Centre for Death & Society



Principal Investigator: Jordan Baseman, University of the Arts, London


Funder: Wellcome Trust


Project rationale and aims

As a project, R.I.P. (a series of films and screening events) will explore Western Culture’s relationship with death, as seen through the professional and personal experiences of an embalmer, Geoff Taylor; an alternative funeral director, Cara Mair; set alongside the cultural and sociological role of embalming as discussed by the sociologists, Dr. John Troyer and Dr. Kate Woodthorpe from the Centre for Death and Society, University of Bath.

R.I.P. will investigate all aspects of contemporary embalming; including the technical and anatomical processes of this restorative art, as well as the philosophical and sociological significance and meaning of the practice.

R.I.P. will be a moving-image based, experimental portrait about contemporary embalming, reconstruction processes, preparation for burial (on Land and Sea) and cremation: offering a fascinating insight into an often hidden art.

Contemporary embalming serves three main functions: to sanitise the body immediately after death, in order to stop the spread and promotion of disease; to restore and preserve the body, therefore, slowing the rate of decomposition, and finally; to cosmetise and present the body to the family and loved ones who are left behind so that their final encounter with the deceased provides the visual foundations for positive memories. The last function: to preserve the memory of the deceased in the minds of the living - is probably the most significant task of the embalmer.

The main objectives of this research are:  

  1. To develop and produce a film about embalming that will provide insights into this often hidden practice
  2. To ask questions about Western Society’s relationship with death and dying through the production and subsequent exhibition of a film about embalming.
  3. To interview Geoff Taylor, Cara Mair, Dr. John Troyer and Dr. Kate Woodthorpe and to record their feelings, beliefs and thoughts about the role of embalming within our society.
  4. To question how the study of embalming helps our knowledge and understanding of mankind and humanity
  5. To make use of the four participant’s personal accounts and professional experiences towards the production of the soundtrack for an experimental art film.
  6. To produce new and original visual research through recording footage in contemporary embalming suites at the London School of Embalming (and at Lodge Brothers Funeral Services (where some of the London School of Embalming classes are taught).
  7. To reach audiences through the presentation of the film at venues throughout the UK and to create an active online presence
  8. To create a series of screenings/exhibitions/events in which a new film about embalming will be presented to public audiences.
  9. To disseminate this research to a wide audience, particularly adults and young adults interested in contemporary art and/or science, through the exhibition/screening processes.

Project outputs and impacts

The audiences for R.I.P. will be broad, and will include; artists, art students, scientists, embalmers, funeral directors, anatomists, independent celebrants, theologians and the general public. Each screening/exhibition of the film will be a distinct event where there will be an in-depth question and answer session between invited Cultural Commentators (science writers, art-critics, journalists, academics, and artists) the audience and myself. The question and answer sessions will further open up the oft-hidden subject of embalming and create a real dialog about this topic. These eventswill be free to attendees.

The specific outputs will be:

  1. Production of the film for showing to a diverse audience around the country
  2. Screenings/exhibitions/events of research results
  3. Development of project website

It is hoped that the research and subsequent screenings will help dispel some of the myths surrounding the practice of embalming.

Find out more about this project

Name: Mrs Caron Staley
Title: Institute Manager
Department: Dept of Computer Science
Location: Virgil Building 3.28
E-mail: c.staley@bath.ac.uk
Phone: work+44 (0) 1225 386275