Deathfest breaks deathly silence

15 Oct 2016


Queensland’s home of contemporary arts, Metro Arts has a death wish, literally. Its wish is to get the people of Queensland talking about death and embracing grief, and it plans to facilitate this happening through a program of arts and culture this November.

The first arts and culture festival of its kind in Queensland, Metro Arts’ Deathfest, runs from 12 to 20 November. The brainchild of Metro Arts’ Creative Director, Jo Thomas, in collaboration with ethicist Sarah Winch and Hummingbird House General Manager, Fiona Hawthorne, Deathfest comprises of world premiere performances, live music, discussions and provocation sessions about life, death and grief, movies, immersive interactive activities, cemetery tours and more.

Be the first to experience internationally renowned choreographer Fran Barbe’s Exquisite as it makes its world premiere. A sensual experience of hope and heartbreak, Exquisite blends Barbe’s sumptuous choreography with original music composed and performed by Mace Francis and his orchestra, exploring the processes of love and loss.

Get up close and personal with death in artist Julie Vulcan’s five-hour performance, I Stand In, as it enacts a death washing ritual involving massaging, oiling and wrapping participants in a shroud. The work reflects upon the complexity of personally understanding and processing global human tragedy with the shrouds forming an exhibition following the performance.

Master stonemason Pete McFarlane’s art installation I Am Not Here, Leave a Message, creates three grave sites for members of the public to engage with through sound, touch, smell, taste and writing.

Live musical performances include musician and composer Linsey Pollak and vocalist Lizzie O’Keefe’s collaboration Dangerous Song, a eulogy for the planet combining human voice with the sounds of endangered and extinct animals.

To stimulate discussion on death, dying, grief and loss, a number of conversation and provocation events are planned. Join ethicist and author Sarah Winch for Wine and Die, an insightful and personal discussion about meeting your maker and how to die well. Yarn Storytelling will explore the complex relationships people have with loss and what is gained by these experiences in its session Good Grief. The provocation and conversation series will include public discussion forums. Dying Well, a forum about how to die well and what that means will be led by deathwalker Zenith Virago; and Death N Art, which explores how artists bring death and dying into their work and what that means for them.

Local artistsdeathly works about the processes and rituals around death and loss will feature in the city’s laneways. Works include Tarryn Gill’s Tomb Guardians in Hutton Lane, Caitlin Franzmann’s Magical Thinking in Fish Lane and Katina Davidson’s Heart Land in Eagle Lane, and featuring at Metro Arts and projected on the William Jolly bridge will be work by Judy Watson.

Tour one of Brisbane’s historic cemeteries, the Christ Church Milton Memorial Garden and enjoy a twilight concert by the Threshold Choir, a movement which sings people over the threshold of death.

Metro Arts’ Creative Director, Jo Thomas, hopes Deathfest will get people talking about dying and grief, instead of experiencing this alone.

“The past century has seen death and dying in the industrialised world move from an everyday part of life to being hidden from society,” she said. “Death has become something that is done in private, with mourning no longer ritualised. This lack of awareness and experience with dying, the dead, the bereaved has resulted in widespread death anxiety.

“Hopefully, through the arts, we can promote intergenerational conversation and cultural perspective, to have these conversations in a different way and find new ways to embrace the inevitable. An understanding of the processes, the machinations and our options in death and grieving may just see us live well and die well.”

For further information about Deathfest visit

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