Exhibition Macabre Masterpieces

My piece for the exhibition at Sønderborg Castle is part of the theme ‘In memory’ where the exhibited jewellery and works talk about grief, loss, retention of memories, about the experience of being connected to each other and the passage of time and the reminder that you must die.

When we lose someone we love, we try hard to hold on to the memories. Like a souvenir. We collect souvenirs that can help us remember what we had together, what we experienced together and what we meant to each other, and not least we collect souvenirs that help us not to forget. Life’s souvenir! you can call them… and in fact the word Souvenir in French means ‘a memory’.

For the exhibition at Sønderborg Castle, I was asked to relate to the tradition of death masks. At first it scared me a lot – I thought the name death mask sounded creepy – but after getting used to it, I started my research on these masks.

Here I found that a death mask is a casting of a person’s face made shortly after death has occurred, and through these masks one has remembered and maintained the personality of the dead. And I could therefore pull threads to the necklaces with all the memories of life.

In the old days, when you did not have a camera with you all the time, I can see that a death mask was a good way to preserve the face of the deceased as a memory, but today where we immortalize almost everything with our mobile phones, a death mask can seem outdated and a morbid memory.

Today, there are many other ways to remember someone you have lost. Both through stories, events, photos, and films and much more that our digital world allows us to. All this I see as today’s death mask ‘, or maybe I should call it a’ memory mask ‘. It can be a place, a movie, a profile on social media, a pocketknife that cuts an apple, a laugh… everything we have lovingly hidden in our hearts.

So instead of working with the death mask as an imprint of a face, I chose my starting point being this meaning the death mask has – namely to be a last memory of the deceased.

I used experience from my own life. Back then I was helping my eldest daughter on her move to France where she was going to study and my youngest daughter was going to secondary boarding school. And it made me think that there is a lot of joy and love in being a parent, but there are also costs and worries. One is always connected. You can help and nurse as long as you are alive, but when the mother is dead, it is no longer possible to come and get parental help. Mom and thus the credit card has expired.

Therefore I chose my death mask – or memory mask should be an expired credit card made of real 18 kt gold – with the title ‘Mom Expired’. It symbolizes that even if there is no more money to be inherited, there will always be true (symbolized in pure gold) and infinite love. The 4 crosses on the card represent death, 0143 is a code from the time pagers were used – it means I love you (I – 1 letter, Love – 4 letters, You – 3 letters). 1365 stands for every single day for 365 days a year. The last four numbers are the number 9 – the last number in a row – the completion, but it also stands for love, eternity and faith.

The map is highly polished like a mirror, to show reflections of the life that has been lived – reflections of what was and what is. In the mirror you see a face – not the death mask as a casting after death has occurred, but your own face with the recognizable and inherited features you may find. Maybe it’s the shape of the nose, or a wrinkle at the eye, or maybe my girls can see the little crooked smile I had on my mouth when I made this card.

The card is a memorial to the bereaved. The card also confirms that there is no more to get financially, the inheritance is divided, but the love of a mother is eternal and will always last. But it can also be seen as a symbol that one must value life, because we all know that death is inevitable – when we were born, we took loan in death, and now this loan has expired and must be repaid… Mom is Expired.

A funny thing about Mom Expired is that it says that there is no more money for the heirs, but the card itself is quite valuable as it is made of gold.

My grandmother never talked about death, I think it scared her a lot, so when she wanted to tell us who should inherit her jewellery after her death, she always said: ‘you should have it Rikke, when I do NOT WANT it anymore ‘.

My girls will get this memory card when I do not want to own it anymore – that is a memory I have decided for the future.

Maybe my grandmother and I have it more like the artist Salvador Dali – ‘I prefer to remember the future’.

Photo: Miklos Szabo & Ida Buss