Given the proliferation of zombie movies that flood the cinema and late night television every year, you shouldn’t be surprised that there is interest in the workings of the human body after death. Realistically, there are a number of body functions that continue after the moment of death and one of them is cadaveric spasms, a type of muscle stiffening that occurs and then persists into the stage of rigor mortis. These spasms affect the positioning of a body after death and before external manipulation. For example, cases have been documented of the bodies of drowning victims found clutching reeds or branches. Rather than the muscles relaxing and the grip releasing, it is captured and becomes part of the rigid form of the body.
While some of you may already be wondering why you have chosen to read this far into this macabre description, Amsterdam-based artist George Stamenov was sufficiently interested in this idea to create a series of sculptures that attempt to portray this idiosyncratic movement as it is captured in death.
Using images of bodies in their undisturbed post-mortem positions that he collected from around the web, he has created a series entitled “Glance of Death.” In an interview with 3DPrint.com, Stamenov explained his project:
“The idea of ‘Glance of Death’ came from an article I read in a science magazine about the process of death. In the article the multiple processes occurring in our bodies before death were discussed. The one that caught my attention most was the post-mortem muscle spasms. The position of our body after death depends on the position in which we are dying as well as post-mortem convulsing in our muscles. I interpret this process as the last ‘animation’ of our body carrier. I am fascinated by the way our bodies have been sculpted into position as a result of muscle spasms.”
The figures are as disturbing as you would imagine. Divorced of their context and wrenched free of recognizable surfaces, they are presented as unraveling and strangely dynamic. These are not images of peaceful repose; they appear poised for motion despite death or possibly even because of it. Strings of stranded filament create the appearance of creatures enveloped in a sticky web or unwrapping themselves from a cadaverous cocoon or of the threads of trajectory lines laid out at the scene of a crime.
The weakest in the set is a Christ-like figure stretched out with widespread arms; it lacks the dynamism of the others and appears not only inert but staged.
The bone white plastic creates the appearance of an exoskeleton and the incongruence of such a macabre voyeurism and the lack of blood and gore only serves to goad the imagination rather than to give relief.
In the movies and shows where the dead walk, a portion of the horror is the grotesque appearance of their outer shell. However, as so much of communication is non-verbal, much of the terror is portrayed through their strange movements and irregular and tightly contorted muscular aberrations. It is this form that is so frightening and that Stamenov has captured so well here. We don’t need the makeup, the gaping wounds, or the rotting flesh to terrify us–give us the malformation of death and our imaginations will concoct the rest.
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