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'Bushland' is a bleak, fascinating walkthrough of what happens when you die

‘Warning: content on death or dying; dress for weather and walking’ goes the disclaimer of this site-based artwork that charts the course of a human body’s decay and the influence it has on its environment. ★★★★

Held over the first weekend of summer, under a shady canopy in Melbourne’s Botanical Gardens, Bushland is an immersive, meditative experience that comes with added insect bites.

The artwork is devised by the UK’s Rebecca French and Andrew Mottershead – a duo who’ve been creating multi-artform experiences over the past 18 years. Part of their Afterlife series, this work is an adaptation of Woodland – in essence, it’s the same work, now nuanced and Australianised with the help of local experts.

The Afterlife series was created to remove the fear of dying alone by going into every specific detail of what happens to your body long after you lose consciousness. Other works take place on a boat, drifting along while hearing how your body decomposes in water (Waterborne), in an art gallery as your mummified body becomes a sculpture (Grey Granular Fist) and at the listeners’ own home, lying in their own bed (Homebody).

With meticulous scientific consultation, the forensic detail removes the listener’s connection to their body, stripping ownership, ego, and any negative emotion associated with dying. Sarah Kants’ soft voice is pitch perfect, forcing you to focus on what she’s saying rather than how she’s saying it. The 21 minutes of audio is poetic and scientific, a balance that captivates you and puts you at ease with life coming to an end.

"It is a list of interactions between the body and the environment, of internal bodily processes, of milestones in the decomposition process, gases and smells, bodily changes, external agents, and the distributed effect of the body in the bush," says Mottershead, a statement that doesn’t capture any of the work’s beauty.

With lines like "the warm early evening summer sun filters through the gum trees", "your stench is stronger than ever – decomposing flesh, bodily fluids, and faeces" and "pungent cheese smell", it’s a visceral account of the biochemical process as you’re slowly and gently subsumed by the earth over thousands of years.

There’s no doubt this work manages to achieve its goal – forcing people to rethink their own death, realising the beauty of immortality, and reinforcing the importance of every moment until that day comes. It’s worth thinking about the end of your life until finally, you leave this world and "your bones become stone".

Bushland ran as part of the Mere Mortals exhibition series.