Multispecies Mourning
Speculative Archaeology (201901)

Fig. 1 Exhibition view, “Collecting bones my partner consumes, turning them into a porcelain urn”, Practices of Approximation, Temporary Gallery Cologne4


        For this project I collected bones of non-human animals my partner had eaten. I calcined them at 1000 degrees Celsius, turning them into bone ash. Then, I used the ash to form a porcelain object.


Some lives are grievable, and others are not; the differential allocation of grievability that decides what kind of subject is and must be grieved, and which kind of subject must not, operates to produce and maintain certain exclusionary conceptions of who is normatively human: what counts as a livable life and a grievable death?1 

There are people who are in relationships of complicity to, for example, the meat industry, by their demand for goods that are produced under certain conditions. How can coexistence and the relationship between people with different concepts of action (for example, those who reject products of animal origin, and those who consume them on the other hand) be possible or designed in a dialectic-affective way?
        I am exploring these questions by looking at my own relationships, engaging dialogues with my partner, the animals’ remains and others involved. One part is the collection of bones that are connected with my partners consumption of animal-products, establishing this as a ritual / habit and thinking about politics of mourning and remembering—grievability in the context of human-animal relations. This self-reflective research process is materialised through a porcelain urn, raising questions of usability (using others and the suffering of being useful) and framing the process aesthetically.
        This work is always in progress. As long as the relationship between me and my partner—and similar relationships between others—will continue, this issue will persist, shift, change or even disappear. 


Industrial use of bones is opaque: photographic film and paper, cellular concrete, matches, sandpaper, pigments for painting, bullets, and extra calcium yoghurt are examples for more or less unexpected encounters with processed bones. The use of bones in porcelain is an European tradition and is therefore connected to the emergence of Bone China in 18th century England. The country was in need of materials it could not produce by itself or in its colonies. Kaolin—also known as china clay—, was one of these materials and is essential to the production of porcelain. Thomas Frye began substituting bones – highly available at this time in England. Therefore, the worlds first documented proposal of using bone ash for manufacturing porcelain can be found in Thomas Fryes (Bow Porcelain Company) second patent:

On Nov. 17, 1749, Thomas Frye, of the parish of West Ham in the Co. of Essex, painter, for a new method of making a certain ware, which is not inferiorin beauty and fineness, and is rather superior in strength, than the earthenware that is brought from the East Indies, and is commonly known by the name of China, japan, or porcelainware." Animals, vegetables, and fossils, by calcining, grinding and washing, are said to produce an insoluble matter, named virgin earth, but some in greater quantities than others, as all animal substances, all fossils of the calcareous kind, as chalk, limestone, &c.: take therefore any of these classes, calcine it, grind and wash it in many waters [...] 2

In most restaurants we visited, trying to get the corresponding bones of the meal (eg bone soup) or any bone at all was vain endeavour. The bones most likely never reached the kitchen, are part of a distribution chain, or were already thrown away. However, upon others a Chinese restaurant in Vienna could give us the bones connected to the soup my partner ate. I documented them (one photograph is part of the installation) and conserved them on ice until the cremation took place. Later in the process, my partner helped me out by asking particular restaurants staff for “her” bones. The bones would have been thrown away by the restaurants.


        On Friday, November 30, 2018, I prepared the first bones for cremation. The calcined bones were ready to be taken out of the kiln after 6 hours. The numerous sets of either sheep or cattle bones were being calcined at 1000° Celsius. Before the burning, the bones were dried using a flat heating curve—one hour at approximately 80° Celsius.

Fig. 3 Bones in the kiln at around 200° celcius.

After calcining, the bones are mostly porous, white, with some brown or grey spots (most likely due to the air still inside the kiln). The bones partially being extremely hard, makes the process of grinding by hand especially tiring. I spent hours pestling using a large porcelain mortar; then using water to bind the already pulverised material.
        Although the outcome of the process was mostly fine bone ash with still some bigger pieces, my decision was to not screen it.

Fig. 4 Bones after calcination

Fig. 5 Bones, mortar and pestle


        The design process started before my working with bones—the rendering (fig. 6) shows an impeccable industrially produced object. The remains are not visible – neither on the outside nor on the inside. There is no trace.
        During the research process I was looking into historic aspects of death ritual related vessels in different parts of the world. Additionally I studied contemporary ceramics including exhibition catalogues on urn-related exhibitions. But instead of using old, modern or creating new ornaments, I decided to think more about form, lines and function. I was influenced by notions of usability (Brauchbarkeit) and its reflection in ancient Chinese philosophy—especially the Zhuangzi 庄子:

The region of Jingshi in Song is fine for growing catalpas, cypresses, and mulberries. But those that are more than one or two arm lengths around are cut down for people who want monkey perches; those that are three or four spans around are cut down for the ridgepoles of tall roofs; and those that are seven or eight spans are cut down for the families of nobles or rich merchants who want side boards for coffins. So they never get to live out the years Heaven gave them but are cut down in midjourney by axes. This is the danger of being usable.3

The design of the urn includes references which make it immediately appear as an urn. The urn is divided in the lower middle, which still enables the function of storing things but also to use each of the two parts as eating vessel. It can be used to keep ash, but instead the ash is part of the object.

Fig. 6 Rendering Urn I, Vray

After the object’s size, form and colour were set, I had to decide on a porcelain recipe/mixture with little impact on colour, keeping the object relatively white, even when burned in an oxidizing kiln. The next steps were again took place at the ceramics studio of the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. This includes the creation of the plaster model and moulds at the plaster workshop, as well as the casting. My partner, who joined me already for the cremation of the bones, was taking part in these steps again, documenting the process. 


        The casting process consists of many steps and includes long drying-phases. Here you can find a documentation of the casting process ︎ I created for the ceramics studio of the University of Applied Arts Vienna.

Fig. 8 Process of reworking the urn before burning. Ceramics Studio, University of Applied Arts Vienna.

The object has to be reworked after drying to remove the seam created by the two parts of the mold as well as drops left on the inside walls of the object. I realised, that the small pieces bones became even more visible after this step. 
        The porcelain is then burned at 1220 degrees Celsius. Aluminium oxide is used to prevent the two parts from sticking together or to the ground.
Here you can find more photos of the process and exhibitions ︎

Fig. 9 Finished objects in the kiln, at around 50° celcius

Project details
Supervisors: Prof. Ute Hörner, Prof. Mathias Antlfinger, Academy of Media Arts, Cologne (Kunsthochschule für Medien)
Supervisors (Ceramics): Sen. Lect. Mag. art. Maria Wiala; Sen. Lect. Mag. Ing. Peter Platzer; Sen. Lect. Mag. art. Martina Zwölfer, University of Applied Arts Vienna

This project was in parts realised during my ERASMUS+ studies at University of Applied Arts Vienna (Universität für angewandte Kunst Wien in 2018/19.

Appearances Group Exhibitions
︎we, animals (8), cur. Anne Hölck, Meinblau project space Berlin
︎Practices of Approximation (Praktiken der Annäherung), cur. Aneta Rostkowska, Temporary Gallery Cologne

︎Minding Animals Germany Symposion, 21–22 September 2019, University of Arts Berlin, Germany
︎The First International Queer Death Studies Conference: Death Matters, Queer(ing) Mourning, Attuning to Transitionings, 4–5 November 2019, Karlstads Universitet, Sweden
︎Thinking Species — Austro-Canadian Animal and Media Ethics Conference, 6 December 2019, University of Innsbruck, Austria

Special thanks to the ceramics studio of the University of Applied Arts Vienna and Sandra Gigerl, who took great part in making this project possible; Yue Wang, who in parts photographed the documentation and was open for and interested in (doing) this project; Thomas Hawranke, PhD, Nieves de la Fuente Gutiérrez and Profs Hörner/Antlfinger of the department of Media Art / Installation “Transmedialer Raum” at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne, who supervised this project; Axel Autschbach of the KHM wood and metal workshop, Heiko Diekmeier and Claudia Trekel of the KHM photography lab, as well as to Anne Hölck, curator of MEINBLAU Projektraum, Berlin and initiator of the exhibition series we , animals, where this work was first shown.

1 Butler, Judith. 2004. Precarious life. The powers of mourning and violence. Verso. XV
2 Chaffers, William. 1876. Marks and monograms on pottery & porcelain of the renaissance and modern periods. Bickers & son. 885f.
3 Watson, Burton. 2013. The Complete works of Zhuangzi. Translations from the Asian classics. New York: Columbia University Press. 31-32. (内篇, 人间世 Inner Chapters, book IV, part VI) 

Installation at Temporary Gallery (2019, top view)
1     Urn, Bone China (Small pieces of bones are visible, strong deformation)
2    Urn, Sanitary porcelain (None to little deformation during the burning process)
3    Bone (Cattle) with marks most likely cut with a bone knife
4    Various bones of sheep

Additional Material 
︎ Exhibition Booklet we , animals 8
︎ Exhibition Booklet Practices of Approximation