The significance of memorabilia.
Preserving mementos is another way to honour loved ones and plays a significant role in coming to terms with loss . It can be said that memorabilia are an inseparable part of a grieving process, they remind us of the death of others and of our own mortality.11 This opinion oscillates between the notion of consciously collecting objects that belonged to the deceased and, on the other hand, a much more unintentional encounter with personal possessions that were left behind, oftentimes comprised of prosaic items that we wouldn’t necessarily collect.
The first group is identified as souvenirs, samples of events which can be remembered, but not relived. They exist in order to authenticate the narrative in which the bereaved talk about their grief. Therefore they have the power to deny the passing of time and carry the past into the present.
“Souvenirs, then, are lost youth, lost friends, lost past happiness; they are the tears of things”.12
Another approach to memorabilia formulates the term ‘evocative objects’, describing items that can hold the vast structure of recollection. These objects might not necessarily have belonged to the deceased but they possess an emotional link to that person. Evoking that link can be achieved by a variety of factors; through items kept from childhood, smell of someone’s perfumes and cooking being the most common of them all, it draws our attention to the fact that “[an] object can hold an unexplored world, containing within it memory, emotion, and untapped creativity”. 13 That note is even further emphasized by Marcel Proust and his, now acclaimed madeleine cake. In the first volume of Remembrance of Things Past Proust finds himself tasting a spoonful of madeleine when suddenly he is overwhelmed by a returning memory that this cake has evoked. He concludes that “…after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring (…) remain poised a long time”.14
In the recent years designers have engaged the topic of grief into a range of different practices, making grieving process more approachable and aiming to familiarize their audiences with the inevitability of their own death. It demonstrates that the discussion about mortality is not something that design should refrain from.
Some of the most prominent and startling projects involve the use of human ashes to create objects that facilitate mourning. Geraldine Spilker in her project Memento – After Time Elapsed has invented and tested a method of combining ashes with resin, making a tactile product from cremated remains. The object – in the shape of a spinning top - is entirely biodegradable, so the ashes can be returned to the earth when the bereaved is prepared. Meanwhile, it is possible to hold, caress and carry around the ashes. As described by Spilker herself: “It moves away from the static existence of an urn, to a gentle dynamic of picking up, touching, playing and observing.”. 15