observations on being
Coventry is this year’s UK City of Culture, and as part of an ambitious bid to become the greenest ever recipient of the award has launched a flagship programme of environmentally-minded artists. At the heart of this initiative known as Green Futures are Marshmallow Laser Feast, one of the country’s leading immersive art collectives whose ambitious installation attempts to dissolve any barriers between ourselves and the natural world.
Observations on Being moves with at a meditative pace. Located in Coventry’s London Road Cemetery, a mystical green enclave dating back to 1847, filled with wizened English Elms and Purple Beeches, a series of audio-visual works invite quiet moments of heightened sensual awareness. Taking place at intervals across the cemetery, these seven works illuminate the hidden beauty that we so often take for granted and plenty we never knew existed. From the 8-minute journey of a photon as it travels light years across the cosmos, to the global exchange of gasses between humans and plants, these timeless processes are framed using music, narrative, visuals and, most importantly, the wondrous natural scenery of the cemetery itself.
As is perhaps fitting, the whole experience begins in darkness. Visitors are blindfolded to remove the dominant visual sense and encourage the awakening of others that will be crucial for the rest of the journey. After being led on rope through the cemetery as part of a blind walk, participants are encouraged to stretch out beneath a Copper Beech, where a soothing voice begins to play from imperceptible speakers as though the old tree were conversing directly with the audience. The voice tells the story of life’s inception: from the earliest single-cell photosynthesisers that lived in warm, shallow pools of water before beginning their journey onto land.
Marshmallow Laser Feast Observations On Being, Coventry City of Culture 2021 Installation image of We Live in an Ocean of Air Video Edition Photo by David Levene
From there the journey moves indoors, utilising the Anglican and non-Conformist chapels that add to the cemetery’s Arcadian charm. In the first, a series of screens show the flow of oxygen as it moves through vessels, arteries and capillaries within various parts of the body. Complete with motion-sensor cameras that track viewers’ movement, enabling each body part to be rotated and enlarged, the work illustrates the day-to-day, second-to-second mechanics of human anatomy in captivating detail. In the second chapel, a cavernous albeit dilapidated space serves as the venue for a large-scale audio visual piece that stretches high into the rafters. This single-screen reveals the inner-workings of the planets’ lungs, using a sequoia tree to illustrate the constant cycle of water, oxygen and carbon through its trunk and branches.
Rounding the installation off is an audio piece by Jem Finer that takes place under the generous canopy of yet another spectacular tree. One of the founding members of The Pogues, Finer has since spent residencies at various academic institutions, including at Oxford University’s Astrophysics department. For this installation he has presented Longplayer, a piece originally conceived together with Artangel just before the turn of the new millennium. This composition will play for the next 1000 years, reflecting Finer’s long-standing fascination with deep time and long-durational processes while providing a fitting conclusion to an installation concerned with securing the right attitudes to get us there.
Observation on Being by Marshmallow Laser Feast is on at London Road Cemetery, Coventry, until 15th August. Tickets can be bought here.