The popularity of death studies

At Kean University, students are dying (as it were) to get into Norma Bowe’s class “Death in Perspective,” which has sometimes carried a three-year waiting list. images-2WSJ Online reports that “On one field trip to a local coroner’s office, Dr. Bowe’s students were shown three naked cadavers on metal tables. One person had died from a gunshot, the other from suicide and the third by drowning.

“The last corpse appeared overweight but wasn’t; he had expanded like a water balloon. A suspect in a hit-and-run case, he had fled the scene, been chased by police, abandoned his car and jumped into the Passaic River. On the autopsy table, he looked surprised, his mouth splayed open, as if he realized he had made a mistake. As the class clustered around, a technician began to carve his torso open. Some students gagged or scurried out, unable to stand the sight or the smell.

“This grim visit was just one of the excursions for Dr. Bowe’s class. Every semester, students also leave the campus in Union, New Jersey, to visit a cemetery, a maximum-security prison (to meet murderers), a hospice, a crematory and a funeral home, where they pick out caskets for themselves. The homework is also unusual: Students are required to write goodbye letters to dead loved ones and to compose their own eulogies and wills.

“Sure, it’s morbid. But graduates of Dr. Bowe’s death class and others like it across the U.S. often come away with an important skill: the ability to talk frankly about death. Continue reading “The popularity of death studies”

Beatriz da Costa at Laguna Art Museum

From the light, airy and playful feelings of the Laguna Art Museum’s “Faux Real” exhibition on the main floor, the atmosphere of “Ex·pose: Beatriz da Costa” shifts into dark, moving and intense as one descends into the museum’s dark basement, writes Seth Hawkins in Artillery:

“Da Costa’s “Dying for the Other” is a three-channel video installation dealing with the artist’s lifelong battle with cancer, with the show occurring not even 12 months after her passing—a timely and haunting exhibition of her last creation.pills

“Beatriz da Costa made work that refused genre classification—seamlessly transitioning between contemporary art, science, engineering and politics—in many cases working in collaboration with forerunning art/technology groups such as Critical Art Ensemble, Free Range Grains, GenTerra, and Preemptive Media. Born in 1974 and raised in Germany, da Costa attended Carnegie Mellon University, eventually moving on to teach in the Studio Art, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Departments at UC, Irvine.

“While watching da Costa’s video installation, it is hard not to hear echoes of self-mutilating artist Bob Flanagan. This is by no means a masochistic performance piece, but underlying similarities can be seen. The act of creation, of continuing one’s practice in the face of grave illness or disease takes not only a special kind of artist, but also a dedicated human.

“In Dying for the Other, video clips of mice that are being used in cancer research are projected and interspersed with video segments of the artist’s life as she is going through physical/cognitive therapy after having brain surgery to remove tumors that had spread from her breast to her brain.

“Unfortunately, many of us have been touched by cancer. The battle with this disease is one of the darkest and most personal, in which the emotional toll is heaviest for those closest to the patient. In many cases the day-to-day heartbreak and immense medical traumas are hidden from the outside world, primarily internalized by the suffering person. Few want to be seen in public while fighting this battle, losing their hair, feeling constant nausea, fighting for their lives, all the while knowing that this may be an unwinnable fight. Continue reading “Beatriz da Costa at Laguna Art Museum”