Andy Warhol died in 1987, before the web became part of our daily lives, but it’s not a stretch to imagine the artist would have been right at home in the always-on age of Twitter and YouTube, where everyone can really have 15 minutes of fame, even if often for a less-than-admirable reason.
This is a man who, in 1963, made a 5-hour and 20-minute “anti-film” of his friend taking a snooze. So it seems fitting that today, on what would have been Warhol’s 85th birthday, the Andy Warhol Museum is marking the occasion by launching a 24/7 live stream from Warhol’s grave in Pittsburgh, as well as the church where his baptism took place. Called Figment, the project’s web page cites a quote from Warhol:
I never understood why when you died, you didn’t just vanish, and everything could just keep going on the way it was only you just wouldn’t be there. I always thought I’d like my own tombstone to be blank. No epitaph and no name.
Well, actually, I’d like it to say “figment.”
Though he didn’t intend it, Warhol’s thought is prescient reflection on some relatively new questions surrounding the etiquette of death and mourning in the digital era. And to help commemorate that, Figment’s feed of his grave will continue indefinitely.
Today when a young person dies, their Facebook pages can live on in limbo. Sometimes friends post to it in public memorial, as if their loved one is still around to see the updates or even as if the deceased were still posting updates themselves. And then there remains the thorny question of what happens to a person’s emails and private online files once he or she is no longer alive to access an account. Some companies, like Google with its euphemistically named “Inactive Account Manager,” are starting to offer people the choice of planning for the worst.
Like many common life events, the Internet is making death a more interactive experience. Maybe Warhol would approve.