We talked to the artist who made a dildo-shaped urn for people’s ashes

memory box

That’s one way to mourn.

This article contains sexually explicit content.

The best way to commemorate the loss of a cherished friend or family member is to grab a bottle of their favorite wine, have a picnic at their graveside, and pour one out to the tune of Frank Sinatra’s “Summer Wind.” Or alternatively, you could pay your respects by blasting “Summer Wind” from a giant iPod speaker whilst penetrating yourself with a dildo filled with their ashes. Either one, really. 

The latter is the central conceit of 21 Grams, an installation by Dutch artist Mark Sturkenboom. 21 Grams (the title is a reference to the weight of the human soul, as well as the weight of the ashes in the box) is a “memory box” containing an amplifier, a scent diffuser, and a translucent phallus holding a small gold urn, which serves as a container for the dearly departed’s ashes. The amplifier is designed to play your deceased loved one’s favorite music, while the scent diffuser sprays an odor that reminds the user of them.

Mark Sturkenboom

Mark Sturkenboom

Mark Sturkenboom

In theory, the memory box is intended to serve as a portal into the distant past for an elderly widow aching to relive “intimate memories” of a departed loved one. “By bringing different nostalgic moments together like the scent of his perfume, ‘their’ music and reviving the moment he gave her her first ring, it opens a window to go back to moments of love and intimacy,” Sturkenboom’s mission statement says on his website.

In an email to the Daily Dot, Sturkenboom explained that the memory box project was inspired by an elderly woman who lives next door to him. Occasionally, he helped her out with her groceries, and one day he noticed that she had an urn containing her husband’s remains on her windowsill.

“She always speaks with so much love about him but the jar he was in didn’t reflect that at all,” Sturkenboom said. 

After reading an article about widows’ fraught relationship with sex and desire following the passing of their loved ones, he decided to make an art object that captured the personality of the deceased, while simultaneously helping to recapture a sense of “love and missing and intimacy.”  

To be clear, Sturkenboom’s “memory box” is an art object, so it’s not intended for actual use. (He also doesn’t consider the dildo an actual dildo, so much as a “phallus-shaped urn” that refers to the object’s themes of love and intimacy.) But he does hope that the memory box helps to spark a conversation about loss, ephemerality, and intimacy, which might shape our relationship with death and grief for the better. 

The box is “intended to change some things in the way we bury or cremate or reminisce [about] someone,” Sturkenboom explained, which he hopes will “create some new ideas for the death care market that are more commercially useful.”

Will we start seeing dildo-shaped urns sold at funeral homes across the country? Probably not. But although many have dismissed the project as creepy or bizarre, it’s nonetheless resonated with Sturkenboom’s target audience, such as an elderly couple from Milan that he recently spoke with.

“They saw the work and understood what it meant,” Sturkenboom said. “The man turned to me and said: ‘It makes me excited about dying.’” An overstated endorsement, to be sure, but an endorsement nonetheless.

Photo via Mark Sturkenboom

EJ Dickson

EJ Dickson

EJ Dickson is a writer and editor who primarily covers sex, dating, and relationships, with a special focus on the intersection of intimacy and technology. She served as the Daily Dot’s IRL editor from January 2014 to July 2015. Her work has since appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Mic, Bustle, Romper, and Men’s Health.