The term modern has been central to MoMA’s identity since its founding, yet to be modern holds many connotations. To name just a few interpretations—not all canonical—modern can be understood as a static historical and aesthetic marker of the 20th century; a frenetic socio-cultural response to rapidly developing technology and industry; an expression of public and private identities; a contested site in struggles over race, class, and gender; or a fluid and dynamic relationship with global symbols of contemporaneity. Especially in architecture and design, modern privileges a slant toward a deeper understanding of the past and the present in order to design and build a better future, and it encompasses all aspects of life. So how does death fit in this perspective?
In this salon we discussed death in contemporary art and culture, exploring some of the following questions. What have been the critical moments—cultural, scientific, political—that have changed the face of death over the past generation? Can an arc be drawn from one incisive and popular publication, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s 1969 On Death and Dying, to another, Atul Gawande’s 2014 Being Mortal, and does that span articulate a deep cultural change? With more global exchanges possible—some violent and traumatic—what have we learned from different cultures that see death differently? How can we build more compassionate institutions (including museums) and empower those facing death to reclaim autonomy over the ends of their lives? Is medical technology leading to an “invisible death?” Can designers and architects, who are consumed with designing for a better quality of life, also design to improve the quality of dying and death? What role can artists and museums play in addressing, describing, and celebrating mortality?
This salon took place on January 23, 2017.
Frances M. Kamm is Littauer Professor of Philosophy and Public Policy, HKS, Professor of Philosophy, FAS, and affiliated faculty, Harvard Law School. She is the author of Creation and Abortion; Morality, Mortality, Vol. 1: Death and Whom to Save from It; Morality, Mortality, Vol. 2: Rights, Duties, and Status; Intricate Ethics; Ethics for Enemies: Terror, Torture, and War; The Moral Target: Aiming at Right Conduct in War and Other Conflicts; Bioethical Prescriptions; and The Trolley Problem Mysteries. Kamm has also published many articles on normative ethical theory and practical ethics.
Rita Charon is professor of medicine and founder and executive director of the Program in Narrative Medicine, Columbia University. Her research focuses on the consequences of narrative medicine practice, reflective clinical practice, and health care team effectiveness. At Columbia, she directs the Foundations of Clinical Practice faculty seminar, the Narrative and Social Medicine Scholarly Projects Concentration Track, the required Narrative Medicine curriculum for the medical school, and Columbia Commons: Collaborating Across Professions, a medical center–wide partnership devoted to health care team effectiveness. She is the author of Narrative Medicine: Honoring the Stories of Illness (Oxford University Press, 2006) and co-author of Principles and Practice of Narrative Medicine (Oxford University Press, 2017).
Allison C. Meier is a Brooklyn-based writer focusing on the arts and overlooked history. Currently, she is a staff writer at Hyperallergic, and moonlights as a cemetery tour guide at New York burial grounds. She has also worked as the senior editor at Atlas Obscura and has published stories in The New York Times, Artdesk, ARTnews, Mental Floss, Narrative.ly, Brooklyn Based, the Oklahoma Gazette, and others.
Karla Rothstein is a practicing architect and has been an associate professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation for the past 20 years. She is the founder and director of Columbia’s trans-disciplinary DeathLAB and a member of the Columbia University Seminar on Death. Rothstein’s area of inquiry weaves intimate spaces of urban life, death, and memory with intersections of social justice, the environment, and civic infrastructure. Rothstein is also design director at LATENT Productions, the architecture, research, and development firm she cofounded with Salvatore Perry. In 2016, LATENT Productions and DeathLAB were awarded first place in the international Future Cemetery competition, and DeathLAB’s initiative was recognized as one of New York Magazine’s 47 “Reasons to Love New York.”
THINKING OF DEATH
Bacon, Francis, Of Death, Essays, Civil and Moral, The Harvard Classics (1909–14)
Choe, Sang-Hun, South Koreans, Seeking New Zest for Life, Experience Their Own Funerals, The New York Times (10.26.2016)
Da Rienzo, Gabby, Death Positivity in Videogames, Medium (08.18.2015)
Death with Shelly Kagan, YaleCourses, (last updated 07.2014)
Death, Lapham’s Quarterly (Fall 2013)
Death, Uncubemagazine No. 28 (2014 ca.)
Freud, Sigmund, Our Attitude Towards Death, Reflections on War and Death (1918)
Hayasaki, Erika, Death Is Having a Moment, The Atlantic (10.25.2013)
Heflick, Nathan, Thinking about death can make you value life more, The Conversation (04.11.2014)
Kamm, Frances, A Right to Choose Death?, The Boston Review (1997)
Nagel, Thomas, “Death”, Mortal Questions, Cambridge U. Press, pp. 1–10. (1979)
Villarica, Hans, How the Unrelenting Threat of Death Shapes Our Behavior,The Atlantic (05.04.2012)
Popova, Maria, The Mortality Paradox, Brainpickings (03.25.2013)
Segal, David, This Man Is Not a Cyborg. Yet., The New York Times (06.01.2013)
Gawande, Atul, Letting Go: What Should Medicine Do When It Can’t Save Your Life?, The New Yorker (08.02.2010)
Mooallem, Jon, One Man’s Quest to Change the Way We Die, The New York Times Magazine (01.03.2017)
Pallister, James and Kinneberg, Caroline, Reinventing Death for the Twenty-First Century, Medium (05.05.2015)
Razavi, Lauren, Royal College of Art students collaborate with London hospice to ’re-style' the experience of death, The Independent (02.17.2016)
Zimmerman, Eilene, Start-Ups for the End of Life, The New York Times (11.02.2016)
Charlton, Blake and Verghese, Abraham, Caring for Ivan Ilyich, The Journal of General Internal Medicine (2009)
Kaag, John and Martin, Clancy, Looking Death in the Face, The New York Times (12.26.2016)
Kalanithi, Paul, My Last Day as a Surgeon, The New Yorker (01.11.2016)
Rachman, Tom, Meeting Death With Words, The New Yorker (01.25.2016)
Twilley, Nicola, What Did Qaddafi’s Death Smell Like?, The New Yorker (04.23.2015)
Vanhoenacker, Mark, My Death Playlist, and Yours, The New York Times (11.05.2016)
Doughty, Caitlyn, Death without Darkness: A mortician proposes a redesign for the crematory, Medium (12.04.2014)
Magidsohn, Alli, Graves that Save. The rise of the sustainable death movement, Good (12.22.2013)
Mead, Rebecca, Our Bodies, Ourselves, The New Yorker (11.30.2015)
Quito, Anne, A legendary Italian designer designed his own funeral, and he didn’t miss a detail, Medium (05.27.2016)
Robertson, Campbell and Robles, Frances, Rite of the Sitting Dead: Funeral Poses Mimic Life, The New York Times (06.21.2014)
DEATH AND LIFE
Ambrosino, Brandon, Facebook is a growing and unstoppable graveyard, BBC.com (03.14.2016)
Bernstein, Nina, Unearthing the Secrets of New York’s Mass Graves, The New York Time (05.15.2016)
De Sousa, Ana Naomi, Death in the city: what happens when all our cemeteries are full?,The Guardian (01.21.2015)
Kester, Eric, Making Light of Death, Columbia Magazine (Spring 2016)
Rogers, Katie, Mushroom Suits, Biodegradable Urns and Death’s Green Frontier, The New York Times (04.22.2016)
Kagan, Shelly, Death, Yale University Press (2012)
Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth, On Death and Dying, The Macmillan Company (1969)
Mitford, Jessica, The American Way of Death, Vintage Books (2000)
Sweeney, Kate, American Afterlife: Encounters in the Customs of Mourning, University of Georgia Press (2014)