Angela Riechers is a student from an interdisciplinary graduate-level course on the Triennial taught by the Triennial curatorial team. Her first post titled “Green Burials: Recycling Our Loved Ones” appeared on the Design Blog July 9th and was met with a huge response. We figured a follow up was warranted!


Despite the 21st century’s advances in science, technology and medicine, no one has yet been able to conquer death. As it has throughout history, death remains the great leveler, for kings and junkies, barmaids and opera singers. Everyone dies; there’s no app for that. We hate this. We refuse to even tolerate the subject in polite conversation, except when forced to confront the necessity of disposing of the remains of a loved one once he or she has shuffled off the mortal coil.


I wrote a short post for the Cooper-Hewitt’s blog about Capsula Mundi, a biodegradable egg-shaped coffin made of cornstarch plastic, meant to be buried with a tree planted atop it. Unlike an embalmed corpse sealed inside a bronze casket, a body buried in a “green” coffin such as this will decompose naturally. It seemed a sweet idea: non-toxic, eco-friendly, perhaps even a form of resurrection as the human remains nurture the living tree.


Not everyone agreed. The online discussion of the post on Reddit’s WTF page in late July unearthed some primal fears running through the collective unconscious (the title of the conversation was Trees Eating Humans? Yep) as well as some more mundane observations.


Observation #1: The definition of “natural” remains elusive whether we’re talking about foods or coffins.


HaCutLf noted, in support of eco-burial: You don’t have to clutter the ground with unnatural objects, and we get to give back to the planet in one way or another.


Monster21faces disagreed: We form the metal caskets. Everything we make is natural in its own right. It’s not like we’re mining resources from space and putting them into the ground.


Darkjediben added the last word: Metal caskets…are not naturally occurring. There is nowhere outside of human civilization where you can observe the formation of wild metal boxes.


Observation #2: When one primal fear comes up, others are sure to follow. Or: when discussing death, cannibalism might very well follow.


HaCutLf …I wonder if you could have a fruit tree grown from the nutrients within? Do you think it’d make an apple taste any different?


HellFire_Red At what point does it cease to be cannibalism?


Spiffington struck a note of reason: Not to be picky about it but it seems hard to have a well thought out preference when it comes to determining what recycles your remains – be it maggots, trees, birds, whatever.


Or: when you’re dead, you’re dead. Who cares what happens to the leftovers? Nevertheless, the conversation ended as it began:


CitizenPremier And, if you use a fruit tree, eventually your descendants might eat you!

Observation #3: Despite our technological sophistication, we still value that most primitive concept: relics. This commenter proposes a way to bring the centuries-old tradition of relic-gathering into modern times.

HellFire_Red You should be able to sell this idea to Christians pretty easily. When such a tree has matured enough, branches can be removed on occasion and made into relics.

Considering the insatiable market for bits of the “True” Cross, he’s on to something here. A tree planted over the grave of someone like Mother Theresa could provide an endlessly renewable source of income for a clever entrepreneur.

Angela Riechers
School of Visual Arts Design Criticism MFA program

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