An Eternity of Nothingness or The (Im)possibility of Living On

Martin O’Brien

Images: Martin O’Brien, An Ambulance to the Future  (The Second Chance), 2023. Stills from video. Videography and editing by Baiba Sprance and Marco Beradi.

Many people who weren’t thinking about their bodies and the possibilities of illness and death are now forced to ... I think my work can offer a space for people to sit with images of death, and not in a morbid way. Those of us who have lived in zombie time know death in a different way, and now is a good time to open up the conversations around mortality through art.

Across 2023, Martin O’Brien was  ‘Writer in Residence’ at the Whitechapel Gallery. Martin’s work is continually exploring the politics of illness, death, and the undead. For this residency, Martin worked through writing and performance to consider ideas of immortality. He explored the ways in which writing and actions towards immortality might help to articulate something about death. Through his writings and performances during the residency, Martin explored spirits, ghosts, afterlives, undead creatures, cryonic preservation, rebirth, new lives, transformations and other fictional and imagined possibilities for immortality. Over the year, Martin created a collection of works in different mediums: performances, videos, short stories. The residency involved three live events and three published texts. Together they made up a series that playfully ask questions about the potential for immortality, and imagine a future without an eternity of nothingness.

Performance, Thursday 18th May

An Ambulance to the Future (The Second Chance)

The grim reaper stood there, finally I saw him. His skeletal form sparkled in the moonlight and nothing else existed. This was the deal. He reached out and wrapped his cold, bone hand around my skull. I was lost in the darkness of his cape. He drew me near and kissed me. He tasted like death, and I loved it.

Mixing video, live performance action and parables, this performance imagines a world in which immortality is possible. Drawing on stories of immortal people, it paints the picture of life lived over and over again, a life that doesn’t need water or oxygen, a life without the promise of an end point. It is a meditation on endings and new beginnings. With his usual intensity and wit, this work continues O’Brien’s explorations of the politics of death by asking what the idea of immortality can help us understood about being mortal.

> more info

Further performances of ‘An Ambulance to the Future’ were presented in Copenhagen as part of Managing Discomfort, a collaborative curatorial programme by Live Art Danmark, Toaster and Warehouse9.

Photo by zack mennell, 2023 

Performance, Saturday 22nd July

Overture For The End (An Ashen Place)

Bodies crawl through soot covered landscapes. A ghastly figure looms, unearthly sounds emanating from her mouth. A funeral procession for the living marches by, trumpets sounding, and the mourners weep but they don’t know why. A group of skeletal forms sit at a dining table as if awaiting a feast.

A spectacular exploration of death and immortality, Overture For The End (An Ashen Place) transforms the gallery into a place of decay, part hellscape, part apocalyptic landscape, filled with strange bodies performing deathly actions. The performance imagines repetitive cycles of life and death, an eternity of continuation with a promise of death that never arrives. Taking on the figure of banshee and crone, legendary Los Angeles artist Sheree Rose watches over the actions and intervenes in the cycles.

> more info

Photos by Fenia Kotsopoulou, Whitechapel Gallery, 2023

Performance, Thursday 14th December

Fading Out of Dead Air (Transmissions for the Necropolis)

A scratchy sound of white noise emanating from a small radio fills the dark room. A faint voice comes through. It sounds like nothing from this world, as if death itself was speaking.

Somewhere else, sickly patients lay in hospital beds in hell. They don’t understand why they are still sick. They listen to the hospital radio, but it doesn’t play their favourite songs. Instead, they listen to the sounds of a life once lived. 

Drawing inspiration from hospital radio and stories of ghosts heard through analogue technologies, the final instalment of Martin O’Brien’s performance trilogy explores the human desire to communicate, and record. In a strange and eerie landscape, O’Brien shuffles around, recording and playing half heard voices and unholy sounds.

The durational performance-installation is open throughout the day from 11am-9pm.

> more info

Photo by zack mennell, 2023.

Creative Engagement Project

The Last Breath Society

A series of gatherings exploring how performance art can be a way of processing mortality, illness, grief and loss. We are inviting queer people impacted by these conditions and experiences to join us in this process. Sessions will be held in person across the winter months in London.

> more info (deadline passed)

Martin O’Brien, The Last Breath Society (Coughing Coffin), 2021. Photo by Holly Revell.

Symposium & Performances


A one-off event of difficult, radical and marginalised performance work. Curated by artist Martin O'Brien, DISCHARGE embraces the endless possibilities of the performance space for aesthetic, physical, and political art and experimentation.

Saturday 24th Feb @ Ugly Duck
> more info 

Funders and Support
Commissioned by Whitechapel Gallery. Funded and supported by Arts Council England, the Leverhulme Trust, the Greater London Authority and Queen Mary University of London. Produced by FUTURERITUAL.

Lead artist ~ Martin O’Brien
Project Coordinator ~ Zack Mennell
Project Assistant ~ Ewan Hindes
PR ~ Abstrakt

Videography ~ Baiba Sprance and Marco Beradi

Future Ritual: Land, Art, Faith, Performance CIC

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