Vita Dubia Vita Dubia
Vita Dubia
© Wiebke Peitz


8. October 2016 – 16. April 2017

About the uncertainty of death and the fear of being buried alive

When is the human being dead? How to define the borderline between life and death? How does this definition change in historical development? From antiquity to the 18th century, very simple signs were generally regarded as indications of the occurrence of death: If, for example, there was no heartbeat and no pulse to be felt, a feather remained motionless on the mouth or a mirror did not fog up due to breathing, the person was considered dead. In the course of the european Enlightenment, in the second half of the 18th century, people developed an almost epidemic fear of being buried alive. New scientific findings and technical achievements shaken the old certainties about the border between life and death, and a social discussion about the intermediate state, "apparent death", followed, which went far beyond the circles of experts. The fear of being buried alive was rampant. One of the consequences was the construction of the first mortuary on the Jacobskirchhof in Weimar in 1792 with the inscription "Vitae dubiae asylum", house of dubious life. The deeply disturbing problem of apparent death not only stimulated medicine and science to bizarre experiments and caused sceptical inventors to build bizarre rescue devices. For example, a debate was also sparked about which method of execution was more humane: beheading or hanging? At the same time, the widespread uncertainty triggered a creative impulse. Because writers and poets also dealt intensively with the topic. Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849) describes his apparent death fears in a particularly fascinating way. The special exhibition VITA DUBIA was dedicated to this phenomenon of apparent death in all its complexity. About the uncertainty of death and the fear of being buried alive. The rooms were staged in a multifaceted way and, by means of installations, listening stations, historical graphics/copper engravings and exhibits, historical sources and large-scale projections, made it possible for us to experience and learn about the complex phenomenon surrounding the apparent death debate and – in a look ahead – raised questions up to the present day.

Exhibition design by h neun. Agentur für Wissensarchitekturen Berlin


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Arbeitsgemeinschaft Friedhof und Denkmal e.V.

Zentralinstitut für Sepulkralkultur

Museum für Sepulkralkultur

Weinbergstraße 25–27
D-34117 Kassel | Germany
Tel. +49 (0)561 918 93-0

Die Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien
Hessisches Ministerium für Wissenschaft und Kunst
Kassel Documenta Stadt
Deutsche Bischofskonferenz