Death With Dignity

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7 May 2011 By Ana Finel Honigman

Death with Dignity

Death with dignity is precious, and dignified depictions of death are rare and extraordinary.

Skulls, bones and other iconography flaunting and taunting death are on display everywhere from malls to art galleries and high-end boutiques. But few of those works go beyond the most basic and base Goth conventions to become truly compelling, poignant commentaries about death. The talismans collected here are a glorious exception. Understated, mature and intimate, they appeal poetically to timeless fears and universal desires.

The magnificent memento mori cast-animal skulls and bones that Mireille Boucher creates for her Montreal-based Harakiri line are haunting and sophisticated. Boucher casts bones, bird and rodent skulls into pendants and sleek cuffs. The impact of Boucher’s pieces derive from their delicacy. They appear sculptural and geometric from a distance, but their precise realism becomes evidence once they are encountered up close.

Bjørg’s cast of a real snake spine as part of her Darwin collection also appears minimalist and elegant from a distance. Bjørg’s childhood in the arctic nature of the north of Norway inspired her collection, but her aesthetic is entirely suited to an elegant, urban setting. The bracelet is a subtle and sleek accessory which is quiet about its true identity, making its real meaning especially powerful. Her sterling silver necklace, made from a cast of a real crab’s claw is less discreet about its origins, but its sensual curves and earthy texture create a mesmerizingly poetic impression.

man wearing lots of jewellery with tattoos

Jonathan Goldstein’s classic “Camazotz’s Claw” ring does not originate directly from a previously living creature like the Harakiri and Bjørg pieces. However, its organic appearance similarly evokes an awareness of mortality and the relationship between humans and animals who fight and hunt for their lives. Goldstein explains that his ring’s design is based on ancient Mayan iconography of the God Camazotz, a guardian bat who protected the underworld.

The “modern” version of the ring is polished and has a futuristic, machine-like quality. But Goldstein’s process of recasting, oxidizing and hand-polishing his “classic” rings creates a moody, blackened surface that conjures up images of smoky darkness and depictions of death. He warns that “his ring is pointy, and should be used with caution. Great for head turning and self-defense.”

The rough edges and black coils of Aoi Kotsuhiroi’s stunning rings and necklaces also have an underworld aspect that evokes Camazotz’s Claw. At first, Kotsuhiroi’s work doesn't appear to reference mortality. But her magnificently muted, ghost-like crystals enveloped in tendrils of black string are actually more faithful to the memento mori tradition than morose or showy skulls.

huge spike platform heeled shoes

As Kotsuhiroi explains, her inspiration comes from “Victorian jewellery among other things, but also the Buddhist offering, the scalp of my enemy.” In keeping with her training in poetry, Kotsuhiroi writes that her use of hair relates, “especially the notion of sensuality and caress that exists in the hair. I do not want to limit the hairs as a symbol or put it in a category of history. This thread is a tentacle that leaves our body to feel the outside and the soul of things. It continues to grow like a plant. I catch the leaves as a memory that I keep in my magical 'herbarium.' Perhaps it is a skeleton of the soul, as well as bone it does not rot.”

Since these designers’ works are so clearly worth cherishing, it will be a delight to see the chic chicks of today age into little old-ladies, elegantly facing the inevitable, arming themselves with an Aol Kotsuhiroi or Harakiri memento-mori piece of jewellery.