Five abandoned gravestones with newly engraved names
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In geological terms, the human life cycle is very short. The cycle of stone, from volcanic matter into mountains, is very slow, and yet it is from here that the material commonly used for grave markers is taken.

The current rate of population growth is 250,000 people each day. This affects burial practices, so that the eternal resting place of an individual is now a patch of land with a short rental contract. In many countries, the agreement between the Christian church and an individual is standardized to 25 years, even if during this period of time saprotrophs have no chance to decompose the human body. Grave markers today are often very thin compared with those of 100 years ago, when the population of the world was much smaller. So even in that way, we must save space and natural resources because of the number of human beings. However, gravestones could be recycled from person to person by simply scratching out one name and replacing it with another.

“Recycled” is about demographic change in a global as well as a local sense. As the economies and populations of European countries stagnate, Asian, Arab and Latin American countries are booming and growing. The old names on the stones reflect the old (German) society, and on these heavy old stones there is space for poems, rhymes and eulogies. The new names on the same gravestones reflect the global trends that have also become local trends through immigration.

The most common man’s name in Germany is replaced by Mohammed, the most common name in the world. For women's names, Maria is still holding strong, because of its popularity in Latin America. The most common last name is now Chang. And as all these names have long ago superseded names like Smith or Miller, so also is the land being inherited by new, vital populations – or what used to be the resting place of Oma Gertraud is statistically becoming that of Mohammed.

Die Weltpopulation steigt um 250 000 Personen täglich. Aus Platzmangel sind Mietverträge für letzte Ruhestätten begrenzt, normalerweise auf 25 Jahre pro Platz. Grabsteine und Monumente werden immer noch für die Dauer von Jahrtausenden hergestellt, und normalerweise werden sie nach einmaligem Gebrauch zu Kies zermahlen. Um natürliche Ressourcen und menschliche Kräfte zu sparen sowie Landschaften zu schützen, könnten dieselben Grabsteine für viele Personen weiter genutzt werden. Die neuesten Namen und Daten auf den wiederverwendeten Steinen basieren auf den weltweit häufigsten Namen (z.B. Muhammed ist der gebräuchlichste Vorname und Chang der häufigste Nachname) sowie den größten Generationen in der Geschichte, und sie geben die statistischen Durchschnittslebenserwartungen wieder.


Encounter with Muhammad

Brück is a remote little district town in the countryside of Land Brandenburg about 70 km South West of Berlin. In front of the medical centre of Brück there is a little green area with grass and high trees. Somewhere here the former cemetery of Brück was located many years ago. Tea Mäkipää chose this little park as a location for her work „Recycled“ when she was participating in the fall of 2011 in the public art festival „On the thresholds of privacy“ which I curated then.

The work „Recycled“ consists of five old gravestones. Tea Mäkipää has brought them from Weimar where they had been waiting to be crashed into gravel. They are placed in the grass like randomly scattered, some awkwardly standing, others a bit sunken in the ground. The setting looks just as old cemeteries look like when most of the graves have been vacated and nobody cares anymore about the few leftover stones nor about the names they are carrying.

Tea Mäkipää has roughly removed the original names from the five stones with a chisel and has engraved different names and life dates on them. She chose first names like Muhammad and Maria, and last names like Smith and Chang that she had found out to be the most common names in the world. As representatives for different continents and cultures they also reflect the biggest generations in history that live on this planet at the moment. Accordingly the new fictive life dates that are engraved onto the stones represent these generations whose death is projected to the future. Like in science fiction we look at this work of art so-to-say from the future to the present.

From this time-warp-perspective I look at the stones. Except for the names the old inscriptions have not been erased in order to keep their authenticity. On one of them one can still read the words „Geliebt und unvergessen“ (Beloved and unforgotten) and the life dates of the original owner *14.12.1935 +13.12.1988. The line underneath shows the new shiny letters „Sneha Banerjee 1975 – 2037“. The name sounds Indian to me. Involuntarily I compare and combine the informations on this stone. The first owner died 26 years ago, exactly one day before his/her 53rd birthday, quite young, maybe from a disease or through an accident. Already the grave of this person has been vacated and his/her gravestone became a piece of trash - unforgotten? When the first owner died Sneha Baneerje’s generation was already 13 years old, in average. She will die in about 23 years from now – beloved? Erase, copy and paste. I cannot help my ironical view about this inscription. When I google „Sneja Baneerje“ I get 8.770.000 hits.

The growth rate is about 250.000 per day. What a damage it would do to nature if each of the future inhabitants of the planet would claim their private gravestone from granite that took millions of years to grow. That is why Tea Mäkipää suggests to recycle the old gravestones and to use them several times in order to save natural resources and to protect landscapes. Obviously there will not be enough gravestones in Old Europe to be recycled for the exploding generations of Asia, Arab and Latin America. But this work of art is meant as a symbolic statement and memorial against exploitation of the planet. It is also crossing the borderline between artistic hypothesis and real life. Her courageous idea to work with original gravestones and place them in the middle of a community touches the cultural taboo of death. This is what makes it so impressive.

When the local people discovered the gravestones on their way to the medical centre some of them felt quite irritated because they still remembered the former function of the park as a cemetery. They had generously offered their little park for the art festival and now they felt personally disturbed about this problematic work. Soon there were protests from inhabitants who felt their feelings being hurt. They thought that the gravestones originated from the old cemetery in Brück and found a lack of respect for their ancestors.

The population of Brück is shrinking. The statistics say that in the future big areas in Land Brandenburg will become depopulated. Young people are leaving and the old people that stay are sceptical about any changes. Some of them don’t even like foreigners to move into this region of Germany. Therefore it must have been hard for them to accept Tea Mäkipää’s conclusion of „what used to be the resting place of Oma Gertraud is statistically becoming that of Mohammed“. But maybe there is a chance that Tea Mäkipää’s wide and global perspective helped them also to step beyond their mental limits and become more aware of the vulnerability of our planet.

Susken Rosenthal

Inscriptions on the five stones:

*2.7.1894 - +22.7.1967
*4.3.1895 + 6.6.1985
Maria Gonzáles
1980 – 2050

John Smith
1950 – 2022

Wei Chang
1978 – 2051

Geliebt und unvergessen
*14.12.1935 +13.12.1988
Sneha Banerjee
1975 – 2037

Aus der Lieben Arm geschieden,
Aber aus dem Herzen nie.
Nimm die Tränen – ruh in Frieden,
Du starbst für uns viel zu früh.
Muhammad Ahmadi
2000 – 2061
Allahu akbar!