It is funny how easily humans melt into the ground. As you wind your way through the scratching branches of Arnos Court Park, you can’t help thinking about that scene introducing you to the runaways in Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Lobster, their mud-covered faces slightly wild. In amongst the bare, skinny trees, bundles of coats and hats are filled by bodies. Their warmth is being sucked into the earth. They do not stir as you approach. A twig cracks as you step off the path. There’s a darkness to the peace.
A man stops you. “Are you meditating?” he asks. You explain it is all part of a play. You walk on and clear some space of muddy leaves. You’ve found your burial spot.
You start the audio.
You used to listen to ASMR to help you fall asleep, so the direct address instructions spoken in a calming voice are immediately familiar. You are reminded of the weight of your body, the warmth of your skin, the feel of your flesh.
Your body begins to wither. Your temperature drops. Your hair falls out. You listen as your body decomposes, becoming one with the earth you lie on as the leaves cover you every autumn and the frost dusts the tip of your nose every winter. It sounds romantic but on this occasion you would rather the earth kept itself to itself and let you get on with your day.
You feel as though you are meditating but you itch. You are not comfortable. You are not relaxed.
A fly lands on your lip. It lays an egg. A maggot becomes a part of you. A hand is ripped off by a wild animal. Blood seeps, cells die and gasses explode. The descriptions are grotesque and it is slightly anxiety-provoking. You don’t know if you’re enjoying it or not.
You find your mind is distracted. You are not focusing on how far the decomposition process has gone. You try to catch up. You’ve missed decades.
French & Mottershead’s site-specific audio performance is reminiscent of the early Buddhist teaching in the Kayagatasati Sutta, where meditation is achieved through the contemplation of the decomposition of your body. You feel aged. You feel hideous. You feel a strange sense of calm.
Woodland is too long for the awe at its bizarreness to last, and on this chilly morning, when it describes your body as icy, your imagination doesn’t need to do much work. It does not help that you are not a big fan of creepy-crawlies. Your mind makes the brush of a branch into a beetle and the graze of a leaf into a spider, ready to plant eggs inside your skin as it moulds and shreds and falls.
The piece ends. You stand up. You are suddenly grateful for the weight of your arms, the solidity of your fingernails, the lack of bulbous, moulding, blistering flesh.
“Are you meditating?”
You are not sure how to answer.
Woodland is on until 12 February 2017 in Bristol as part of In Between Time 2017. Click here for more details.