The Life of Objects

The opening for Charles Krafft's Ring of Spone was an odd affair, but how could it not be? I arrived at Queen Anne's Mount Pleasant Cemetery to the sight of people lounging among gravestones, à la Seurat's Grand Jatte, with plastic glasses of beer, and the reedy, intense sound of bagpipes. Lots of people had thought to wear black; I felt dumb in apple green.

In columbarium, about 20 of Krafft's "Spone" sculptures were displayed in an octagonal foyer that gives off onto smaller rooms containing cremains (you can't talk about cremains without thinking of the Lydia Davis story in which the narrator protests the application of such a word to what was once a human being: "In fact, my father himself who was a professor of English and is now being called the cremains... would have told you that cremains falls in the same category as brunch and is called a portmanteau word"). In any case, the cremains at Mount Pleasant are often personalized by photographs, poems, and well-loved objects.

Krafft handles the touchy subject of cremains by adding them to a clay mixture and making a kind of porcelain out of them, and then fashioning appropriate reliquaries--in one case, a copy of a bulldog sculpture that sat on a veterinarian's desk for years. It takes a certain sense of humor to approach such a taboo subject in this light, perhaps more from the friends and relatives of the cremains than from the artist; this is evident in an Absolut bottle created for and of someone who died of liver disease (a commission, it turns out, from his friends).

All of this, plus a video that Krafft shot of funeral pyres in Varanasi, India, had me wondering exactly what it is about death and dead bodies that rings so taboo. Is it a feeling that all respect is now due, even to an inanimate object? Or the reminder that death gets us all? There's a shot in the video of some skulls wearing glasses in a windowsill; Larry Reid (who organized this show and co-collaborated with Krafft on a neat new book, and who also had Krafft style an army helmet from his own father's ashes) told me he'd edited out the really weird parts. I wondered what it was that Reid thought too weird for this superb occasion.

But there are moral lines, however indistinct. I learned, the next day, when I returned to the columbarium for a closer look, that Krafft's mother had recently died, and although he was not hesitant in talking about her, I could not ask him the one thing I really, really wanted to know.

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Also: Probably I'm the last person in town to find this out, but the third installment of Jessica Abel's La Perdida is here! I snagged the last copy at Confounded Books this weekend, but I bet by the time this appears in print, Brad Beshaw will have ordered some more.