Noah Scalin loves skulls. Loves. Skulls. He is 37 years old, lives in Richmond Virginia, and runs the socially conscious design consulting firm Another Limited Rebellion. He is known for his Skull-A-Day project, which consists of a website (followed by a book) wherein he posted a photo of one skull every day for a year. (See the original numbers 1 through 122 here.) He made the skulls. Then other people started making and sending him skulls.
Why do you like skulls?
I could make up a deeply meaningful answer about their power as memento mori, but the reality is I've liked them since I was a kid and I've always had a bit of an interest in biology and the darker side of things (some of my favorite books as a kid were by Charles Addams and Edward Gorey). In fact the skull I used as a model for a lot of my work was actually a kit I bought when I was in middle school!
Don't you find them scary?
Do you have skull decor in your home?
Oh yes. Before the project started I had already amassed a small collection, but they were tempered by the other items I had collected as part of the cabinet of curiosities aesthetic I was cultivating. Of course, during the course of my year of skull-making the balance shifted quite a bit. Between my own work and all the skull gifts I'm given it's hard not to let them overrun my house!
Don't you find THAT scary? Having to live with skulls and see them everyday? They are a reminder of death after all.
Ha, no they're not scary skulls. The reality is when you're exposed to things on a regular basis they just become a part of your life, and in many ways I want that constant reminder of death to be a part of my life. It sounds bad, but it's really a reminder to live each day fully since you don't really know if it'll be your last.
How did your Skull-A-Day project start?
It was a total lark…When I started making my year of skulls, I never imagined that the project would eventually have a life of its own, continuing on as a fan driven site, ending up as a book, and even being featured on the Martha Stewart Show. In many ways it was the least panned out thing I've ever done, so go figure it was the most successful!
Of all the skulls you've seen, which is the most extravagant?
Well certainly Damien Hirst's diamond encrusted “For The Love of God” takes the cake.
Which is the most disturbing?
When I was in college I used to buy medical books and one on plastic surgery showed a face being peeled off of someone revealing the skull underneath. That was definitely not the most appetizing image.
Well of course my own “#14 Cutest Skull…Ever” was certainly designed to fit that bill!
I really dig that “hidden skull” thing you've got going. How did that start?
Shortly after I started posting my own work, fans of the site started sending me photos of skulls they spotted/made. I decided to share them on the site and that quickly turned into a much bigger part of the project than I'd imagined! The skull simulacra (or pareidolia as some prefer) were really just an extension of that, though I have noticed a tendency for people to start seeing skulls everywhere once they are exposed to the project, it's like a virus.
Have you ever touched a real human skull? (Other than your own.)
No, but I have seen about six million in person in the Catacombs of Paris so that has to count for something!
You've certainly seen a lot of skulls in your time. Do you ever get tired of them? Do you ever wish you could focus on a different icon? Or a different part of the human body? Eyes maybe? Or hearts?
Believe it or not, after two full years of interacting with skulls daily my interest in them has not faded at all. They are beautifully complex objects that hold up to an incredible range of interpretation. In many ways I really lucked out picking them for my subject matter, since I don't think there are many other things that I'd have wanted to look at so intently for so long.
Skulls are “hip” right now and seem to have infiltrated the mainstream. Can you explain why that is? How it happened?
I think there are a lot of reasons. They were part of the cycle of high fashion a few years ago and that inevitably trickles down to the mainstream world over time. The popularity of the Pirates of The Caribbean movies made pirate (and by extension skull) fashion popular. And the fact that the country has been continuously at war for nearly a decade has to have an effect on the public's mindset, even if just subconsciously. Inevitably the next fad will come along and skulls will be less popular than they are now, but they will always be around, even if just in the margins.