A Danish law student who wants to challenge views about the death penalty is to exhibit the ashes of an executed American murderer in an hour-glass.
University of Copenhagen Law Student Martin Martensen-Larsen has previously made headlines for his attitudes to the death penalty by selling five tickets to the Texas execution of another American, Travis Runnels.
“I take my projects very seriously. I ask questions that I feel are essential,” Martensen-Larsen says, adding: “I try to question the death penalty on its own terms”.
“The fact that I have to use some methods that may seem provocative, is unavoidable. But that is not my goal,” he says, adding he is aware that his methods may seem offensive to some.
Martensen-Larsen says his exhibit is primarily designed to question how long it takes to forgive.
“You often hear relatives of victims say after an execution that the person executed will end in hell, or that he is a monster or beast. But the death penalty is designed to be closure for the relatives and the rest of society. When does forgiveness come?” he says.
The hour-glass envisaged in the exhibit contains the ashes of Karl Eugene Chamberlain, 38, who was executed by lethal injection in Texas on June 11, 2008 for the 1991 rape and murder of a neighbour, 29-year-old Felecia Prechtl.
Although Martensen-Larsen is prepared for strong reactions to his exhibit, he does not accept that the project is indecent.
“I don’t’ think it is any more absurd or objectionable than what happens on the gurney. I ask some questions about things that people don’t think about,” Martensen-Larsen says, adding that the main problem is the number of executions in the United States.
“There are some 50 executions each year in the United States. So if people think that this is an objectionable project, they should really be angry all year round because of the many executions,” Martensen-Larsen says.
The exhibition will initially only be shown in Denmark, which does not have the death penalty. Nonetheless, Martensen-Larsen says the exhibit is relevant.
“When for example Anders Breivik appears, there is suddenly a debate about whether the death penalty should be reintroduced. There was also a debate about it when Peter Lundin (Ed: who killed four people) was sentenced…I want to show the Danes that when you are tempted to reintroduce it, there are some questions that haven’t been thought through,” he says.
“As a law student I find it interesting to see how the extreme consequences of punishment and guilt have been transferred to the elimination of a person,” Martensen-Larsen says.
The exhibit is expected to be ready sometime this month, but it is not yet clear where it is to be shown.
The Chamberlain family has given its permission for the exhibition.
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Edited by Julian Isherwood