Koffin are on a mission to change how we think about death. The way we live has changed dramatically over the last century but for some reason, the way we say goodbye hasn’t.
The start-up — led by British artist, Gina Gzarnecki, and copywriter/brand consultant, Clare Barry, is currently being exhibited at Liverpool Oratory as part of DaDaFest International.
The first inspiration for Gina was being with her mum while organising a coffin for her departed dad. The ‘more you spend the more you love’ attitude infuriated her. Koffin became a cause for Gina, arguing that ‘many people are exploited at their most vulnerable and are subjected to out-dated practices that compound grief and poison our planet.’
The process of making the Koffins was lengthy. The first was a papier-mache coffin made for a friend in 2014, in the shape of a giant winged sphinx. Even in this pseudo-business stage, they realised that if they were to make all coffins this way they would be just as unaffordable as existing ones; so, they set about finding a material and a process that was not only mass producible but also the best environmentally.
Koffin is now a product that’s practical and designed to be totally fit for purpose. It is also a symbol of protest about the monopolisation of the ‘death industry’ and the 80% rise in funeral costs over the last ten years. The decorated Koffins are diverse observations and provocations, questioning ownership, authorship, taboos, values, traditions and cultural practices.
Gina observed ‘it’s a proven fact: making things makes you feel better. Art in healthcare environments has economic impact because people get better quicker. If people can express themselves in any way – a colour, a hand print or an image on the Koffin, this can help people in their grief.’
The project is also about sustaining a career in art through capitalisation of ideas; if the artist is a trader in ideas, why leave this to someone else to make a living from? For Gina, after 30 years of experiencing the difficulties of making a living as an artist, it was time to combine everything and change.
Gina’s work is now the only bio-polymer coffin in production in the UK. In a business sense, Koffins are not for maximum profit and any economies of scale are used to benefit the customers. But are they art? Does it matter? As she elaborated, ‘I’m trying to turn the hardest thing into something beautiful for people – to help them in grief by way of a product option…an idea and to therefore look at ways of sustaining my practice and making something that everyone can relate to – not just the gallery-going public.’
The end point of the exhibition is only the starting point. Gina and her team now need to raise investment through crowdfunding or other ways to get into production properly. The artist explained ‘it is a venture into how to earn a wage, to employ and skill-up local creatives through transforming the prototype and all the years of R&D into a good business.’
They are also running free master classes for locals, teaching them skills for more possibilities of creative employment, development and diversification. Classes will be held at Ignite, Liverpool from November 2018.