Friday 9 November 2018

Bushland - Live Art Review

What: Bushland
When: 1 - 2 December 2018
Where: Royal Botanic Gardens
Devised and written by: Rebecca French and Andrew Mottershead
Performed by: Sarah Kants
Photo by Paul Blakemore
Arts House has teamed up with the Royal Botanic Gardens for the contemporary art series 'Mere Mortals' and one of the...juicy (?)... experiences on the menu is Bushland by French & Mottershead. Bushland only runs for two days so make sure you plan ahead so you don't miss it.

Bushland is billed as 'a love poem to the forest and the body'. Perhaps. It is definitely a microscopic meditation on the circle of life and how we fit in the natural order of the planet.

Bushland is adaptation of an earlier work created by this artistic duo in 2017. Woodland was the original piece and was featured in the Times Museum program in China. Woodland was about self and mortality in an woodland landscape. Bushland works off the same theme but places us in nature, in the middle of a grove of trees.

Quite unexpectedly, I found Bushland to be the perfect compliment to The Infirmary which I wrote about yesterday and I highly recommend engaging in both works. They syncopate with each other beautifully as, apart from the same theme of mortality, both allow you to engage privately with yourself. On the other hand they work in counter point as The Infirmary takes place in the artificial construct of a hospital whereas Bushland is placed in the midst of nature.

The Royal Botanic Gardens is a vast smorgasbord of sensory exploits and it is easy to get lost so there is a prearranged meeting point at the Visitor Centre entrance. As a group we then wandered down to Western Lawn where we were issued with mobile phones and headphones. After being issues with instructions on how to use the device and what the task of the event is the group began our trek following the map on the phone.

Yes, there is walking involved but if - like me - you are walking challenged the Gardens provide a buggy or you can use your own mobility device to get around on. As I am sure all of you know, the Royal Botanic Gardens have some of the best paths in Melbourne.

Once you arrive at the location (I won't spoil the surprise) you are invited to lay on a bed of fallen leaves at which point you don the headphones and press play. If your mobility restrictions mean you can't get off your device that is okay, you can still fully enjoy the experience -  just a little bit differently. Bushland is an intensely personal experience so everyone will have a unique encounter with themselves and the glorious English Oak trees anyway.  Like The Infirmary, in Bushland what you get out of the experience is what you bring to it.

The true adventure of Bushland is the one you have in your mind as you lie looking up at the sky piercing through breaks in the broad leafed branches. Sounding like a meditation guru, Kants' dulcet tones take us step by step through the process of decay. Part scientific, extraordinarily sensorial Kants defies our urge to panic as we contemplate the ravages of time if we never moved from the spot we are in.

Making the experience even more intense is the feel of the cold ground beneath our backs and legs. Contrarily, though, it is those very same sensations which keep us rooted in our living, breathing bodies. The sunlight and foliage filling our gaze as we look up at the sky keep our souls alive and joyous as we contemplate our place in the food chain.

I know it sounds rather gruesome but Bushland is very human, very natural, and at times somewhat amusing. You will learn about flies. A lot about flies! And then some more about flies... It was enough to make me google why flies are important and, rather unexpectedly, I find I like them a little bit more than I used to. Theoretically, at least.

For me Bushland created a conversation with myself about cremation versus burial. I have often felt strongly one way or the other at different points in my life but until experiencing this event I don't think I ever really had enough information to make a reasoned decision. We are possibly one of the first generations of humans who are so detached from death many of us have never even seen a dead body. It seems normal but in the face of human history it is anything but.

Beware. Bushland is confrontingly forthright and blunt about the decay process. It is not bleak though and, let's face it, if you've watched shows like Bones or Criminal Minds you will be totally fine. Re-entering your living reality is a very special moment in Bushland and you get the bonus of being able to spend time afterwards enjoying the rest of the Royal Botanic Gardens so the whole adventure is win/win!

4 Stars

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