It’s easy to brush off Dutch artist Mark Sturkenboom’s new creation as a sensational way of creating another dildo or sex toy. Indeed if you’ve been reading the headlines around the web, that’s just what you might be thinking… or that he’s out to ‘play’ lonely widows out of their pensions. But 21 Grams is more than just a dildo with an urn.
Just looking at the box it looks more like where they keep the base/hilt of a light saber. Stark and clean, it certainly doesn’t look sexy. It isn’t meant to be. Sturkenboom intended the piece to be a memory box for widows. Yes, it is a phallus-shaped urn, but it is also more than that.
The box itself is beautifully designed, locked with a tiny key that you can wear around your neck. In it you can keep a little bit of his perfume, the ring he gave you, or the ring he wore; it even has a little space at the back where you can slide in a iPhone so you may listen to the music the two of you listened to, and of course a tiny little urn where you can hold 21 grams of his ashes. A little memento of the time you both spent together – of all the things that were important and that you will likely miss – his scent, the music that brings back memories and of course, his presence.
The box is carefully handmade and sanded down to an organic shape. The urn cylinder and collier are 14kt gold-plated brass. This certainly isn’t an offhanded piece for a cheap thrill. And it has brought up a lot of feedback; some people identify with it and some people just think that it’s ‘sick’.
Curious about this weird albeit thoughtful piece, I reached out to Sturkenboom to see what was the story behind the ‘dildo urn’.
What is the feedback so far?
“Yes I have some feedback. I receive about 200+ emails from widows around the world each day. They understand the piece and look beyond the words such as ‘dildo’ or ‘sex toy’
“They get the idea, that combines humor, intimacy and real memories. They feel – just like myself – that they can co-exist. They get it more than the Internet generation swiping their phone and replying to an out of context headline within a minute.
“I’ve received the most compelling stories you can imagine. And that’s exactly why I did the piece 21 Grams. It’s not about shock value but love… nothing more. Even husbands who are in their final stage are emailing me.
“But like I said, widows, husbands and funeral homes around the world are emailing me with the wish to have or distribute this piece. So I am working on it.”
How did the idea come about?
“I sometimes help an elderly lady with her groceries and she has an urn standing near the window with the remains of her husband. She always speaks with so much love about him but the jar he was in didn’t reflect that at all.
“In that same period I read an article about widows, taboos and sex and intimacy so I thought to myself, can I combine these themes and make an object that is about love and missing and intimacy and try to open a new window for the way we reminisce someone or can I find some dialogue for these feelings people are struggling with when somebody passes?
“We live in a time where we are able to manipulate life, adjust the way that we look, where the possibilities are endless if it comes to body enhancements, but there is one thing we still cannot answer, the inevitable passing of life.
“But I can sure try. 21 Grams is a memory-box that allows a widow to go back to the intimate memories of a lost beloved one. After a passing, the missing of intimacy with that person is only one aspect of the pain and grief.
“This forms the base for 21 Grams. The urn offers the possibility to conserve 21 grams of ashes of the deceased and display an immortal desire. By bringing different nostalgic moments together like the scent of his perfume, ‘their’ music, reviving the moment he gave her first ring, [it] opens a window to go back to moments of love and intimacy.
“She is able to have an intimate night with her sweetheart again. The cabinet functions also as an acoustic amplifier. In the back of the cabinet there is room for an iPhone, the music plays through the ‘forget me not’ flowers on the inside of the cabinet. The key to this cabinet is also a collier. So that she is the only one who can access the cabinet. 21 Grams is not only or just a way to tempt a person to revive an intimate night but more important, it displays an accusation against the inevitable passing of life.”
Why a dildo?
“I wanted to refer to love and intimacy; I don’t use the word dildo and most definitely not sex toy. To me it’s a phallus-shaped urn. It’s an art piece and a product as well. But intended to change some things in the way we bury or cremate or remember someone. So of course the pieces are for sale but maybe I can find a way to create some new ideas for the death care market that are more commercially useful.
“The reference to sexual or intimate needs is nothing more than a spark to jump start new ideas and look at these themes differently.”
What are the responses?
“All sorts. A lot of people are in shock but much more are touched by the idea of conserving someone’s scent, ring, memories of intimate times…
“But the Internet is a strange beast. People use a caption with ‘dildo’ or ‘creepy’ and that directs the way the viewer is looking at the piece. I spoke to an elderly couple in Milan, far in their eighties, they saw the work and understood what it meant and the man turned to me and said: “It makes me excited about dying.” Breathtaking.
“Almost all widows I speak to – my true audience – support the idea. The most of them say, I will not use the glass like the shape suggests but I sure love the idea, the combination of these matters. They have something to channel their feelings. For me this was the real ‘okay’ for this project. There was never a shock reason or populist reason to do this.
Why 21 grams?
“In 1901 Dr. Duncan “Om” MacDougall began a series of experiments wherein he placed elderly, terminal tuberculosis patients on massive industrial scales, hospital beds and all. MacDougall weighed six subjects before and after death, and concluded from the postmortem weight loss that the human soul weighs. 21 Grams.”
To be honest, I love this piece, phallus-shaped object and all. Why not celebrate everything about the one you’ve lost? His scent, music and yes even his dick! (Let’s not kid ourselves here, how many times have you wished you’ve had a past lover’s private parts?) Even if I never plan to use the object as a dildo, I appreciate the sentiment.
If you’re interested in getting one, reach out to Sturkenboom on his website. The price is yet to be determined, but he’ll soon be back in his workshop and will be able to inform you further.