Death at the Southbank Centre

Categorised as ART., ART.

“I’ve got death inside me. It’s just a question of whether or not I can outlive it.” 

Don DeLillo, White Noise

Death is the inevitable human condition. Whether or not we can empathise with one another by sharing happiness, sadness or even anger, death is the one thing that bonds us together; we all must die. And yet death is the one thing we spend our lives avoiding, aside from the obvious reasons for this we as humans are barely even capable of broaching the subject in conversation. We are capable of enjoying the memories of the people we have lost, we are even capable of preparing for death, of managing it, but the words for death itself, the acceptance of the deceased state, often evades us. Death is a constantly perplexing issue, we are faced with images of death on a daily basis and the management of death is a big business covering everything from medical care to insuring against the inevitable, even the purchase and planning of one’s own funeral, affording us a control over our lifeless carcasses once the preserve of ancient Egyptian demi-Gods. We can even control the point of death, keeping the body alive until the appropriate moment is found to switch off all the vital signs, DNR, the termination of care. Despite all of this, we don’t talk about being dead, lifeless or non-existent, instead we blind ourselves with the administrative curveballs that the condition throws up.

The Southbank Centre’s Festival for the Living is a four day spectral extravaganza that seeks to explore the problem of death and break down its psychological taboo with a series of free and ticketed talks, concerts and exhibitions starting Friday 27th January. The weekend will involve many experts on the subject of death including philosophers, artists, scientists, undertakers, medical practitioners, psychiatrists, theologians, anthropologists and broadcasters all addressing the varying nature of death from suicide to assisted dying, children’s perception of death and images of death in the media. A run down of some of the best going ons can be found below.

•    BBC Concert Orchestra’s ‘Music to Die For’ with performances of works by MahlerTavener and Barber
•    ‘The Sandi Toksvig Memorial Lecture’ – delivered by Sandi Toksvig
•    Jon Snow chairs panel discussion about assisted dying with guests including Baroness Kennedy QC 
•    Petra Jean Phillipson performs songs from her spectral new album ‘Notes on Death’
•    ‘An Instinct for Kindness’ – Chris Larner’s powerful play about his wife’s journey to Dignitas
•    ‘Goodbye Mr. Muffin’ – a heart-warming children’s play of the last days of a much loved guinea pig
•    ‘Angels or My Way?’ − Paul Gambaccini spins nation’s favourite funeral music in ‘Desert Island Death Discs’
•    A free exhibition of bespoke coffins from Ghana and the UK
•    Talks and debates on subjects inlcuding children’s understanding of death; suicide; and a tour of global death rituals from dancing with the dead in Madagascar to Tibetan sky burials
•    Death ‘Bites’ exploring the art of obituary writing; what happens to our digital data when we die; rock star deaths at 27 with Paul Morley and the political life of dead bodies from Jesus Christ to Gaddafi
•    ‘Funeral pyre or green burial?’ − practical advice from Dead Good Guides and Natural Death Centre
•    ‘Song of Summer’ − Ken Russell’s documentary on the final years of Delius’ life

Here is a Deathcast (like a podcast) where newsreader John Snow discusses his perception of death along with some other familiar faces (voices).

And a sneak peak of the bespoke coffin exhibition.

Tickets can be purchased for all events IRL at the Southbank centre and from the website here:


Marcus Harris

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