Euthanasia Coaster (Julijonas Urbonas)
From the curators: Between 2003 and 2007, designer and engineer Julijonas Urbonas ran an amusement park in Klaipeda, Lithuania, and garnered first-hand experience in crafting situations that involve “gravitational aesthetics.” Urbonas created the hypothetical Euthanasia Coaster as—in his words—a humane, elegant, and euphoric solution for those who have chosen to end their lives. Challenging the physical and psychological limits of the human body, this speculative design is intended to slowly ascend 510 meters (roughly 1,700 feet) into the air before launching passengers down seven loops at a mind-boggling speed of 100m/s. The roller coaster aims to give its riders a diverse range of experiences from euphoria to thrill, tunnel vision to a loss of consciousness and, eventually, to the end result: death.
At first glance, it appears possible that the intention behind the Euthanasia Coaster may have been to provoke horror and rejection. While appearing to bask in violence and instigate it, is the author trying to produce the opposite effect: animating a disgraceful idea so that it can be rejected more easily? One wishes such a positive reading would apply to Julijonas Urbonas’s proposal, but the evidence is not encouraging. The author describes his work with the following words: “Thanks to the marriage of the advanced cross-disciplinary research in space medicine, mechanical engineering, material technologies and, of course, gravity, the fatal journey is made pleasing, elegant and meaningful. Celebrating the limits of the human body but also the liberation from the horizontal life, this ‘kinetic sculpture’ is in fact the ultimate roller coaster.” Unfortunately, the likelihood of any pleasure and euphoria being produced is low; nausea and discomfort would be more probable.
The setting for the original presentation, a large exhibition on the future of the human species titled HUMAN +, is intriguing. It featured a combination of futuristic pieces based on both reasonable and marginal readings of contemporary science. Conceivably, Mr. Urbonas was simply indulging in flippant outrageousness for the sake of novelty and sensation, but an interview he gave at the time suggests otherwise. He does say that his creation would be helpful in dealing with problems such as “overpopulation” and “living too long.”
Those who reacted with concern when the work was first presented can be accused of lacking a sense of humor, of being unable to read irony and satire where irony and satire may have been intended but hidden—in brief, spoilsports with a blind eye for innovation. But the blame surely must rest with the concept and with its subject. Death is the stuff of tragedy and euthanasia is death compounded by myriad questions regarding the circumstances in which it may or not be acceptable. Death and comedy are strange bedfellows. Their marriage requires abundant doses of expository justification, strangeness, a little bit of hamming, and redemption—as when the murdered Commendatore comes back to dispatch Don Giovanni into hell, followed by the merriment and moral rectification of one and all. There is nothing faintly comedic about organized euthanasia. As the population ages and birth rates decline, as resources dwindle and advanced societies accept a high level of unemployment as norm, it is troublingly possible that social and political systems intent on solving the problems of old age, disease, defeat, and discontent might resort to technically intricate solutions akin to the Euthanasia Coaster.
On the face of it there would be little new in such a development. For the past century, even as violence has generally declined in a welcome trend that signals some human maturity, technically elaborate modes of institutional killing have emerged, all relying on the miserable scientific backing of physics, chemistry, and medicine. Our own varied methods for carrying out the death penalty are examples of a public endorsement for scientifically ornamented means to put an end to human life. On the other hand, were designs such as the Euthanasia Coaster to be adopted as a final solution for a suffering humanity, the novelty would reside in the sweeping scale at which such a killing machine would have to be institutionalized.
The Euthanasia Coaster is not fun at all as art, and it is preposterous as a technical device. Curiously, it does work as provocation, regardless of intent. So be it. Mostly it is sad, sad, sad.
April 23, 2014, 7:45 pm
Designing Death without Killing
First of all, I would like to express my wholehearted gratitude to the curators and Dr Antonio Damasio for extending and deepening the debate on the death coaster!
Dr Damasio has touched a few critical points of the coaster that I would like to expand.
But before that, it is worth to mention that the coaster emerged from rather a design thought experiment speculating on the ultimate version of a roller coaster and possible usages it would be open to. Later on, having received lots of feedback from my scientific advisers, media, and the public, the coaster assumed a multitude of labels: the most extreme ride, an execution machine, a kinetic sculpture, a sci-fi prop, etc. (When I talk about it as means of dealing with overpopulation, I am referring to sci-fi, or specifically to Kurt Vonnegut’s “Welcome to the Monkey House” where euthanasia is depicted as a citizen’s patriotic duty. Here the coaster could be seen as a tangible design interpretation. Unfortunately, this insight was cut in the video by the editor.)
Although I wanted the coaster’s agency materialize itself freely, I started to feel my responsibility for the sparked debates on the sensitive topic of euthanasia. This made me to build an intellectual background for the coaster by consulting ethicists, suicide psychologist, aerospace physiologist, etc. So, the following clarification will be based on that.
First, regarding my view on euthanasia. I want to stress that I do not encourage assisted suicide, nor do I discourage. I just state the fact that euthanasia is legal in some countries and it is executed in an extremely boring fashion, proposing “humane” voluntary death could be more meaningful, personal, ritualistic..
Second, pleasure. I use the term referring to physiological, semantic and aesthetic definitions of pleasure. GLOK aka G-force induced Loss Of Consciousness as well as cerebral hypoxia are often accompanied with euphoria. Even though nausea and discomfort may take part as well, they would be very momentary. It is also quite possible the rider would barely be aware of all of it being already deprived of sensorial awareness or unconscious. The talk on pleasure could also extend to exhilarating sensations that lure millions coaster fans. In addition to these physiological pleasures, I want to stress, the death coaster hints at the possibility for a specific kind of semantic pleasure: an alternative ritualized death appealing to both the individual and the mourning public. Of course, it is not for everybody, very much like thrill rides and horror movies.
Third, humour. In a few words, humour here eases, facilitates the stressful debate, but also proposes the ritual of death could be merrier. For those who see the coaster as a comedy of euthanasia I would kindly suggest to try temporarily disposing the popular flippant connotation of the amusement ride, and see it purely from the perspective of dramaturgy. It is up to you to chose whether it is a feasible proposal or a tangible sci-fi narrative.
As to provocation, yes, it was not my intention. But I wanted my coaster would ride people without riding it. Something like what Hitchcock’s “Psycho” did to the spectators: since its premiere the sales of shower curtains have dropped rapidly. Reading thousands of comments on the coaster in the internet, you would find that many people are almost physically affected: some of them say that the death coaster changed the way they experience amusement rides, others claim they would never ride coasters again, etc.
On the other hand, looking at the effect from a methodological point of view, it demonstrates how could a hypothetic idea be tested quickly, safely, economically, and most importantly, democratically. Before it is too late.
For more conceptualisation, you may like to read my article “Designing Death” http://www.julijonasurbonas.lt/t/designing-death/
May 4, 2014, 11:38 am
Your post extends from a singular premise – that death is necessarily a tragedy.
As somebody who is in pain every day, i do not believe this is the case. Sometimes life is the tragedy. when ones only experience is overwhelming pain, it is a tragedy to be prevented release. For many there is only one option for release and that is the final option. I feel it likely that one day in the distant future i may choose this option myself. Doing so through the experience of something so amazing that the human body cannot withstand it sounds a whole lot better to me than a boring grey room.
To remove all ‘violence’ from humanity would be to utterly sanitise life, to remove the experience of anything but greys. Certainly the spectre of interpersonal violence is undesirable, but i WISH to be violently happy, violently sad, violently moved. I wish to feel violent acceleration and violent relief.
Conflating violence with anything that challenges us is to remove all value from the human experience, to paint the world grey.
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At last! Someone who
At last! Someone who untsnedards! Thanks for posting!