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Ashes to art, dust to diamonds: the incorporation of human cremation ashes into objects and tattoos in contemporary British practices

McCormick, Samantha (2015) Ashes to art, dust to diamonds: the incorporation of human cremation ashes into objects and tattoos in contemporary British practices. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

This thesis examines the incorporation of human cremated remains into objects and tattoos in a range of contemporary practices in British society. Referred to collectively in this study as ‘ashes creations’, the practices explored in this research include human cremation ashes irreversibly incorporated or transformed into: jewellery, glassware, diamonds, paintings, tattoos, vinyl records, photograph frames, pottery, and mosaics. This research critically analyses the commissioning, production, and the lived experience of the incorporation of human cremation ashes into objects and tattoos from the perspective of two groups of people who participate in these practices: people who have commissioned an ashes creations incorporating the cremation ashes of a loved one and people who make or sell ashes creations. This qualitative study begins by exploring processes of commissioning; it argues that ashes creations are practices concerned with commissioners’ desires to maintain spatial proximities and an intimate relatedness with their deceased loved ones. The thesis moves on to explore the making of ashes creations, tracing how conceptual and physical boundaries are transcended as creative materials and cremation ashes irreversibly intermingle. The ashes creations that emerge from these processes perform as subjects and objects as they are experienced as loved ones and beloved things. Concluding with an exploration of how ashes creations are lived with in participants’ ongoing lives, this thesis considers the ways in which intimate relatedness is enacted through performances of presence. These performances are characterised by notions of loved ones returning as the deceased continues to participate in the lives of the living. What emerges, across the materially disparate practices of ashes creations, are recurring narratives of relationality, uniqueness, and presence. As cremation ashes are increasingly being located away from landscapes traditionally associated with death and towards the spatial domains of the living, this study contributes to our understanding of the personalised practices that people engage in with cremation ashes.

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