Eryn Foster is visual/non-visual artist residing in Sackville, New Brunswick. Currently she is the artist in residence at Struts Artist Run Centre where she is working on two main projects: Culture Sculptures and The Noodle Institute (Sackville Chapter). Most recently she was working as an administrator for the Yukon School of Visual Arts in Dawson City, and before that, while working as the Director of Eyelevel Gallery (from 2005-2009), she taught various classes in studio and foundation studies at NSCAD University. Most recently Foster presented a sourdough-based art project titled A Gift of Cultured Culture as part of her participation in the Oh, Canada exhibition at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.
1. Living to 100 Life Expectancy Calculator
According to the life expectancy questionnaire I took today on the internet, I will live to be 92 years old. Today, that seems like a good long life, but I wonder what the average lifespan will be by 2065 (the year I turn 92)? Based on the predictions of a potpourri of futurists, scientists, gerontologists, and various other human life-span extension enthusiasts, it may not be that far off for humans to live well past 150 years. I guess I'll have to wait to see what happens. If I did pass away in 2065, my obituary would quite likely read, "Sadly, Eryn Foster, who was in the prime of her life, died at the age of 92."
Related to the topic of life expectancy, I have recently been devouring all kinds of films, documentaries, and science fiction/fantasy stories exploring ideas of immortality, human life extension, and the cure for aging. I am totally fascinated by centenarians (people who live to be over 100), and super-centenarians (people who live to be 110 or older). My favorite super-centenarian (also the oldest person ever on record) is Jeanne Louise Calment whose life spanned 122 years and 164 days. Born in 1875 in Arles France, she apparently met Vincent Van Gogh when she was 13 (she said he was rough, filthy, and ugly), took up fencing when she was 86, rode a bike until she was 100, smoked cigarettes for 96 years straight, and lived at home, alone, until the age of 110. She attributed her long life to olive oil (which she put on everything), drinking lots of port wine, and never getting too bent out of shape.
3. To retire is to expire
Almost everything that I have read or seen on the topic of human longevity states that there is no single physical health-related pattern to explain why some live longer than others. Sometimes it can be linked to genes, but most often the only things that seem to be consistent among those who live a full century or more are strong mental fortitude, a good sense of humour, having a hobby or a life's passion, a close network of friends, a gregarious personality, an immunity to stress, and, what seems the most common and possibly the most important, the ability to never be bored. One documentary I watched featured an elderly heart surgeon who still regularly performs open-heart surgeries at the age of 94. I think one of the good things about being an artist is that we never retire. Even when we quit our day jobs, we will always continue to work. You know what they say is probably true: to retire is to expire.
I recently figured out that my ongoing fascination with sourdough baking must be somehow connected to my obsession with immortality. Conceivably, a sourdough culture, if properly cared for, fed, and maintained, could potentially live forever. And there are in fact some sourdough cultures that are hundreds, as well as thousands, of years old. While living in the Dawson City for the past two years, I was inspired by the folklore and history surrounding sourdough "culture" and its history in the Yukon. Ione Christensen, a former Canadian senator who lives in Whitehorse, continues to feed, care for, and bake with a sourdough culture that was carried over the Chilkoot Pass by her great-grandfather, Wesley Ballentine, in 1898 during the height of the Klondike Gold Rush. Perhaps those searching for immortal life could take a lesson from the lives of sourdough cultures. I did just read somewhere that soon we will think of aging as a disease, and the key to a very long or perhaps immortal life will be found in "maintenance, repair, and care."
5. Our digital afterlives
One thing I find unsettling is all of the friends I have known, who have died, and yet continue to live on through their Facebook profiles. I can't help but wonder if I was to keep my own profile active for the next several decades will it inevitably become a place I go to remember those who have gone before me? I can definitely imagine the future of Facebook as a kind of virtual cemetery: a place that will hold the digital remains of our socially mediated lives. As I was thinking about my digital afterlife, I tried to send my sister all of my Facebook information (password and login) so that, should something happen unexpectedly, she could delete my profile. But for some strange reason, the message I was sending (using Facebook) had an error and could not be delivered. I told a superstitious friend about this and he urged me not to push it; instead, he said it is probably just better to write that kind of stuff down and seal it away in an envelope.
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