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Abstract

Cemetery islands–islands of death–are simultaneously real places as well as symbols of the ways in which death has been marginalized in the modern city. Since the nineteenth century, cemeteries on islands have tended to be quietly invisible places, reserved for the bodies of those who, in life, occupied the margins of human society: the deviants, the forgotten, the diseased and the insane.

Places such as Hart Island, the vast potter’s field of New York City and Poveglia, the island where Venice’s plague victims were sent to die, remain resolutely out of sight and mind, hidden behind the shiny façade of the urban metropolis. Yet today such islands are also sites of transformation brought about by a growing interest in death-tourism, calls for public access to sites of heritage, and the continued real estate development of ‘authentic’ urban spaces. Even while some cemetery islands lie abandoned and ruined, other islands of death and marginalization have emerged to take their place as locales for the contemporary ‘Other’.

It is these simultaneously transgressive and transformative qualities of cemetery islands that provide the main question for this paper: How might the dark histories of trauma and violence found within cemetery islands, be critically addressed within future representations of these islands? One cemetery island - Hart Island, located in New York City, is considered here as a generative landscape that has contributed to a discussion about continued practices of spatial exclusion and their potential transformation through alternative, experimental modes of art and design. This discussion is framed through Kristeva's theories of the abject and Foucault's notion of heterotopian space.

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