The Netherlands Funeral Museum

Yesterday, I visited the Nederlands Uitvaart Museum Tot Zover.  Tot Zover in English translates to up to that point.  I love this.  It is a way of admitting that we really don’t know what happens after we die, we can only take our bodies with us “up to that point.”  In their literature they translate “tot zover” as “so far.”

I went there to see the exhibition Afterlife – Art on the Final Destination.  The title makes me think of an episode of Star Trek.

Afterlife is an exhibition of fourteen artists.  The exhibition includes works in the museum and installations in the cemetery surrounding the museum.

One of the pieces is called Where does the dust collect Itself? by Chinese artist, Xu Bing. It is an installation made from the dust of the destroyed Twin Towers after 9/11.  Aliento (breath) is a series of wall mounted metallic discs by Colombian artist Oscar Muñoz. The wall text says that it is meant to confront us with the loss of identity. The viewer breathes against metal discs and the moisture reveals an obituary photo.  The breathing literally brings the image “to life.”

Other works focus on continuity, like a sound piece by Nathalie Bruys, in which a psychic tells of the presence of energies at the cemetery. Bruys, also has another work in the exhibition called Galactic Computer, Portal Machine (again with the Star Trek undertones) in this piece, you enter a pod like structure where the vibrations of tuning forks is supposed to put you in touch with the universe.  You are meant to experience death as a door to another life. Russian artist, Leonid Tsvetkov sees life and death as a permanent chemical transformation. In his installation, In Search of the Other, he links the four elements of light, air, water and earth in an underground camera obscura.

Here is the view as one rises out of the earth after leaving the work.

One of my favorite works was by Nick Hullegie called Not There.  It was the form of a plexiglass tree laid down on the grass. Sublime.

The Netherlands Funeral Museum itself, focuses on funeral culture in the Netherlands over the centuries. The collection includes paintings, death masks, movies, coffins and urns. There is also a display detailing how exactly a cremation takes place and how a body buried in the soil decays.

Their literature, and all of the wall mounted descriptions are in Dutch, so I was happy to have a friend with me who could translate. One of the passages from their literature I found particularly amusing:

The open, honest approach and the sparkling presentation get much appreciation from visitors and press. So far Museum is located at the cemetery and crematorium The New Eastern, one of the most beautiful memorial parks in the Netherlands. The free audio tour takes you through both the museum and the cemetery. For children there is a game and search available.

Really?  Hide and Seek in the cemetery for the kids! Brilliant.  And look at their “mascot”

Doesn’t he look like a character from South Park?  Kenny’s Dutch cousin, perhaps?

One of the permanent exhibitions that was not up, so as to make room for the Afterlife show, is called You & I. Listed as a digital and tangible monument, You & I is about the relationship between the dead “You” and their survivors “I”. Visitors add photos and texts, and together this makes a dynamic memorial that keeps the personal memory of the deceased alive. The exhibition has the 200 most recently posted photos from the digital monument, a place on their website where you add your photos. Visitors are invited to walk amongst the photos and be surrounded by memories. The constantly growing digital monument preserves all the memories, while the physical monument in the museum is always renewed by adding and removing photos.  Beautiful.

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