Monument installation explores themes of death and life


Makhanda residents will be able to attend a special live viewing of Death and Birth in My Life – one of the shows that formed part of this year’s Virtual National Arts Festival.

The ‘live’ experience of the show, that had to happen online during lockdown, will take place at The Monument Gallery in Makhanda on 25 and 26 November and 2 December 2020.  It is free to attend but those who want to see it must book as there are only 18 places per session. Each viewing is about one hour long with some of the sessions including a post-show gathering for participants to share informally about their own experiences of the topic under the guidance of facilitators. The event will observe all Covid protocols and audiences will be required to wear their masks.

The installation is by Swiss artist Mats Staub who uses his own personal experiences to explore themes and ideas. Death and Birth in My Life evolved after the death of Staub’s brother, an event that inspired some existential questions for Staub. “Which deaths and which births have influenced and changed my life so far? Who have I welcomed, who have I lost and said farewell to – and what has happened to me in the process?”

These are questions many of us have considered and the death of someone close or new birth in the family amplifies our thoughts around these issues.

Staub’s exhibition is a series of filmed conversations, bringing two people together in a clearly defined space and enabling them to engage each other in conversation while he is present as an invisible companion. The participants are filmed both speaking and listening – so visitors to the installation will be able to look at the faces of both the speakers and the listeners shown on two screens. Participants are from different countries around the world.

Experiencing the installation is said to be cathartic and reflective, and as we approach the end of a difficult year, the National Arts Festival is pleased to be able to bring this live experience to the people of Makhanda with the support of Pro Helvetia, the Swiss Arts Council.

There are two (afternoon and evening) shows daily on 25 and 26 November and 2 December.  Each show has three different sets of conversations, the audience can decide which conversation they wish to watch on arrival.  After a first visit, you may feel compelled to watch more, and the audience can in fact attend as many sessions as they wish, there are six conversations in total.

25 Nov – 2pm Mats Staub (Set 1) Monument Gallery
25 Nov – 6pm Mats Staub (Set 2) Monument Gallery
26 Nov – 2pm Mats Staub (Set 2) Monument Gallery
26 Nov – 6pm Mats Staub (Set 1) Monument Gallery
2 Dec – 2pm Mats Staub (Set 1) Monument Gallery
2 Dec – 6pm Mats Staub (Set 2) Monument Gallery

Set 1 features Sharon and Hlengiwe,  and Neil and Lali, who are from South Africa, and Donna and Cath from Britain.

Set 2 features Dominique and Smangele and Rob and Dave (South Africa) and Tony and Kaminina (Germany).

To book and make enquiries, please contact 046 603 1103 or email

Media reviews for Death and Birth in My Life
“Showing speaker and listener simultaneously on two screens, the installation inserts us at the heart of these deeply personal conversations, creating an absorbing oasis of reflection.”
The Guardian, 20.9.2019

“Stories that get under your skin and touch your heart. The form is an absorbing one that allows scope for one’s own thoughts and memories. Mats Staub presents us with a gift: the art of listening.”
bz Basel, 06.06.2019

This is an online link to the trailer for the show

  • Information supplied by the National Arts Festival
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