This past weekend, a very unique exhibit was on display at Turner Fine Arts in Birmingham. Here Lies is the result of over thirty years’ work and incorporates ashes “acquired from a crematorium the artist worked at when he was a teenager in the 1970s,” according to the art gallery’s description. For those unfamiliar with the crematory process, these rescued relics were the “waste” that would have ended up in the trash or the garden; Crowder was not making off with the memorial urns of the crematorium’s clients, as I had first assumed.
“We were disposing of the dead but also talking sensitively to the relatives,” Crowder, 56, told Birmingham Mail. “We were careful to ensure that, for example, 99 per cent of Auntie Ethel’s remains were hers. However, what people don’t realize is that one per cent would be sucked into the side flue and this was the waste I used.”
Crowder, a “real country boy” fascinated by the natural world, knew as a 16-year-old crematorium employee that he would eventually create something with these ashes. The ashes, to him, are powerful because of their anonymous nature — a mix of people who, reduced to dust, were ultimately indistinguishable.
The Here Lies exhibition contains 20 pieces of art, each featuring ashes fused to canvases with paint using what Turner Fine Arts describes as Crowder’s “own signature technique.” Though those of us on this side of the pond have sadly missed out on seeing the exhibition in person, prints of select pieces are available. Another way to participate: Crowder is still collecting cremains for further art projects that as of yet remain bare concepts. People who wish to quite literally be a part of Crowder’s work are encouraged to contact the gallery via their enquiries section here.
It’s not the first time artists have worked with ashes that belong to strangers — last year, we covered the pottery of Chronicle Cremation Designs, a dinner series made with the cremains of 200 people and “designed to infuse a sense of mortality into everyday moments.”
All images via Turner Fine Arts.