REVIEW: Woodland @Brighton Festival

May 14, 2018


Brighton Festival, May 12

So we arrive, in the splendid Stanmer Park, wander up though a spring meadow, heavy with buttercup and downland flowers just poking their blooms out and get to a tent. The views are lovely, did I mention the rain, the relentless thick raindrops of a May weekend, but this was touted as an all-weather event so we persevered.

We are handed headphones and a smartphone, a plastic sheet is offered, as is tea, my hands are full, with an umbrella as well, it’s fiddly as hell and you can’t put the phone round your neck or in your pocket.

With simple instructions we set off, using GPS to navigate our way through the thick green damp forest to the ‘listening space’ marked by two throbbing yellow discs north northwest from us, on the phone’s satellite view map. So far, so fiddly.

The views and traffic noise fall away, we are enclosed by the trees of Stamner Great Wood, in full resplendent gushing spring growth, you can almost hear it growing around you, the green is vibrant, we wander on, muddy tracks wander off into the trees. To our May Memento Mori.

We arrive, it’s raining too hard to do as requested – which is to lie on the ground, close your eyes and start the app’s soundtrack. I tried, but the rain was too heavy, even with the umbrella and every time I moved the sound cut out, not sure if I had a dodgy connection or the rain was affecting the tech, but it spoiled the effect.

Eventually I found a comfortable relatively dry place and turned on the annoying sound track, within moments I had forgotten my petty annoyances as a soothing melodious woman’s voice gave me some simple fair weather instructions and then began to recant what happens to the body once death has happened.

It turns out rather a lot happens, its non-stop, nature reclaiming you and decomposition has never sounded so sensual, with gracious pauses and breathy moments of interaction with the wildlife, the voice continues on, relentless like the wheel of life itself. There are moment of dark humour and others of clinical brilliance, some deeply curious explanations of the dissolution of the matter of the body with a constant, lullaby texture to how your bits are being reused around you, by the insects and animals, by the trees and bluebells.

It’s a guided mediation into the very still heart of death, but within death it’s all life! Endless changing life! the crepuscular, muscular sweet stenching oozing splendour of each and every bit of your body being reused, transformed and recycled. It’s a smart phone app version of Job 19:26

In the rain, in the woods, with some hardy folk laying stock still around me I thought of the Body Farm in Knoxville, Tennessee and how they leave out corpses to decipher the riddles of forensic decomposition, and still the ducet, euphonious, voice lulled me on, beyond death, beyond decomposition, beyond breakdown into a verdant outbursting of recycled reincarnation where my hair was the wings of moths, my organs transformed into the newest greenest leaves high on the huge oak and elms above me, and the blue bells stronger from my nutrients.

French & Mottershead are the UK artist duo behind ‘Woodland’ Rebecca French and Andrew Mottershead known for creating multi-artform experiences that are as playful and poetic as they are subversive, French & Mottershead are inviting participants to think again about who they are, and their ties to place and one another.

A beautiful and reflective experience which avoids the mawkish and through superb narration takes us on a journey beyond ourselves, but is all about the stuff we live in and then all, finally leave behind.

For more information or to book tickets, click here:

On a clear day, you could see forever as dear old Barbra Streisand sang and on a clear day, on this Woodland trip you could see forever, and ever more.

On a clear day Rise and look around you

And you’ll see who you are

On a clear day How it will astound you

That the glow of your being outshines every star

You’ll feel part of every mountain, sea, and shore

You can hear from far and near