Dying arts: where the funeral sector and environmentalism intersect

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In the evolving landscape of the funeral industry, a wave of innovation is emerging at its intersection with the art world, driven by the common belief in sustainability.

At the forefront of this movement is artist and designer Simon Frend. His innovative new online art gallery, dyingarts.co.uk, offers sustainable cremation urns and funerary art, handcrafted by artists. It is also a platform for his own work and showcases his own groundbreaking collection of biodegradable and dissolvable cremation urns, which are made from unlikely but highly evocative materials like coffee and a newspaper, or cuttlefish bone and oystershell.

Simon’s creative journey can be traced to his education in silversmithing, metalwork and crafts and his work as an academic. He had established a creative practice, deeply rooted in material exploration, with recurrent themes about the body but it was his father’s passing that acted as the catalyst to explore the connections between art, environment and the rituals related to the body after death.

This exploration ultimately led to the creation of his recent collection of eco-cremation urns, aptly named ‘Closing the Circle’.

All of the works in his collection are either biodegradable and intended for interment in a natural setting

Closing the Circle embodies both the sustainable principles of circular design and the ceremonial act of returning our ephemeral bodies to the earth after death, completing the cycle of life.

The form of the cremation urns is based on the Korean moon jar and incorporates unconventional and evocative materials as diverse as tea and biscuits, sand and seaweed or even the charred remains of a fire on the beach. The work invites contemplation of the connections between environment, place, ritual and ceremony, life and death.

All of the works in his collection are either biodegradable and intended for interment in a natural setting, where they will gently decompose, or dissolvable and designed to disperse in the sea, in the time between tides. Some of the pieces are site-specific and designed to be returned to the very location where the materials were collected. Others evoke memories of life’s fond rituals, through their materiality.

Frend’s innovative and sustainable approach has not gone unnoticed. His work has been recognised within the funeral industry and the art world alike. In particular, his contributions were acknowledged at the Association of Green Funeral Directors’ Good Funeral Awards 2023, where he was named a finalist in the Best Innovative Product category.

Further showcasing his dedication to innovation and environmental consciousness, within the art and design world, Frend’s collection was exhibited at the Material Matters Fair 2023. Held at the iconic Bargehouse at Oxo Tower Wharf in London, this fair is a platform that showcases innovative and sustainable materials and design concepts.

Frend’s environmentally-conscious cremation urns were a standout feature at the fair, attracting significant acclaim for their evocative materiality and concept. The recognition Frend has received is a testament to the growing importance of environmental consciousness in the funeral industry.

Through dyingarts, Frend has created a platform that not only showcases his own collection but serves as a catalyst for conversations around the intersection of art, environmentalism, and the funeral industry and brings together artists and craftspeople with a similar ethos. His online platform offers a truly unique, curated gallery of hand made cremation urns and associated funerary artwork that can be found nowhere else.

Dyingarts challenges the notion of mass-produced cremation urns and invites individuals to select a unique vessel that honours their loved one, respects the environment and is the centrepiece to an authentic and personalised ceremony.

Looking ahead, Frend envisions growing ‘dyingarts’ through collaborations with artists, funeral directors and environmentalists and aims to revive the craftsmanship of funerary art. He hopes this will resonate with those who appreciate art and are seeking a more individual, authentic and ethical way to commemorate their loved one.

Naturally, he is driven to continue his own exploration of innovative materials, to reimagine ceremony and to create unique vessels which honour the deceased and life’s natural cycles.

Simon Frend’s groundbreaking work with dyingarts, is reshaping the way we approach end-of-life rituals and as the funeral industry continues to evolve, his contributions serve as a beacon of inspiration for others seeking to create a more compassionate, sustainable, and personalised approach to commemorating life’s journey.