Imagine yourself on a roller coaster. You’re towed up to the top of the first drop, over 500 meters off the ground — taller than the empire state building. and you’re presented with a button. If you decide you still want to go, you push it. As you fall nine times the force of gravity pins you to your seat and begins to force the air form your lungs. As you enter the first of seven 360 degree vertical loops the blood rushes to your lower extremities and you begin to experience tunnel vision. A sense of euphoria sets in, as your brain — due to a lack of oxygen — diverts its efforts to sustaining essential bodily functions. Color slowly drains from your vision, and by the end of the second loop you’ve lost consciousness. Five loops on the coaster remain, but by the time the third is complete, you’re dead.
This is not a real ride of course, but it is about what you would experience if you road the Euthanasia Coaster, a hypothetical rollercoaster designed by my guest, Lithuanian artist Julijonas Urbonas. Julijonas’ coaster is part sci-fi engineering challenge and part thought experiment. It asks us to consider alternatives to the often sterile and medicalized rituals of euthanasia and to entertain the possibility that such an experience could be both aesthetically meaningful, and even euphoric for the person ending his or her life.
Julijonas’s grew up around the amusement parks of the Soviet Union, and this experience fueled his interest in what he calls Gravitational Aesthetics — a concept that shapes many of his projects including the Euthanasia Coaster.
The Euthanasia is currently being featured as part of MoMA’s Design and Violence project. Julijonas spoke with me on the phone from Lithuania about his rollercoaster, growing up in a Soviet amusement park and some of his other projects that deal with Gravitational Aesthetics.
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