Everything you need to know about Toxteth Day of the Dead
- Credit: Jane MacNeill
Spearheaded by KLF and Liverpool Arts Lab, this may be one of the most unusual ways for the deceased to be remembered in the UK
Where would you like your ashes scattered? Artfully strewn under your favourite oak in the Forest of Bowland? Stuffed under a seat in the Stretford End at Old Trafford? Launched dramatically from the top of The Big One at Blackpool Pleasure Beach? Or – and this is definitely the way I’m going to go – fiendishly stashed in your archenemy’s pepper grinder so the bitter tang of your loathing haunts them forever (or, at least, until they refill the grinder).
If these all sound a bit tame, what about baking your ashes into a brick so you can be piled up with 34,591 similarly artistically adventurous souls in a 23ft high pyramid?
The People’s Pyramid, which, when complete, will comprise 34,592 memorial bricks standing 23ft high, is part of Toxteth Day of the Dead. The event occurs annually on November 23rd, when the bereaved join artists, makers and creatives to ‘beat the bounds’ of Liverpool 8 before processing to The Florrie community heritage centre to layer their loved ones onto the growing memorial.
It might sound like a bit of a wheeze or a whimsical take on ancient traditions, but the People’s Pyramid is not a joke. In fact, according to its creators, it’s ‘deadly serious’.
Artist and musician Jimmy Cauty came up with the idea – along with his creative partner Bill Drummond – after his brother Simon died in 2016. He felt there should be a greater sense of occasion to mark his passing; something solid, something lasting. And an idea began to take a very distinctive shape.
Jimmy and Bill have form when it comes to both bricks and pyramids. You might remember the pair in their former guise as chart-topping early nineties band The KLF, who gave country star Tammy Wynette her first UK hit since 1969, then gained notoriety after cremating a million pounds on the remote Scottish island of Jura, filming it as a touring art project and forming the remaining ash into a brick.
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Their original band logo also featured a pyramid and, before the People’s Pyramid idea emerged, they had toyed with the idea of building a pyramid containing the same amount of bricks as people born in the 20th century (about 10 billion, give or take, which would have made one heck of a pyramid).
Now, however, they are channelling their creativity into the undertaking business as part of CCC&D, a partnership between The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (one of Cauty and Drummond’s many artistic aliases) and The Green Funeral Company. Together, they create the building blocks of the People’s Pyramid, firing 23 grams of cremated remains at 1100°C in the well of a brick, permanently fusing person and clay. This process, which costs £99, is known as MuMufication.
Rupert and Claire Callender (the first two Cs in CCC&D) became friends with Jimmy and Bill when they organised Simon’s funeral. They’re often described as ‘punk undertakers’, successfully rejecting the tired old funereal paradigm – black suits, solemn faces, pall bearers and shiny hearses – for more than 20 years.
Rupert experienced a lot of bereavement as a child and young man – his father died when he was seven, his grandparents just months later, and his mother when he was 25.
‘My mum’s funeral was very traditional,’ he said. I couldn’t get anywhere near the grave because of these creepy dark-suited blokes looking sadder than me. I realised then that I had been badly served by many funerals and could probably do better myself.’
So, he did. He and Claire now work with families to create bespoke funerals that celebrate the individual, highlighting their flaws as well as their strengths so their family and friends can bid farewell to the real person they knew and loved, not an artificially idealised version.
When Jimmy and Bill approached them about forming an ‘undertakers to the underworld’ partnership, they agreed without hesitation.
‘This is the most exciting thing to happen in the world of funerals since Victorian times,’ said Claire. ‘This is art and death. It’s monumental. We’re creating entirely new death rituals in which everyone’s lives are given equal import.’
Pre-death services, including providing a brick and a certificate guaranteeing your MuMufication signed by Cauty and Drummond, are handled by L-13 Light Industrial Workshop, a London-based contemporary art space. Until your brick is needed (i.e. when you turn up your toes), the MuMufication team recommend giving it ‘pride of place on your mantelpiece to remind you how vital each passing day is; or hide it under the bed in an effort to deny the transience of life’.
When the time comes, your brick is stored until the next Toxteth Day of the Dead, when it is mortared into position by a representative of the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, and your details logged in the Toxteth Book of the Dead.
This year, of course, the memorialisation process feels more pertinent than ever, with the CCC&D team taking the opportunity to pay tribute to those who have died from coronavirus. ‘We always wanted the People’s Pyramid to become a focal point for all of our deaths, all of our grief; we had no idea that a virus would make all of this so immediately universal,’ Claire said.
‘So, in the spirit of shared sorrow, we’re offering free MuMufication to anyone who has died from Covid-19, not just in Toxteth, but anywhere. We hope that in doing this, everyone can experience the big heartedness of Liverpool, the shared solidarity of sadness, and our loving strength in the face of our mortality.’
They might be in the death business, but Jimmy, Bill, Rupert and Claire are focused on celebrating life. In a year that has been as unforgiving as it has been long, their ethos seems particularly apt; a manifesto we could all buy into.
‘If you want to do something, really want to do something, don’t wait to be asked, don’t seek permission,’ said Bill in The KLF’s audiobook, The Manual. ‘But be prepared to risk complete failure. Whatever it is: start now. Today. Tomorrow is always too late.’
* Toxteth Day of the Dead will go ahead on November 23rd but, as we go to press, no details are available about public participation. Visit mumufication.com or l-13.org for updates.