Part of Common Accounts’ fellowship project for the Spanish Academy in Rome, “Refresh Renew” was first installed in San Pietro in Montorio Square in the summer of 2019, and later at the Azkuna Zentroa of Bilabo, Spain, from October 2021 to February 2022.
Refresh, Renew proposes alternatives to the current funerary protocols for the channelling of ceremony both online and IRL. It manages the digital remains of a life lived online, responding to the current multiplication of images of the self online as they persist after the body’s biological expiration.
Refresh, Renew continues Common Accounts’ research on the subject of death and daily-life. The cemetery and the mausoleum are no longer the exclusive spaces for funeral ever since the arrival of social media a little over a decade ago. Funerary social spheres have multiplied and present new opportunities to productively integrate memorial and ceremony into the everyday.
By rearticulating gym traditions and technologies, Refresh, Renew focuses on the increasing production and circulation of bodies and their images and capitalizes on their capacity to construct vast personal archives, informed by notions of afterlife, memory, and eternalization. Recent cases of online funeral memorialization through the practice of fitness have brought to the surface a long historical lineage of the relationship between body-culture and death that span from the practice of athletics on Etruscan funerals to the development of contemporary mass fitness by the North American military apparatus. In this context, Facebook’s first significant encounter with the death of one of its users — an amateur fitness coach’s claim to his dead son’s profile — shows the displacement of spaces of mourning to areas like the comments section of a YouTube channel, a home-gym, or to muscle itself.
The catalogue of Hans Hollein’s “MAN transFORMS” exhibition of 1976 asserted that “there are mainly two fields of man’s activity: to survive during life and to survive after life.” The reason we engage design is, Hollein proposed, “to live and to die and possibly to live beyond death,” which presciently described the condition of the virtual afterlife and the persistence of life’s digital remains after the point of biological expiration. But it also describes the way technologies foster transformations of the body indiscriminately, in both life and death. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a structuring cloud diagram for Hollein’s exhibition featured the central figure of the “BODY.” Among the few “interrelated subjects” that orbited around it were “redesigning the man,” “bodybuilding,” and “death.” Self-design, or rather “self-DESIGN,” according to the frame of the exhibition, is among those transformations which provide the extension of life after death: the survival, twinning, transmutation, or upgrading of the body. While the cases of John Berlin and Bobbi Kristina Brown operate through contemporary mechanisms, Semper provides a corresponding case from the early industrial period.