Trapped beneath glass, delicately crocheted skeletons by artist Caitlin McCormack are suspended in death and decay—two things Megan Rosenbloom can’t get enough of.
Rosenbloom founded and directs her Death Salon, an organization that unites like-minded individuals to facilitate conversations centered around mortality. Through art, lectures and performances, the Death Salon hopes to do away with the hypersensitive nature with which death is regarded in western culture.
“The whole idea is bringing together a lot of different ideas,” Rosenbloom said. “Kind of like hanging out in a living room type of thing. Even though not a lot of living rooms hold 300 people.”
On Oct. 5 and 6, the Mütter Museum welcomed the fifth annual Death Salon. The Salon featured speakers, physicians, experts and 15th handpicked merchants and artists like McCormack, whose works capture the essence of death.
McCormack, a Philadelphia artist, sold her crocheted skeletons at the Dark Artisans’ Bazaar, a new addition to Death Salon.
“The bazaar is crucially important to the Philadelphia art scene,” McCormack said. “I am one hundred percent buying anything that draws any attention to Philadelphia. I think that the Mütter is a very important hub of dark art, but I don’t like to use those terms because they can be very limiting. How the bazaar represents the visible manifestations of mortality—I think that this is important, and that all of these artists can network.”
Speakers at the event like Dr. Paul Koudounaris challenged the role death plays in Western culture.
“We are so wrapped up in the idea that the way we deal with death is correct,” Koudounaris said.
Koudounaris spoke about the concept of the “soft border” between life and death present in many Eastern cultures, like Indonesia and the Philippines.
“The soft border is permeable where people are allowed to interact with those who have passed on, and the dead still have a role to play in society,” Koudounaris said. “What we have constructed is what I call the hard boundary, it’s kind of this line of death, you know, ‘thou shall not pass.’ To try to cross that line is sort of a taboo.”
Vendors of the Dark Artisans’ Bazaar used their work as a way for consumers to cross this line. The merchants offered everything from hand-crafted urns to umbrellas printed with colorful post-mortem samples.
“When the economy tanked, we were sitting around saying, ‘Well, how can we make some money?’” artist Anne Culver Noble said. “And I said, well, people keep dying.”
Noble runs Urns By Artists, an independent gallery specializing in cremation urns. She approached Rosenbloom about being a vendor at the bazaar to challenge the social taboo of death.
“I would say it’s a dream come true, but I would never have thought to have the dream in the first place,” Rosenbloom said. “I am so excited to be at the Mütter. Sometimes, when you’re from a place, you take for granted how special things are. I am so proud of Philadelphia being my hometown because I feel like I know everything about it. It’s special to be able to show it off to everyone and enjoy it myself from a totally different perspective.”
Erin Blewett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.