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15th of February 2014
4pm – 8pm

Arena under the Pipal tree close to the INSERT 2014 'Mati Ghar' exhibition site at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Dehli

This project is part of INSERT2014, presented by The Inlaks Foundation, Mumbai and is being realized with support from the Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan. The Delhi based artists Raqs Media Collective are the Artistic Directors for the project.


A project by Hannah Hurtzig
Research and Production:
Arnika Ahldag

Stage Design and Tarot cards: Florian Stirnemann

Technical Director:
Sayantan Maitra „Boka“

Counter hostess:
Kavya Murthy, Hannah Hueneke, Manya Goel, Vaibhav Singh, Kanika Kuthiala, Shweta Wahi

Anouncements hostess:
Lily Tekseng

Audience hostess:
Aprameya Manthena

Video documentation:
Varun Mathur and Gautam Pandey

Impress/Arokia Raj

Artistic Directors:
Raqs Media Collective

Executive Director:
Priya Pall

Assistant Curator:
Srinivas Aditya Mopidevi

Project Manager:
Shivangi Singh

A project for INSERT 2014
The Sharp Edge of the Global Contemporary, Artistic Directors: Raqs Media Collective

Programme-cards click to enlarge,
Graphic Design Florian Stirnemann


>> Programme

Death may be equally inevitable for everyone, but it does not conclude each life in an identical way. The fraction of time left to the self before death (or the extended process of dying) closes in on the conscious mind is the site of a last minute exercise. Each exercise demonstrates the fact that though death - the great leveler - may be a general theoretical problem - a question that haunts every philosophy - it nevertheless appears in various guises, changing form with time, place and situation. Concretely, there are as many kinds of death as there are lives, and there as many ways of denial and expulsion to think about our last minutes.

The discoursive installation will offer different mental and concrete exercises to be practiced in relation to the time of our death. Various specialists and practitioners from the fields of biology, medicine, veterinary science, philosophy, law, religious studies, forensics, art and anthropology will gather in New Delhi at a specially designed arena at 'Mati Ghar' exhibition site at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts to publicly present and debate different philosophical theories, scientific speculations and individual practices on the time of death at the invitation of Hannah Hurtzig and the Mobile Academy, Berlin. The discussions and debates will be open to the public, who will be free to enter into direct, face to face conversations with the invited specialists.

The many lives of death
The invited panel will present their accounts on what death means to science, law, religion, philosophy and culture. They will present reports on the controversies attending to its precise moment of occurrence and on the biological process of decomposition. They will narrate myths and religious metaphors surrounding death, discuss political scenarios and ethical conundrums, consider theories of metamorphosis and attend to martyrdom, meaning and meaninglessness while talking about death.

The diverse experiential, cultural and historical facets of death as a human phenomenon are shaped and perceived differently across the world, and have been seen and talked about differently across time. This event will embrace and stage that diversity. Even the seemingly straightforward question of "When, precisely, is one dead ?" – evokes a variety of answers. The answers vary with who answers, with who is asking, and why the question is being asked.
Does death connote finality, or a transition? Is the moment of death a moment of disintegration into elemental nature or a dissolution into the cosmos ? Does it occur when a person stops breathing or when their funeral rites are concluded ? Is it a marker of the marvelous contingency and brevity of human life, or a prelude to an embrace of the infinite. Is it a cul-de-sac, a vestibule or corridor leading to other states of existence, or a prelude to a return to the world ? Is death the occasion for a judgement on the conduct of how a life was lived? Is it the great tidying up of the mess of all our days, the instrument that re-establishes the order of the world ? Is it death that ensures that the individual is absorbed into the collective presence of memory or rendered absent into oblivion? Does death renew life by making room for the living? Is death a means for the harpooning of awareness, an occasion for an ethical lesson and a chance to shape our life; or is it always an unacceptable imposition that has to be categorically rejected if one has to affirm life?

The clinical death
No matter how particularly we may view the concreteness of death and dying, a certain definition of the moment of death has established itself around much of the world in recent times. We could call this the definition of 'clinical death'.
In 1968 an Ad hoc Commission of the US Harvard Medical School in Boston published what came to be known as the 'brain death criteria'. These criteria include - absence of brain activity, lack of responsiveness, irreversible loss of reflexes and inability to breathe without a ventilator.

With the operationalization of this definition in clinical practice and palliative care it is no longer medically necessary to wait for the heart to stop beating, or for the appearance of the customary signs of death like rigor mortis and suggillation. According to this definition, when one is 'brain dead', only then is one a corpse, even if the body is still warm and the blood circulating. Except for a few minor details, the 'brain death' criteria remain in force in many places down to the present day. It is no longer the heart but the brain that determines the time of death. (The brain death criterion was introduced in Germany in 1968, in Finland in 1971, in India in 1994, Taiwan in 1987. Japan has till today not accepted the criterion. The UK rejected whole brain death as a criterion, while accepting 'irreversible brain stem damage' as the criterion of death in 1977. The Uniform Determination of Death Act established the Brain Death criteria in the USA in 1981).

In 1968 a legally unobjectionable concept of the 'time of death' was seen as necessary in order to juridically frame the transplantation of vital organs that were still supplied by blood. The first heart transplantation along these lines had taken place on December 3, 1967 in Cape Town, South Africa. Till this time, the doctors operating an organ transplant worked without a legal safeguard for their actions.

With the brain dead criterion we have accepted (without ever being asked) a theoretical construct for death. This medicalized theory of death demands of us that we take a few startling premises as given: that from now on death has a definitive location in the body, and that it takes place in the brain. The timeframe for determining death is brought forward, for – after all – the organs are still working. We are asked to no longer trust our sensory perception - for what we see is a body wherein the blood still circulates –even though we are asked to believe the judgment of experts who have pronounced it dead. Further, we have accepted that this definition of our time of death is based neither on a philosophical or ethical rationale, but on the economic rationality of adjusting the pressing demand for organs to a real shortfall of donors.

At the same time, it must be clearly acknowledged that the functioning of the brain death criteria can and does save lives and addresses the cruel paucity of healthy organs for patients in critical conditions. However, as the philosopher Hans Jonas noted in his criticisms of the criteria as early as 1968, this medical theory of death denies the objective indeterminacy of death.

A tool-kit for exercising the last minute
These different scenarios, motifs and motivations are conceived as constituting a thematic scaffolding for a set of discursive exercises to be practiced in relation to the time of death. The conversations unfolding as a part of 'Last Minute Exercises' under the Pipal Tree next to the Mati Ghar offer conceptual building blocs from which we can fashion our own intellectual tool-kit for confronting the time of departure. Perhaps some of these could become talismans, mnemonic aphorisms or mantras. Perhaps we could appropriate them as our own techniques to sharpen our consciousness of and for the last moment.

Thanatology, meditation on death, is a time-honored technique, going back to Ancient Greeks who understood death as an aesthetic exercise, as well as to practices outlined in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. These included the suggestion to imagine the faces of the mourners lined up at the grave. This latter exercise is indeed practiced today in another guise, by actors playing corpses in American TV series, who have to be able to professionally and convincingly embody the presence of death in life before the camera.

How can we take life seriously, if we do not look death in the face? Let's talk about a different thanatology, under the papal tree at mati ghar in Delhi.

>> Programme