The one thing that every single one of us have in common is not the fact we all think chocolate brownies are delicious or that traffic jams are rubbish, it’s that we’re all going to die. But wait! Rather than get all gloomy and existential about the whole mortality shebang, London’s Southbank Centre is dedicating an entire weekend to exploring, discussing and reacting to the fact that everyone’s body clock is ticking.
Death: Southbank Centre’s Festival For the Living includes music, film, storytelling and comedy tackling the subject plus talks and panels led by big names like Sandi Toksvig, Jon Snow and Paul Gambaccini playing the nation’s favourite funeral songs.
Three art projects are taking on the most universal topic of them all, in very different ways.
Boxed: Fabulous Coffins from the UK and Ghana showcases the most weird and wonderful bespoke designs from workshops in the two countries, while Candy Chang’s Before I Die takes the form of a giant chalkboard which invites visitors to add their own pre-death vows – these have previously ranged from the heartfelt (“Get my wife back”) to the ridiculous (“Meet Justin Bieber.”)
Meanwhile artist Sam Winston’s Birthday which started out as an attempt to draw a circle for every birth and death in a 12 hour period, has evolved into an interactive piece which will allow visitors to the Southbank Centre to contribute their own circle and share the memories of the person it represents.
Artistic director Jude Kelly said she was inspired to put on the unusual event because she was interested in the way Wooton Basset spontaneously started marking the return of British soldiers’ bodies and the way rituals around death evolve and change, by the ongoing debate around “whose right it is to die and on what terms” and by her own personal experiences of death and the practical as well as emotional difficulties it represents.
She said there was a concern about looking glib, but insisted: “Part of the way to live your life is to think about death. that is not morbid, it’s sensible”
The festival takes place all this weekend with a mixture of free and ticketed events.