The Last Breath Society
Coming to the ICA (London) 2021
The coffin is sealed shut; the faint sound of coughing can be heard from inside, ringing out through the night ... The Last Breath Society gather to breathe together, to mourn their own life and rehearse for the inevitable.
Over the course of a durational performance, artist Martin O’Brien continues his exploration of mortality through his pain-based practice. Born with a life-shortening disease, Martin has recently surpassed his life expectancy – as such, the artist is now living in what he terms ‘zombie time’. For The Last Breath Society (Coughing Coffin), Martin has gathered a society of sick queers, old queens and others thinking about death to collectively resist the loneliness of decay in a room full of coffins.
Conceived and performed by Martin O’Brien
Sound by Suhail Merchant
Produced by Joseph Morgan Schofield
Production managed by Thomas Wilson
The Last Breath Society (Coughing Coffin) has been commissioned as part of Waiting Times, a Wellcome Trust funded research 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.
Survival of the Sickest: The Art of Martin O'Brien
Buy the book here
Survival of the Sickest, the art of Martin O’Brien is the first book bringing together writing and documentation on Martin O’Brien.
The book includes photographs and essays by philosophers, performance scholars and art historians including Alphonso Lingus, Amelia Jones, Amanda Lopez-Kurtz, Jareh Das, Yetta Howard and Gianna Bouchard, as well as Martin’s own writings.
"While many books are celebrated as ‘timely’, Survival of the Sickest demands more of the word: to sound out at volume the urgency and necessity; the love, guts, lungs, glitter, mucus of Martin O’Brien and the work he makes drawn from his experiences of suffering from cystic fibrosis (CF). Published in the year his life expectancy (30) was reached, and exceeded, this extraordinary book – of both critical writings and performance documentation since 2011 – somewhat coincidentally marks, and subtly calls to attention, O’Brien’s significant age. The book exists then on the threshold of another kind of (life)time and plunges its reader deep into this sensorial temporal moment, with the late artist Bob Flanagan – himself a CF sufferer – appearing and reappearing throughout the book: a rebellious presence, a spirit guide, through the pages. In O’Brien’s own words he and Flanagan meet as atoms, as “little dots” beginning to join across history in constellation. This most powerful writing provokes thinking forward to O’Brien’s own future-as-history and the legacy of his own work, when others might find him through this book, as a shape in the distance: a dot, an atom, a star." - Ella Finer, researcher
Survival of the Sickest has been supported by Artsadmin, Arts Council England and the Jerwood Charitable Foundation.