Register Saturday | December 15 | 2018

While You Were Sleeping

The body's penultimate resting place

Post-mortem preservation is a delicate science. Beyond the inoffensive walls of a funeral home's viewing parlour, corpses are routinely hoisted, tagged, drained, pumped full of formaldehyde and drawn on in colour. Diana McNally and Wang Tat Tso's photographs trace the path of a body through this process, showing that it is far from macabre-it's clinical, impersonal and highly regulated. When a corpse arrives at the funeral home, it is usually in a state of rigor mortis. The toe tag offers basic details-name, location of death, tracking code-to an attendant, who uses straps and a mechanical device to lift the body from the gurney to the preparation table. Standard tests are executed. The deceased is undressed, washed, disinfected and set. The embalming machine drains the bodily fluids and replaces them with a toxic blend of formaldehyde, methanol, ethanol (a decontamination shower is nearby in case of emergency). Once the embalming fluid is distributed, the body is dressed and mortuary cosmetics are applied to create a lifelike glow. Straps support the neck, lumbar area, thighs and ankles as the body is elevated, laid in the coffin and sent for its final appearance among the living.