On Optimism and Death: Public Program for Exhibition @ Margaret Lawrence Gallery

This October, DeathTech Research Team member Tamara Kohn participated in a panel discussion in conjunction with the exhibition Hope Dies Last: Art at the End of Optimism.

Hope Dies Last: Art at the End of Optimism is a curated exhibition of Australian and international contemporary art presented across two sites, Gertrude Contemporary and the Margaret Lawrence Gallery at the Victorian College of the Arts. The project focuses on how artists consider the depletion of optimism, how they might envisage the end of days, and how they make sense of these tumultuous times. Exploring themes of mortality, fatalism, extinction, pain (both emotional and physical), failure and downfall, the works largely focus on the specific moment when hope evaporates for the final time. Explored with compassion, humour, sadness and resignation, Hope Dies Last confronts our individual and collective anxieties around death, reminding us of the certainty of this fate, yet recognising this conclusionary moment as one we will experience alone. Hope Dies Last will be one of the most depressing events of the year, an exhibition that will riddle us with sadness, and likely leave us more pessimistic than we have ever been before. 

The panel discussion assembled a selection of esteemed speakers whose professional lives can involve considerations of death and grief. Drawing in a range of perspectives, the discussion traversed across ideas of mortality, memorialisation, the defence of life, and the pragmatics of death. Hopefully not as bleak as it sounds, On Optimism and Death offered a unique platform to consider the prospect of death and its impacts – personally and collectively – through the lenses of anthropology, the legal system, the arts and the funerary industry. 

On Optimism and Death was chaired by Mark Feary, Artistic Director,
Gertrude Contemporary

Participating Speakers:

Eric Jong, exhibiting artist
In the exhibition Hope Dies Last, Eric Jong presents the work Death and Paperwork(2017), from the project Too Poor To Die focussing on destitute funerals for persons lacking the financial resources to pay for their own funerals. For this project, the artist worked closely with Bereavement Assistance, a not for profit organisation
in Melbourne.

Professor Tamara Kohn, Professor of Anthropology,
The University of Melbourne
Tamara Kohn is a Professor of Anthropology with extensive fieldwork experience in the Scottish Hebrides, the eastern hills of Nepal, and more recently Japan.  She has held research and teaching positions in England (Oxford and Durham) and Australia (the University of Melbourne). Her research focuses on identity and experience, the study of trans-cultural communities of practice (from caring practices to sports and other embodied arts), mobility (migration, intermarriage, leisure/travel), death studies, methods and ethics, and the anthropology of the senses.

Audrey Lake, Funeral Consultant
Audrey Lake has spent 13 years working with death in diverse settings, beginning her career as a counsellor in palliative care. With an interest in forensics and the criminal justice process she moved onto roles with the Initial Investigations Office at the Coroners Court of Victoria and the Victims Support Unit at Victoria Police working with families through the early stages of unexpected or traumatic bereavement. Subsequently she transitioned into working as a mortician at the Victorian Institute of Forensic, a coronial undertaker and a funeral consultant for a not for profit
funeral company.

Michael O’Connell SC, Judge, County Court of Victoria
Michael O’Connell was appointed to the Victorian Bar in 1990 and as Senior Counsel in 2008. During his 30-year legal career, he has been involved in several homicide, terrorism, white collar crime, sexual offences and occupational health and safety cases. The barrister served as part of the team of Australian lawyers representing accused members of the Bali Nine, including Myuran Sukumaran.




Picking Up STEAM Podcast

We are seeing a disruption of death. It is normal for people to post on social media at a funeral; you can speak to a chatbot or a physical avatar with the data of a dead loved one; you can curate Spotify playlists to play in coffins. Why? Experts Bjorn Nansen and Tamara Kohn speak with Thomas Feng about the eerie new developments of death in this episode of Picking Up STEAM.

Listen to the episode here.


Dead Calm @ Wheeler Centre

In September, Bjorn Nansen participated in a round table discussion on “Memorials” in the series of talks, Dead Calm: Honest Conversations About Death, hosted by the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne. The series aims to “set aside the euphemism, and tackle the taboos head-on” by bringing together diverse voices of scholars, community activists, artists, and writers.

The discussion on memorials was framed as follows:

“We’ve always built memorials to our dead. But how do our memorials and commemorations differ across cultures and how are they changing in the 21st Century? Why do we have different types of memorials for different kinds of death?

In the third part of our Dead Calm series, Hilary Harper will explore the role, relevance and relief offered by memorials after death and disaster. What do official and unofficial commemorations mean and how do they affect the ways we mourn? From public shrines for war veterans to community commemorations for natural disasters to highly personal embodiments of grief – online, on social media, or at roadsides – these markers continue to play a role in how we process grief.”

Listen to the episode here.


Portable Report Launch

Future of Death and Ageing logo

Last week our team member Michael Arnold launched a new report from Portable, entitled The Future of Death and Ageing, at Portable’s headquarters in Collingwood, Victoria. 

Portable is a digital design and technology company, who have recently entered the Death space. Their report starts with a provocative, powerful question about the state of death and dying in contemporary Australia:

We are all end users… so why does it suck so much?

The report continues to introduce 19 key recommendations for individuals, governments and policy makers to address. How might one ‘design your death’ better? 

Download a copy of the report and find out more about their work here.




Your online life after death @ Eavesdrop on Experts

If Facebook continues growing at its current rate, by 2130 the number of dead users will surpass the living.

In fact, the number of the dead on Facebook is already growing fast. By 2012, just eight years after the platform was launched, 30 million users with Facebook accounts had died, and that number has only gone up since. These days, it’s not unusual to see memorial pages on social media – but how is the digital world changing our approach to death? From algorithms that can post tweets in our style after we die to bequeathing a digital legacy – Dr Martin Gibbs from the Interaction Design Lab at the School of Computing and Information Systems, alongside Associate Professor Tamara Kohn and graduate researcher Hannah Gould, both from the School of Social and Political Sciences, are exploring the impact of digital disruption on death itself.

Read more and listen here.


Future Hospital: Future Patient

DeathTech member Professor Tamara Kohn participated in a panel on The Future Hospital for Melbourne Knowledge Week.

From the website:

“Are you impatient for a better experience of healthcare? This panel explores the possibility for a new, better patient experience. Using human centred design, these medical innovators will rethink medical services, systems and technology to put you back at the centre of your medical care.”

“This event is part of Future Hospital. Check out the hospital before you check in. Discuss robot pills and medical drones, play doctor in a guided theatre experience, or be part of a live experiment. Tour the Future Hospital to find out what health will look like in a world of virtual reality, 3D printing, remote care, precision medicine, and medical devices inside jewellery.”


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