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Death on Facebook Becomes a Haunting Projection-Mapped Monument

Talking to Milo Reinhardt and Conan Lai about mourning on social media, the URL afterlife, and their projection-mapped Facebook "monument"
Images and GIF courtesy of the artists. 

For most of human history, mourning involved the writing of obituaries, the reading of eulogies, and the attending of funerals and memorials. New platforms for grief, however, have proliferated in the Information Age. These days, condolences look oddly like “comments,” things called “social cemeteries” are cropping up across the web, and users are tweeting from beyond the grave through Twitterbots. But even as the URL afterlife becomes ever more institutional, for many, dealing with death in 140 characters remains unnatural and unnerving.


In their eerily entitled project,, artists Milo Reinhardt and Conan Lai tune into this universal uncertainty  The Montreal-based duo have unearthed the unestablished protocols and practices of mourning on social media to produce what they call a Facebook “monument”: a granite tombstone, engraved with the projection-mapped names of deceased Facebook users. “As Facebook reaches saturation, we connect to more and more stories of people passing away and leaving behind their profiles,” the artists tell the Creators Project. “It became very apparent that even more so than in 'real life,' people are often unsure of how to deal with death online.”

The artists began their project by monitoring and recording exactly how the Facebook community mourns. “When someone passes, there can be an outpouring of condolences and memories on their profile, oftentimes from those at the periphery of their social network,” they explain. “Some may feel that these posts are disingenuous, and this illustrates an important distinction in online grieving: the easily accessible and public nature of social media creates new rituals. They developed this polemic into’s database, devising a series of research tactics to hunt down the profiles and pages of deceased users. By simply scrolling through Facebook for the keyword, "R.I.P." they were able to gather "a considerable amount of data"—with more than a few surprises thrown in: "a user set up a memorial page for a restaurant in our hometown that had burned down years ago."


The team soon realized, however, that many memorial pages were beyond their grasp due to Facebook’s own restrictions. “Facebook has a memorialization process which allows family members of the deceased to submit obituaries as proof of death,” explains Reinhardt and Lai. “Afterwards, Facebook changes the page to a memorial page which cannot be added as a friend. As well, these pages are not viewable through public search. As a result, our process involved writing a program using Facebook's Javascript API to search publicly viewable Pages for shrine or memorial pages set up by those close to the deceased.”

With their data collected, the artists decided upon one of the most fundamental and ancient symbols of death to represent their research: “we want to start a dialogue about online death by contrasting it with an unmistakable physical representation of mourning: a gravestone.” After they had acquired the granite for their moments tombstone, Lai and Reinhardt engineered the projection, brightening the dark stone with a continuous and powerful reel of names from’s database.

For the project’s debut, the duo installed their unassuming crypt in the halls of the Perte de Signal for exhibition The Tall Glass. While some viewers seemed rapt with anxious anticipation, waiting “curiously to see if anyone they knew will appear,” most were able to grasp the haunting implications of the humble slab of granite at their feet. “The notion of death as presented in real time allows viewers to perceive the process of dying on a global scale,” Lai and Reinhardt explain, “which to us is an important consideration of network culture.”


While the IRL impact of's virtual message increases with each show—a new exhibition of the piece is already scheduled for this fall at Concordia University’s FOFA Gallery—Lai and Reinhardt plan to plum deeper into the depths of social media, continuing the dialogue of digital death. “We're currently interested in retrieving artifacts and attributes exclusive to online identities,” the artists add, “and will be developing material archives acting as a form of offline portraiture.”

For more information on and a wider selection of the duo’s work, check out Conan Lai’s website and Milo Reinhardt’s website.


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