Everybody dies. But there’s a high probability you won’t get to experience your own funeral, unless of course you’re imagining it during a Bushwick ayahuasca ceremony. But if you want to find out what it’s like to be dead sans pyschedelics, it may be worth forking over $40 for the “fantasy burial workshop” that Carrie Ahern is offering at the Immersive Gallery, a performance art venue in Williamsburg. We spoke with the local dancer and choreographer to find out more about death LARPing.
“The Art of Burial” starts out by asking participants to meditate on what they might want their burial to look like, which um yeah sounds pretty morbid. But Ahern says the workshop stemmed from an epiphany she had while watching her boyfriend’s father slowly decline from Alzheimer’s disease. “The many painful stages of that process made me realize how much pain and havoc is caused by denial of death and deterioration,” she explained. “I was getting concerned that death in culture (both animal and human) was getting ‘outsourced’ to professionals and people were more and more afraid to look it in the eye.”
Ahern decided that as an artist, she could do something about this. While choreographing another dance piece about death, she asked two dancers to imagine their own burial. “And then we enacted each fantasy burial on each other. It was very blissful,” she recalled. “A lightbulb went on– I thought anyone could do this, not just dancers.”
The workshop is set up in pretty much the same way. It’s a communal experience where each participant helps one another stage their desired burial. Though don’t expect to be thrown in an actual grave or crammed inside a coffin (wah wah). “Mostly we use our voices, bodies and imaginations, which is part of the fun,” Ahern clarified.
Each person will have the opportunity to be completely passive while their burial takes place around them. Giving people “a measure of control” in their own funeral, Ahern explained, “I think for many people takes the edge off the thought of death.”
And the experience cuts two ways– “It is also deeply pleasurable to enact other’s burials and to try to give them what they want,” she said.
Though we only recently picked up on “The Art of Burial” flyers posted around town, the workshop has been ongoing for a year, though mostly at private house parties and out of state. Interest has been steady and the workshop has appealed to people between the ages of 20 and 80, Ahern said, “but I often have to nudge people to actually sign up– naturally, most people are a bit scared.”
But once the workshops get under way, everyone seems to be something of a natural. Many people even find the experience to be life-affirming. And the burials are quite varied, though one common thread is the presence of water. “I have had someone who wanted her body to be on a sled, traveling through the forest with pine trees and picking people up and dropping people off on the way,” Ahern recalled of one participant’s ritual. “That burial ended at the sea, alone, with her body slowly dissipating.”
And though “The Art of Burial” is a creative endeavor for Ahern and not exactly therapy for existential crises, the artist hopes her work can get people to think differently about death. “I hope I can expand people’s comfort zones in thinking about death as well as open up the possibility of participating in a loved ones death or burial. Next of kin used to wash, dress and scent the bodies of their loved ones,” she explained. “I also know from my experience with my boyfriend’s father and my hospice patients that being there while someone is in their final stages can be incredibly beautiful and such a gift. We all probably have greater capacity for empathy than we realize.”
You better believe we signed up for this faster than you can say “necrophilia.” We’ll report back in the coming months about our experience so stay tuned.