The antiseptic relationship our culture has with the dead creates the need to distort reality by disguising death’s pallor, involving a ritualistic process of pumping the body full of chemicals and transforming it into an imitation of its former self. Without a living agency, the body becomes a hollow vessel; ready for expelling, filling, and masking. By purposefully creating a fiction of repose, the mortician lures the viewer’s mind away from our finite mortality and toward something more easily digestible, though less tangible.

The photographs and time-based work in The Last Sleep respond to a cultural habit of embalming by examining how it functions on both societal and personal levels. The process is discussed by a local mortician, whose interview has been dissected and paired with the framed images. Creating the lasting image of someone who has passed (the ‘pleasing memory picture’) becomes this highly considered ritual which enables us to visually carry out the fantasy of “the last sleep” – stemming from the Victorian practice of posing the dead as though they were only sleeping. This allows the viewer a sense of denial – meant to be comforting, though the opposite is more common – as the body shifts from sleep to death (presence to non-presence) once it is removed from sight through burial or cremation. 

The audio is meant to be paired with the first six images. Please click the MP3 links below while viewing the photographs. They are listed by image title (same order as the images above going left to right).


Decomp (Excerpt), HD Video, 03:00 (loop), 2014

When The Body Is Present / When The Body Is Not Present, HD Video, 09:38 (loop), 2014