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The Last Breath Society (Coughing Coffin)
Institute of Contemporary Arts

Image: Holly Revell

The coffin is sealed shut; the faint sound of coughing can be heard from inside, ringing out through the night. In another place, a group are meeting. The Last Breath Society gather to breathe together, to mourn their own life and rehearse for the inevitable.

Martin O’Brien was born with a life shortening disease and recently surpassed his life expectancy – as such he is living in ‘zombie time’. The Last Breath Society (Coughing Coffin) continues Martin’s exploration of mortality through physical endurance, duration and pain based practice, considering the act of ‘waiting’ as a mode of survival. Martin has gathered a society of sick queers, old queens and others thinking about death, to wait together in a room full of coffins. The performance will develop over a series of eight days to explore how we wait for death. Each day, the performance will use the remnants of the previous in a growing and changing installation. Come and join the Last Breath Society and resist the loneliness of decay.

The Last Breath Society (Coughing Coffin) is a living installation and exhibition, featuring daily durational performances by Martin O’Brien and a series of 10 commissioned video works by Franko B, Ansuman Biswas, Rocio Boliver, Noëmi Lakmaier, Lechedevirgen Trimegisto, Joseph Morgan Schofield, Kira O’Reilly, Sheree Rose, Shabnam Shabazi, and Nicholas Tee.
Martin O’Brien is an artist and zombie. He works across performance, writing and video art. His work uses physical endurance, long durations, and pain based practices in order to examine what it means to be born with a life shortening disease, and to live longer than expected. He has shown work throughout the UK, Europe, USA, and Canada. This has included at Tate Britain, Spill Festival of Performance (both London), Kapelica Gallery (Ljubljana), Performatorium Festival of Queer Performance (Regina), Venice Week of Performance Art (Venice), In Between Time Festival of Contemporary Performance (Bristol), Grace Exhibition Space, Abrons Art Centre (both New York) and as artist in residence at ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives (Los Angeles). Martin has cystic fibrosis and all of his work and writing draws upon this experience. In 2018, the book Survival of the Sickest: the Art of Martin O’Brien was published by Live Art Development Agency. He is currently lecturer in Performance at Queen Mary University of London. He recently surpassed his life expectancy and is enjoying life as a zombie.

Conceived and performed by Martin O’Brien, with sound by Suhail Merchant. Produced by Joseph Morgan Schofield, and production managed by Thomas Wilson. Martin is assisted in the performance by Zack McGuinness.
The Last Breath Society (Coughing Coffin) has been commissioned as part of Waiting Times, a Wellcome Trust funded research project by academics from Birkbeck, University of London and the University of Exeter. Waiting Times offers a fundamental re-conceptualisation of the relation between time and care in contemporary thinking about health, illness, and wellbeing.

The Last Breath Society (Coughing Coffin) has been supported with public funds from Arts Council England.

Images by Manuel Vason
Book to access
02:00 pm
Thu, 29 Jul 2021
02:00 pm
Fri, 30 Jul 2021
02:00 pm
Sat, 31 Jul 2021
02:00 pm
Sun, 01 Aug 2021

£8 Full, £6 Concs, £4 Green/Blue Members. 

Saturday 24 July to Sunday 1 August, 2 – 8pm (Closed on Mondays)

Martin’s performance actions will begin at 4pm each day.

Capacity is limited for the performances and audiences are welcome to come and go through the space as they please during their visiting day.

We ask that audience members wear face masks, unless exempt.

To view the films in the installation with sound, please bring a pair of jack headphones. We will also have a limited number of headphones with disposable headphone covers if needed.

Access Information:

You are free to come and go from the Theatre space. The theatre has level access. This installation is standing with some seating available should you need it.

No audience members will be asked to participate or respond on the spot during this installation.

No audience members will be touched by performers during this installation.

Actions will include temporary body modifications.

All programme on Cinema 3 is free to ICA members from £10 / month. Join today to enjoy membership benefits.