The epitaph project first began in 1995 on a burial plot in Hollywood Forever, a historic cemetery in Los Angeles that includes the remains of some of film’s most celebrated actors and actresses. The ongoing project comprises a traditional tombstone carved from slate, finished as a chalkboard, and accompanied by a bronze chalk box for the use of visitors. It exists in other iterations including cemeteries, exhibitions, parks, and publications. the epitaph project will be on view at the American Folk Art Museum in New York City throughout the duration of Securing the Shadow: Posthumous Portraiture in America.
This unusual art project was created by Artist Joyce Burstein. Passersby are invited to write an epitaph in chalk on the tombstones. According to the artist, the images (and the project itself) are photographed to illustrate the idea of projecting “meaning upon self and death”. In some cases, the result can be a sense of self-discovery that may be both humorous and profoundly seriousness.
Visitors to the park then become project participants. They have a chance to spend some time exploring for themselves the topic of death. If they choose to also stroll around the public parkland they will have an opportunity to walk among those who have passed on. This can also add to their own experience of being alive among the dead. This, in fact, is one of the artist’s goals: to have this project being about life, not the afterlife.
It has expanded to several other cemeteries cross the country, including in Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland and The Fields sculpture Park in upstate New York. the epitaph project currently on exhibit at the folk art museum run through February 26. It is is supported in part by the Transart Foundation for Art and Anthropology, Houston. There is also a book about the project written by Joyce Burnstein and Peter L. Wilson. It offers more than 300 photographic selections and an essay by Peter Lamborn Wilson.