Birth, death and the journey in between at the Brighton Festival

Birth, death and the journey in between… all is encompassed in a major public artwork to launch this year’s Brighton Festival.
Arrivals & DeparturesArrivals & Departures
Arrivals & Departures

The free event in Pavilion Gardens from Friday, April 30-Saturday, May 8 has been created by artist duo YARA + DAVINA. They started work on it five years ago; inevitably the pandemic adds to its poignancy.

ARRIVALS + DEPARTURES offers an interactive artwork that celebrates life and acknowledges its ending.

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Taking the form of a traditional arrivals and departures board, the installation displays names submitted by members of the public as a way of celebrating and commemorating a birth (an arrival) or a death (a departure). The idea is that the boards capture the joy and sadness of any arrivals hall or departure lounge – and provide a timely platform to welcome new life,

honour the living and recognise death, loss and collective grief, through the act of naming. Visitors and passers-by can contribute names by asking a guide at the site in Pavilion Gardens or via on a phone/laptop anywhere in the world. Integral to the work will be a specially designed programme of events, talks and workshops which invites the public to engage more deeply with the themes, including Birth Café, Death Café and a panel discussion. YARA + DAVINA will be recording a radio show with Brighton station Radio Reverb, asking listeners to send in their dedications and songs to play on air. What song would you like to be played at your memorial service? How would it reflect your life and how would you like to be remembered?

As Yara said: “I think it is really important as artists that we don’t tell people what to think, that we don’t make work which is didactic but that our work opens conversations for people – really intimate, personal conversations. I don’t want anyone to go away with anything specific, but it is just really seeing how we can think about birth and life and death. It is about making it more normalised so that people see it as a journey, so that they can see it as a circle.”

Yara cites a “gorgeous” email she received from a mother who walked past the installation when it was on display in New York with her nine-year-old daughter: “The daughter asked what it was and the mother said that it was really about life. She put up the names of some children that were just born and three generations of the family that had died. She said they were in floods of tears, that it was really emotional.

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“She said it was so moving and that in that moment ‘my child understands life and death’ and that for them in that moment it was a beautiful way for them to be together intergenerationally.”

As Yara says, it is not about making high art, it is not about making things which are difficult to understand: “We always make works that are accessible, that use pop culture, that bring art to the public outside the gallery space. We don’t want people saying ‘I don’t get it.’”

In this instance, it is about addressing the taboos surrounding death: “If you address it in an every-day way, it makes people not want to push it under the carpet.”

By extension, Yara believes death is something which should be taught about and discussed in school as part of classes about the emotions: “It is about normalising it. We believe that it is really important to talk about it.

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“It is about not being afraid of death. It is about death being something that doesn’t just happen in hospitals. It is something that happens at home. We just want to break some of those taboos, the fear, the anxiety that surrounds it.

“And we are also questioning what public art is and who it is for and who gets to choose public art. Most public art will be… say Winston Churchill, the big figures, people who are venerated, but we want the public to choose, everyday people to put up the names.”

And for seven minutes, moving down the board, those names will be part of YARA + DAVINA’s ARRIVALS + DEPARTURES.

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