I’ve repeatedly made the point on this blog that mortuary archaeologists do not only explore past and contemporary death ways, but also future death spaces, monuments and material cultures.
We can’t see what isn’t there yet, of course, we aren’t time-travellers into the future! However, we can explore how future deathscapes are being planned and envisioned through both past and present material traces.
I’ve particularly addressed this in terms of the spaces and material cultures of the cremated dead in churchyards, cemeteries and crematoria gardens of remembrance, most recently here and here. Here, I wish to tackle a particular dimension I think I haven’t addressed before: displays of gravestones in the grounds of memorial masons workshops. Below is an example from Brussels, just outside the fabulous Cimetière de Bruxelles which I visited in 2019. When these particular gravestones might (or might not) get used, remains unclear, they are at one level ‘in progress’ memorials, yet in another regard they are complete: as show-pieces they are performing a job as both memento mori and monumental sales catalogue.
Of course, these are features of UK towns and cities’ but only very recently did I spy a similar arrangement at a garden of remembrance immediately outside the crematorium building and within sight of memorials of these types already in use, and thus displaying something of the range of memorial options available to future ‘clients’.
The crematorium in question has a wide selection of options including memorial plaques, ‘markers’, headstones and benches, plus trees and vases. These are for purchase with lease-times of 15 and 10 years and prices for renewal. Thus, the overall aesthetic of the garden of remembrance is retained in terms of colour, texture and style, while the form varies.
The modest display reveals a distinct shift from what I’ve seen in the UK and elsewhere of memorial masons displaying their products when active through the masons’ marks on the back of memorials, but also in the yards of their workshops, moving towards the actual use of the memorial environment to sell memorials. I haven’t noticed this elsewhere, but I’d be keen to know if this is part of a broader trend. As it stands, this modest display frames the options for future death, cremation and memorialisation.
For me, it looks somewhat uncanny and over-sanitised to have this kind of lapidarium-of-the-future, but it is certainly one of many reflections of our consumer society spilling over explicitly into our death industry.