Your Corpse Will Never Look This Good
Contemporary burial practices suck. They put a suit or dress on you, throw you in a box, and stick you in the ground, doomed to an eternity of looking boring. It wasn’t always like that, and art history scholar Dr. Paul Koudounaris’s photos of skeletons covered in bling prove it. You might remember some of his photos from 2011’s The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses. Now, Koudounaris has a follow-up book called Heavenly Bodies: Cult Treasures and Spectacular Saints from the Catacombs, which also features bedazzled dead people. But according to the author, that’s where the similarities end. “They are very different—almost diametric—projects,” he says. “Because it deals with identity, Heavenly Bodies is in effect much more intimate.”
Koudounaris started documenting skeletons in earnest less than five years ago while photographing East German charnel houses, aka vaults full of dead bodies. “These skeletons became my life,” he says. “I felt like it was some kind of divine dictate that I was supposed to tell this story.”
While there had been articles about the skeletons in academic journals (mostly in Germany, where many of the bones are located), as well as a few doctoral dissertations, nobody had ever treated them as works of art. “They approached them as historical objects or devotional objects, but that, I think, is missing the point,” Koudounaris says. “To a modern audience that’s going to appreciate them, it’s because they’re incredible works of art, and that’s the context I wanted to create for them.”
I Make Jewelry Out of My Cat’s Fur Balls
You know what’s at the absolute top of my birthday list this year? A necklace made out of greasy cat fur balls, rolled up into pretty little orbs and encased in wire. I was stumped as to where one would come across something like that. An organic crafts shop in Park Slope? The trash of a building that houses both a cattery and chicken fence manufacturer? Luckily for me and the hundreds of people lining up to buy me stuff, San Francisco artist, jeweller, and cat poet Flora Davis sells the exact thing I had in mind on her Etsy shop.
Flora’s creations sell for between $35 and $240 to mostly artists, people like me, and, presumably, socially-deprived cat ladies. I called her up to find out about her business and how Gaia the cat (her model, muse, and source of fur balls) feels about this whole operation.
VICE: Hi Flora. How many cats do you have?
Flora Davis: I did have three, but one recently died, so now I only have two. I have ragamuffins, which are very much like dogs. They follow you around the house and they want to be petted. Gaia, my first ragamuffin and the model for all my jewellery, gives me goodnight kisses and snuggles.
Do you use both cats’ fur to make your jewellery?
Their fur is very unusual. Both my cats have good hair, but Gaia’s is finer than Luna’s, his half sister. It feels softer and I have so much of his that I don’t need to use hers.
My Buddy’s Dad Was a Blood Diamond Smuggler
VICE: Give me the overview of the story with your old man.
Brandon Asraf: Before you can understand the story you have to understand where my dad came from. My dad is from Morocco. When he was young they had to leave because they got kicked out; no one ever told us why. He lived in a hut in Israel with 12 other kids and no water. At 18 he snuck out of the Israeli army and made it to the US where he started hustling.
He got a job working as a bus boy and met these guys who were rich mafia dudes. They asked if he would open the restaurant after hours so they could have card games. So at 20 he started an illegal gambling ring at this hotel’s restaurant in Florida. He quickly made a million bucks. He came from nothing in a country where there are no rules or taxes, and got to America and made fast cash.
He eventually met my mom and moved to Jersey where he hooked up with these people who knew the guys in Florida and ended up in a diamond smuggling ring. He made millions and millions of dollars and he’d send people around the world to smuggle diamonds. Basically, if you go to Seaside Heights and it’s all scummy with a bunch of Israeli dudes owning the stores, it’s because my dad invented that shitty way of business.
Is your dad responsible for the scumbags on that show The Jersey Shore?
No! He’s not. I’m talking like 1980s Seaside Heights.
You told me you grew up poor. How is that if he was pulling in millions?
He left when I was ten. All the businesses were in my mom’s name and she had no money. My dad just split and he hadn’t paid any of his taxes for years because he thought they were unfair. So we went from living in a big house to sleeping in an apartment hallway. Three days after my dad left my mom was freaking out, and she brought us to the mall and maxed out every credit card she had. Took all the clothes she bought us and hid them in my uncle’s basement.