Art Created From Artist's Cremated Father On Display In London

By Richard Moss and Graham Spicer | 22 November 2006
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photo of a long thin transparent tube contain bands of different coloured particles

A Piece Of My Father by Jason Shulman. © Jason Shulman, Courtesy Kinetica

Some people keep their loved one’s ashes in an urn on the mantelpiece; others scatter them to the wind. A contemporary artist, however, has decided to pay tribute to his late father by using his cremated remains as part of a new artwork.

The work, entitled A Piece Of My Father, is on display as part of Magnetic Vision, a new exhibition at London’s Kinetica, the UK’s first museum dedicated to kinetic, electronic and experimental art.

Created by London-based artist Jason Schulman, the piece comprises suspended particles extracted from the ashes of his father by use of a magnetic field - together with brightly coloured elements, which have been meticulously sorted, sieved and filtered from his father’s remains.

“My father died, he was 92, and I went to collect his ashes from the funeral director,” Shulman told the 24 Hour Museum. “While I was there a thought dropped into my mind from a book I once read as a child about how, if you broke the human body down, you could get something like six erasers, four pencils, four horseshoe nails and things like that. What I particularly remembered was the iron in the body for the horseshoe nails.”

After being given a tour of the crematorium and a detailed explanation of the processes that go into the cremation of the human body, Shulman took the plastic bucket full of his father’s ashes back to his studio to test out the iron theory.

photo of a long thin transparent tube contain bands of different coloured particles

A Piece Of My Father (detail) by Jason Shulman. © Jason Shulman, Courtesy Kinetica

“I got a huge electromagnet and sifted the remains, which are like coarsely ground coffee, and all the iron basically stuck to the magnet.”

Emboldened by this remarkable discovery, he then spent the next couple of months meticulously filtering all the colours – the greens, the reds and the blues – visible in the remains, which appear as a result of the bones oxidising.

“It’s a very cathartic process to go through and it’s quite shocking coming across gallstones or a filling,” he added. “A great anvil drops on your head at the enormity of the experience. I think I kind of connected and disconnected with him at the same time – and to be honest I’m still surprised I did it.”

“My initial worry was how the family would react, because at the time they didn’t know I was doing it, but when they came to see the piece they were actually okay about it. I honestly don’t know what other people will make of it.”

The finished piece features beautiful stratified layers of colour and iron encased in a glass tube, which is precariously suspended by a thin thread above a concrete floor. If a heavy lorry trundles along the road outside the gallery, the whole piece shakes as though it could fall at any moment – effectively evoking a second level of mortality and adding a strangely human dimension to the work.

photo of a purple lightbulb shaped object containing wires and a glowing core

Perpetual Study In Defeat by Paul Fryer. © Paul Fryer, Courtesy Kinetica

It is, by its nature, a very personal work. But unlike other pieces of modern art Shulman, who has been praised by fellow artist Marc Quinn as “one of the most interesting artists I have seen for a long time,” says the piece is most definitely not for sale. “I will never sell it,” he said. “It will remain an art piece, but selling it would be like selling your own grandmother.”

It’s probably this personal and human element which makes this piece of art different from the other equally fascinating pieces on show – many of which display technologies such as electromagnetism as well as sound waves and computer technology.

Exhibits include Paul Fryer’s gaseous ‘star in a jar’ – officially titled Radiations – and Bruce Shapiro’s magnetised sand drawings.

"We have been overwhelmed by the positive response Kinetica has received since it opened,” said Dianne Harris, Kinetica’s Art Director. “It demonstrates that there is a genuine need for this type of dedicated international platform in the UK for kinetic and electronic art.”

Kinetica is situated in a new building over two floors of the Old Spitalfields Market. The Magnetic Vision exhibition runs until January 7 2007.

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