The Performing Dead: Forgotten Bodies at Vor Frelser Cemetery and their traces through Copenhagen

Jakob Borrits Sabra

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This audio-paper is a site-specific investigation into the relations between cemetery space, users, cultural history and public memory in Copenhagen. The chosen site is Vor Frelser (Our Saviour) Cemetery at Amagerbrogade 33-35, just next to Prags Boulevard.
Urban cemeteries are unique places, however recent developments in burial practice, urban densification, green space policy and societal attitudes towards death and dying Danish urban cemeteries have become spaces of contest and their everyday embodied spatial and cultural practices challenged. In the literature the cemetery is usually represented either as a cultivated metropolitan landscape of pause, fixity and estrangement, a necro-geographical deathscape (visual objects, symbols and meaning-making attributes) or in light of a socio-spatial-temporal framework. This paper explores the cemetery as an intricate locus of relations beneath the surface of Vor Frelsers Cemetery, as the background for affective resonances of the un-seen and un-told networks that connect people with time, places and spaces, through media.
By following a non-representational research approach the project tries to enliven this particular cemetery rather than report it, to animate the hybridity of its life-world by focusing on its residents (the dead) and their once performed lives and the traces they have drawn across real spaces (sites, locations, neighborhoods) and fictional places (stages, plays, movie settings) in Copenhagen.
Since its inauguration as functional assistant cemetery in 1790, the 1,66 Acre of Vor Frelser Cemetery have had significant cultural and emotional roothold in the citizens of Amager and the adjacent Copenhagen districts. Today it serves as both the traditional ritual space for the interment of the dead (bodies or cremated remains), as the place for the bereaved to practice their social and private mourning and as a small recreational ‘pocket-park’ for the Amager-dweller, visitors or the tourist enjoying the natural, horticultural and contemplative affordances of the cemetery.
Vor Frelser Cemetery host sixteen graves; small time-pockets containing the narratives of dead dancers, figurative artists, musicians, writers and actors of theater and cinema. Beyond their individual gravestone marker, eleven of them have their legacy preserved online, as assessable audio and video recordings. With offset in the late actors and musicians at Vor Frelsers cemetery, this audio production will focus on user-generated media from online archives (e.g. Youtube) to draw up their specific places of performance and play. The sounds and audio tracks will merge together with the sounds of the present and thus constitute another soundscape, an assemblage that convey a weave of bodies, sites and memories along with a bodily exploration of the city of Copenhagen. Here invisible life-traces and their way through the urban landscape are animated as a meshwork of relations between the real and the fictional, unfolding in the interplay between performance and location. This non-representational understanding might lead to further exploration of the hybridity of urban cemeteries, their materiality, spatiality, memory, cultural history and relevance as liminal in- between places of fiction and reality, the city and the people that perform or once performed their lives there.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date18 Jun 2015
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jun 2015
EventFluid Sounds: Site-specific lectures, performances and audio papers - Copenhagen University Campus, Amager, Copenhagen, Denmark
Duration: 18 Jun 201521 Jun 2015
Conference number: 1


ConferenceFluid Sounds
LocationCopenhagen University Campus, Amager
Internet address


  • non-representatinal
  • performance
  • performative
  • site-specific
  • situational
  • copenhagen
  • cemeteries
  • audio
  • auditory
  • Digital Technologies
  • heritage
  • design
  • atmosphere
  • memory
  • grave


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