposals in any media will be considered including: digital video and/or photography, work that can be projected and/or suspended, sculpture, drawing, and interactive installation. As the artists appointed will collaborate with the DeathTech team, and make work that is responsive to the possibilities and constraints of the exhibition venue, artists should be based in, or temporarily residing in Melbourne.
A description of the proposed work (max. 1000 words, PDF), including indication of how it responds to the research question: How might disposal of the deceased be designed in the 21st century?
Ten images to support the proposal. These can be a combination of images of existing works or proposals for new works (individually saved at 72-dpi; max. 30 x 30cm, JPEG or PDF).Artists working in video formats should also send examples, up to five minutes of video (max. of 50MB combined attachments or a link to a YouTube or Vimeo account).
A current CV (max. 3 pages, PDF)
Please ensure that all of the files you send have a file name using the artist’s name.
In June 2020, the DeathTech Research Team hosted a virtual roundtable discussion with death scholars and practitioners in Australia, the UK and the US, to share how funerals have changed under the coronavirus pandemic and to discuss what this might mean for the future of death.
The COVID-19 pandemic not only represents a serious threat to human life and livelihoods, it has transformed experiences of death, grief, and memorialisation around the globe. Social distancing orders have upended cultural and religious traditions of mourning by restricting interaction with the deceased, attendance at funerals, and grave visitation at cemeteries. Simultaneously, communities have found creative responses to these restrictions through new rituals and new uses of technology. The ongoing implications of this period of disrupted death are only beginning to be understood.
The roundtable was moderated by Dr Hannah Gould, a cultural anthropologist and ARC Research Fellow with the DeathTech Research Team. Hannah conducted her doctoral fieldwork on the life and death of memorial technologies within Buddhist death care sector in Japan, and now works on research into alternative disposal technologies and the future of Australia’s cemeteries.
Mariam Ardati is a Funeral Director, Consultant and Educator based in Sydney. For the past 12 years, Mariam has dedicated her time as both a volunteer and care consultant for a number of funeral services, where she performs the funeral rites in accordance with Islamic tradition, provides spiritual and practical care to the grieving, and assists families through the coroner’s court and its processes. Mariam holds a Health Sciences degree (Health Information Management) from the University of Sydney and is a Director and Consultant at Sakina Funerals.
Stephanie Longmuir is an End of Life Celebrant, Podcaster and Consultant. She has been serving the families of Melbourne and Sydney since 2009, creating unique and meaningful services. Determined to better prepare and inform families, in 2015 Stephanie founded myendnotes.com, Australia’s first digital funeral planning service, and in 2017 she launched a podcast series, Dying to Tell, in collaboration with Melbourne radio station Joy 94.9. She is a skilled writer and speaker and has been invited by ICCFA, NFDA and AFDA to present at their annual conferences.
Dr John Troyer is the Director of the Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath. He is a co-founder of the Death Reference Desk website, the Future Cemetery Project and a frequent commentator for the BBC. His new book Technologies of the Human Corpse was published by The MIT Press on April 28, 2020. He grew up in the American funeral industry.
Louise Winter is a funeral director and the founder of Poetic Endings, a modern funeral company in London. Her mission is to get people to really think about the importance of funerals. She believes that a good funeral can be transformational in helping us acknowledge and accept that someone has died. She’s the co-founder of Life. Death. Whatever., a new approach to death and dying, showing how exploring our mortality really can change our lives. Her work has been featured in publications around the world. Her first book will be published by Bloomsbury in March 2021.
Our article for The Conversation, “Small funerals, online memorials and grieving from afar: the coronavirus is changing how we care for the dead”, has been translated into Japanese for The Big Issue Japan.
DeathTech team member Hannah Gould was interviewed for an article in The Canberra Times, exploring how funeral practice is adapting to COVID-19 conditions:
There are other ways in which funerals may change permanently, according to Dr Hannah Gould, an anthropologist at the University of Melbourne who studies the rituals of death around the world.
“We want to be careful and not make universal judgments,” she told The Canberra Times. People grieve and remember the dead in different ways, not just in different countries but within Australia.
There were new ways of remembering people, like drawing up Spotify play-lists of their music where the mourners each chose a favourite song associated with the deceased. The play-list could be shared and happy memories triggered.
People could meet on video chat sites to remember the dead, perhaps after watching a live-stream of the funeral.
She said that when a friend of her father’s died, his pals organised a trivia night in his memory.
Mourning takes many new forms.
“It takes a bit of creativity,” Dr Gould said, with approval.
Help us understand how COVID-19 is changing deathcare, funerals, and memorialisation worldwide by contributing to this collaborative, open research platform.
We have established a platform to share accounts of how the COVID-19 pandemic is changing deathcare, including end-of-life and mortuary care, arranging funerals, and ongoing memorialisation. This information is of interest to us as part of research into death and technology in the 21st century led by the DeathTech Research Team at The University of Melbourne. We’d like to know what you are experiencing now – e.g. how are funerals happening, how are bodies being handled, what is different?
We’re particularly interested in first-person accounts, reflections on new technologies being use and new rituals, and the emotional, professional, and social impact of these changes. You can include links to news articles, images, or videos. The researchers will also add published articles about death during COVID-19 to the map.
You can choose to upload anonymously if you wish. You can also choose to identify yourself and/or your company in the post. The location you set for the post can be as specific or general as you wish.
Privacy and Access
As an open platform, you can also view what is happening elsewhere in the world and learn from others facing similar circumstances. This means that your contribution will be public, and access is not limited to the research team.
You are free to withdraw your contribution at any time. Please contact DeathTech (firstname.lastname@example.org) to do so.
If you are uploading images or videos, please ensure you are the one to have taken them (or can cite the original source) and have permission of those in them to upload the image/video.
If you would like more information about the wider project, please contact the DeathTech Research Team (email@example.com).
This is part of a research project that has been approved by the Human Research Ethics Committee of The University of Melbourne. Ethics ID number 1954540.1.
“The coronavirus is not only affecting the way we live, it’s also dramatically affecting the way we die.
In Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that funerals would be limited to a maximum of ten people to limit the spread of COVID-19. However, the states may have some leeway in permitting an extra one or two.
Funeral directors say they are concerned about the availability of crucial health supplies such as masks, hand sanitiser and body bags.