Questions rise right up when you enter Lundgren Monuments on First Hill, where Mozart's Requiem is "the chill-out music." Coffins are like buildings, right? They're hard, to protect soft bodies from total obliteration. Okay, but what if coffins were soft? Made of biodegradable cardboard, overlapped in a handsome modernist design? What if urns had slow leaks? What exactly is being held in, contained, down there six feet under the ground, up there on the mantel? Haven't things already gone south?
One of the things that makes death harder is dealing with it in tidy and sanitizing ways, trying to make it less weird, which is plainly not within the realm of possibility. In truth, then, the most honestly deathy burial container, if we require one at all besides the crawly soil, would be the weirdest one.
This month at Lundgren Monuments there is a lineup of "soft" urns. It makes up an art exhibition called The Softer Side of Death, but this art exhibition has an added component: Lundgren Monuments sells actual urns and coffins and gravestones (usually made of wood and glass), including the ones these fashion designers and artists have created for this occasion. If you like one of these soft urns, you are forced to consider it for your own remains.
This makes the job of an art critic a little funny. If I love an urn, should I be willing to commit myself to it? Should we or our survivors pick our urns, anyway?
There's one urn that I aspire to, or that I would find inspiringly challenging to live with if it contained the ashes of my mother or my sister or my most beloved. (I am not sure whether I want to challenge anyone with my own ashes.) I can't stop thinking about this urn. It is silk and stone and labial and leaking and diaphanous and dusty and strung up by two little white ribbons tied into bows over a metal armature.
This urn is a bag, essentially—a leaking bag the size of a human heart but shaped more like a lung, suspended above a stony block (concrete?) that catches the cremains as they shake out of the bag's gaping mouth, stuffed with waves of papery silk like stacked oyster shell edges. You want to thrust a finger into them. The urn is by Anna Rose Telcs, an artist, designer, and collaborator in groups such as Implied Violence and Saint Genet. I can't imagine a more perfect, more frightening, more gorgeous urn. It makes me want to die.
There are several mind-bending/eye- popping urns here: Mark Mitchell's super-blossom/sea anemone/explosion of perfect excess comprising 275 strips of silk, each hand-dyed three times, to be tossed into the sea, where it will degrade naturally. Rachael Jensen's palm-sized hive of braided human hair, to be made of the locks of the deceased, with a shirt pocket inside to hold the ashes. Christine Chaney's black bag made of a deconstructed man's suit—wear what you'd wear in the coffin anyway. Susan Robb's fuck-you-it's-just-death black plastic shopping bag from Forever 21. If an urn is just another body, why not make it forever 21?