Jae Rhim Lee delivering a talk for TEDGlobal2011. Credit: TED.com.
Jae Rhim Lee: Infinity Burial Project (2009-Present)
The use of formaldehyde and other poisonous carcinogens in current funeral practices is damaging the planet and adding to our ecological decline. Artist-researcher Jae Rhim Lee has a solution via bioremediation (the process of using microorganisms to remove environmental contaminants and restore the natural balance) and decompiculture (growing or culturing decomposing organisms). Some bacteria, plants, and fungi are capable of absorbing or degrading certain contaminants such as metals, pesticides, and solvents while even consuming human tissue. As an alternative to traditional burial or cremation, Lee proposes harnessing what she calls the ‘Infinity Mushroom’ to decompose our bodies. Infinity Burial Project began in 2009 with a grant from the Creative Capital Foundation. The project description explains:
The Infinity Burial Project explores the choices we face post-mortem and how our choices reflect our denial or acceptance of death’s physical and psychological implications. The two components include a modest proposal in physical form for a new land and energy independent burial system. The Infinity Burial System converts corpses into useable biomethane gas, detoxifies the corpse using a new hybrid mushroom (Infinity Mushroom), and creates clean compost. The Infinity Mushroom, a future hybrid mushroom will perform three functions: 1) decompose bodies, 2) remediate the accumulated industrial toxins in bodies, and 3) deliver nutrients from bodies to plant roots. The second component includes a documentary film about death denial, cryonics (the ultimate form of death denial), the development of the Infinity Burial System (the antidote to death denial), and Lee’s own confrontation with death through illness while she develops the Infinity Burial System.
Lee’s project is ongoing. It also consists of several components: cultivation of the Infinity Mushroom strain from shiitake and oyster mushrooms; development of a ‘Decompiculture Kit’ and ‘Infinity Burial Suit’ (both eventually made available to the public for purchase); and launch of the ‘Decompiculture Society’ for project supporters devoted to the new postmortem alternative. She’s also developing an app called Decomp Me, which is scheduled for exhibition at the 2012 ZERO1 Biennial (September 12th - December 8th). Learn more about Infinity Burial Project at http://infinityburialproject.com/.
The Infinity Mushroom (in progress). Credit: Courtesy of Jae Rhim Lee.