Memento Mori - Remember That You Are Mortal

Friday 23 May 2014
Momento Mori

BA(Hons) Graphic Design and BA(Hons) Fine Art have collaborated on a two-day research project on the design of death.

The innovative project brought together ten students from each course who then worked in pairs, responding creatively to mortality and how it is translated in visual terms. The project aimed to examine society's attitudes and anxieties toward death and the aesthetics this has traditionally produced.

'Memento mori' (Latin for 'remember that you will die') is an artistic or symbolic reminder of the inevitability of death. Two well-known examples of the theme by Holbein include 'The Ambassadors', an oil painting famously depicting his subjects surrounded by the accoutrements of their status together with a large and distorted projection of a skull, and the 'Danse Macabre', a woodcut with its depiction of the Grim Reaper merrily harvesting souls.

The MOTH project expanded upon this long artistic tradition, encompassing everything from typefaces to poetry and photography, and culminated in students producing their own 'vanitas' (Latin for 'vanity'), a memento mori item associated with the transient nature of possessions and earthly pursuits.

The focus of the project was on questioning the ideology of Deathists and Immortalists. Through their pieces the participants examined how they might contemplate their own futures as being finite or immortal, with the resulting works intended for public exhibition.

The project was initiated by Nikki Salkeld and Ashley Rudolph, Senior lecturers on BA (Hons) Graphic Design course, in partnership with Lucy Willow, Lecturer in Fine Art. The lecturers hope that examining the design of death may encourage us all to talk about death with greater confidence and understanding.

They said, "Using the design process we have begun to create a dialogue with students about death, and we all believe that the project was an extremely successful collaboration between staff and students from different disciplines." The work culminated in the successful 'Memento Mori - Remember That You Are Mortal' exhibition at Falmouth Art Gallery.

Nikki and Ashley began their collaboration with Lucy when all three delivered a paper at a conference, 'Malady and Mortality: Illness, Disease and Death in Literary and Visual Culture', held at Falmouth University.

Lucy Willow is interested in how transience and death can be translated into a visual language through working with materials such as dust. Working with such transient materials reflects the belief that there is nothing lasting, immortal and permanent in life. 

Lucy commented, "By bringing an audience to a platform in which to contemplate mortality I wish to raise questions that seek to confront society's attitudes towards death and the cultural codes, taboos, social norms and morals that surround it."