Angie Dight, Artistic Director of performance company Mischief La-Bas, created Festival of Ian Smith: A Celebration of Death as a way of celebrating the memory of her late husband, co-founder of Mischief La-Bas, Ian Smith. After his funeral, Dight realised that how we think about death, and how we remember those who have died, needed shaking up a bit. In founding Festival of Ian Smith, she is taking a much-needed look at how we remember loved ones who have died and how we marry life and death together in a positive and healthy way.
Can you tell us more about the Festival of Ian Smith?
This is the second year of the festival. We started it last year in Glasgow to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Ian Smith who was my husband and the co-founder of Mischief La Bas. He had suffered from clinical depression for the last couple of years of his life and he took his own life. I think because the end of his life hadn’t been good - he had been really ill - I started with the funeral as a way of celebrating him and his work rather than thinking about his illness. The anniversary was a way to mark the good things about him, to remember him and his work positively. It was about looking at death positively, firstly through him, but then we also had the Death Cabaret which started to talk about death and started to ask other performers to do work about death. I’d never really thought about death much before. I think it was something that had been hidden away. Ian died and then a couple of other people died and I went to their funerals and I began to see that there was a positive thing in this. We want to remember the good things about them, and we should do that in their funerals and in the way we think about death.
How is the festival changing the way people think about death?
From my experience, it feels a bit that death is something for older people, and I think with Ian’s funeral and with his work, it can appeal to younger people as well. You’re trying to bring lots of people in and make it not scary. I think that’s what we’re trying to do - to have lots of different events which are all approaching death in a different way, and which appeal to different audiences. For example, the Death Cafe. I’d be surprised if many young people came to that. But, with the Ofrenda workshop, I can imagine that would appeal to young people. We’re trying to make death less scary, and make it more part of life. And why not? We’ve all got to do it.
Do you think as a society we will be able to change the way we view death?
Yes, and I think it is happening already. There are a lot more organisations addressing death. I think it’s because people want to take control of their own death, or their loved ones' deaths, and they feel that the way it has been treated hasn’t perhaps been quite good enough. So we want that to improve. It does seem a bit crazy that in this modern world, where we, in theory, can have everything, we really seem to be behind in the way we’re dealing with death and the way we’re talking about it. A lot of people seem to be still afraid of talking about the people who have already died, but I think the more we talk about death in general, the easier it’ll become.
Is there going to be a focus on mental health as well?
I think with the event last year, the focus on mental health was really important because we were talking about Ian and mental health and death. This year it’s not just about Ian, it’s about all people, so it’s encompassing all death. Although mental health is part of his story, and although we’re part of SMHAFF, we’re not directly dealing with mental health. To be honest, there are loads of issues around mental health and death anyway, in terms of grieving, the wellbeing of the people who are bereaved, and also illness and death and how that impacts on people’s mental health. So, death and good mental health are very interlinked.
What are some of the festival highlights?
There’s a weekend programme, which is going to be really full-on, there’s lots of events and performances, so obviously that weekend is a highlight. But then all the exhibitions are the things that are close to my heart, because that’s Ian’s work. I’m re-doing his Good Grief, which is an installation that is tributes to people who have died. So I’m making tributes and then I’m inviting the public to add their own. So it’s going to change throughout the festival, I hope. I’m really interested in seeing how that develops. We’ve also got the In Memoriam exhibition, which is an exhibition of five people’s work, of friends of mine, or relatives of friends, so I’m really pleased to have that in there. Ross McLean’s exhibition about the Mexican Day of the Dead is going to be really great as well. Everything’s going to be great!
What else should people know about the festival?
The message really is that we should still be celebrating people who have died. Just because they’re dead doesn’t mean they’re still not living within us. And we can celebrate them and everything about them positively. With Mischief La-Bas, we always like to treat things slightly irreverently. It’s really important to not take life or death too seriously.
by Kirstyn Smith
Festival of Ian Smith: A Celebration of Death is at Summerhall, 28 Oct-27 Nov. Click here for full listings of the exhibitions, performances and events taking place as part of the festival.