Student to exhibit murderer’s ashes

A Danish law student is to exhibit the ashes of an executed American murderer in an attempt to create a debate about the death penalty.

Martin Martensen-Larsen of the University of Copenhagen will display the remains of Karl Eugene Chamberlain, 38, who was given the lethal injection in 2008 for the rape and murder of his 29 year-old neighbour.

The ashes will be encased in an hourglass, a set-up designed to question the length of time 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?” Martensen-Larsen asked in a report by Politiken.

The student made headlines in Denmark before, when he sold tickets to the execution of American Travis Runnels in an attempt to draw attention to the issue. “I take my projects very seriously. I ask questions that I feel are essential,” he said. “The fact that I have to use some methods that may seem provocative is unavoidable. But that is not my goal,” he added.

Martensen-Larsen said he is hoping to invoke strong reactions from his exhibition but does not view it as 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.

“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,” he told Politiken.

Even though the installation will only be shown in Denmark, where there is no death penalty, Martensen-Larsen claims the issue is still relevant to locals.

“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 [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 said. “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,” he added.

It has not yet been decided where the exhibition will be shown, but Chamberlain’s family have given their permission for the ashes to be used.