Caroline Wing Ying Fok
Corals of the Afterlife
Death is inevitable.
In most Asian cities, however, it is not that easy to rest in peace, let alone in one piece. Sometimes, it costs more to house the dead than the living.
With soaring graveyard prices and tedious waiting times for columbarium niches, many people have begun to invest in newer and more environmentally friendly ways to harbor the deceased, including burial at sea.
As one of the five global leading fishing zones, the South China Sea has a lucrative supply of marine species for the provision of over a billion people. It is route for over 3.5 trillion pounds worth of trade annually and is a habitat to over 2000 coral reefs and 3000 recorded marine species. It has long been a greatly disputed political tool for the surrounding countries by exerting its sovereignty and accessing the rich fisheries and natural gas fields.
Within the ambiguous overlapping territorial boundaries lie the archipelagos - the Spratly Islands. They are natural islands and reef features scattered within the exclusive economic zone of Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, yet also claimed extensively by China and Taiwan. These countries have collectively claimed 49 features and among them are 20 ongoing land reclamation projects. Some of them are for the extension and improvement of existing island life, but most are built as defensive military bases, disguised under the name of scientific research, civilian purposes and rescue missions. The emergence of these artificial islands destroy coral reefs and threaten the life of marine species through extensive dredging.
Coral Reefs are an exemplary ecosystem with extremely high productivity and marine diversity, providing habitat to many marine species & multicellular organisms at different trophic levels. They also offer effective pharmaceutical resources and significant coastal protection. But with constant human pollution, global warming and ocean acidification, half of the world’s reefs have been damaged in the past thirty years.
Corals of the Afterlife challenges and blurs the territorial boundary and sovereignty claims of the artificial Spratly islands while aiding coral growth, as a response to combat the lack of space to house the dead.
Operating on the military islands within the high seas, the intervention comes in the form of a production facility and coral research lab for manufacturing artificial reefs using human ashes. The reefs, which double as memorial sites, are then placed on the sea bed outlining the boundary of international waters, completing the rituals of death and burial by returning to ecology and nature.
Against the temporalities of time, territory and changing coastlines, the dead who lived along the shores of the South China Sea could be transformed into living organisms - corals - to fill the bottom of the ocean with life.
School of Architecture
MA Architecture, 2018
- BA Architectural Studies, University of Hong Kong, 2015
- Edge Design Institute Ltd., Hong Kong, 2015-2016