Features Diana's Month AheadPerformance Published 7 August 2012

Performance Map: August

Our Performance Editor looks at the month ahead.
Diana Damian Martin

In her lecture Critical Writing and Live Art in the UK, critic Mary Paterson rightly points out the ways in which live art presents itself as both a nomadic and institutional practice “Live art is often situated between artistic practices and discourses. Taking inspiration from painting, sculpture, theatre and other types of performance, live art is neither constrained by the institutions of a single genre nor buffeted by cultural tradition.” With the recent opening of Tate Modern’s former oil tanks as dedicated spaces for exhibiting and showcasing performance art, film and installation work, discussions around the permanence of performance, its forms, shape-shifting mechanics and architecture have dominated the public sphere. Given the slightly problematic ways in which the Tanks have approached their task- and the nature of the task itself- performance’s political embodiment is echoing loudly, unconsciously, refracted through this institutional gaze. It’s no surprise, but a fortunate accident, to see this month’s Performance Map so packed with projects, interventions and live encounters that seek to deconstruct ways of engaging with and thinking about performance and live art across a variety of sites.

As the curators of Kassel’s documenta13 state, “art produces the conditions for appearance to happen- the appearance of matter, of senses, of life under many forms of agency.” This agency is clearly present in the work itself, but it’s interesting to note the ways in which Kassel’s reputable art event, spreading over one hundred days with over three hundred participants, now in its thirteenth year, is disseminating this agency.  Whilst openly reflecting on the dialogues which emerge at the meeting point between viewer and artwork, this year’s documenta13  examines the ways in which art and research intertwine, capitalising on the nomadic nature of meaning within this encounter. Its underlying curatorial principle- that of questioning the challenge art poses to coherence and singularity- is particularly timely, making visible the problematic ways in which context can reduce our engagement with and perception of artistic practice.

That being said, like every year, documenta is an interesting portrait of contemporary art underpinned by apt economic discourses, be it in the commodification of art and performance in these large-event contexts, but also in the ways institutions can manage this process.  Jerome Bel, whose most recent collaboration in the UK took the form of a commissioned piece for Tate Modern’s Performance Room, is presenting Disabled Theater, a series of three minute solos from Theatrer Hora, a Swiss company of performers with learning disabilities, reflecting on ways of producing and exhibiting knowedge, whilst Haegue Yang will be re-enacting Marguerite Duras’s The Malady of Death with an edited original script performed by Jeanne Balibar. Extracts from Rossella Biscotti’s durational project The Trial, investigating radical social and political movements of 1970s Italy, will focus on left-wing terrorism, whilst Gabriel Lester, Eric Duivenvoorden and Ernst van de Hemel will be performing The Theatricality of Commonality, exploring the notions of commonality from the 1960s to the Occupy in a series of performative lectures.

Art critic Lori Waxman will be setting up an intervention titled 60wrd/min art critic, in which she invites a participating artist to submit work to which she can respond with a review in real time, deconstructing the relationship between artist and critic, whilst a group of eight poets and writers will be sat together at a table in a restaurant next to Kassel’s main park in an exploration of writing processes, inscribing personal and public, real and imagined fictions into a public space. To intervene in the discourses contained within documenta, a group of one hundred scholars and critics have been invited to read out a note from the exhibition’s publication as part of Reader’s Circle: 100 Notes, 100 Thoughts.

Carrying on the task of adaptation and the relationship between performance, site and the live encounter, the now homeless Forest Fringe will be presenting a book co-authored by over twenty artists at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The book is designed as a different kind of performance space, one in which the reader will be the performer, inspired by the instruction-based writings of the artists. Paper Stages is an important event that extends the presence of the live into the imagination of its reader, inspired by the work of Fluxus artists of the sixties.

From the ephemeral to the tangible, Hackney Wick’s Performance Space is host to a series of summer residencies, featuring artists as diverse as Naomi Lakmaier, whose practice engages with politics of identity, exploring the relationship between self, object and site as well as Lauren Brown, Jess Rose and Sergio Racanati, amongst others. An exhibition showcasing their work is opening at the end of the month, and each week four residency artists will be invited to an all-night research lab. The group will begin by reading a text, essay or research topic and discussing it over cooking and eating dinner, after which they will have a whole night until breakfast to explore the topics which emerge through any form, from writing to performance. It’s an intriguing collective exercise capitalising on the potential of performance to refract and reflect, whilst opening up different working processes as a form of ritual. Titled Ritually Reading & Researching, the project will engage with a digital site for performance documentation, Connection/Time, which audiences will be able to access.

A different form of cultural reflection is present in this year’s Meltdown Festival at the Southbank Centre, guest curated by Antony of Antony and the Johnsons. Having most recently collaborated with Robert Wilson and Marina Abramovic for The Life and Times of Marina Abramovic which opened last year at Manchester International Festival, Antony brings to the mix his own interest in queer performance, cross-disciplinary collaborations and pop culture. A founder of New York based experimental performance group Blacklips, Antony’s extensive list of collaborations ranging from Bjork to Rufus Wainwright, Marina Abramovic to Laurie Anderson make him an intriguing choice.  The programme features not only artists which have been influential in his work, but also key contemporary figures that form a proposed iconogroaphy of American art from the sixties until now. In the mix are the wild-voiced Diamanda Galas with her dissonant ballads, a notable figure of American avant-garde music and a collaborator with Derek Jarman, cabaret performer and David-Bowie collaborator Joey Arias in Strange Fruit, a physical and vocal re-enactment of and tribute to Billie Holiday and a live interview with Boy George. In addition, Marina Abramovic will be performing The Lecture for Women Only, engaging with an all female audience in an embodiment of ideas which inform the curation of the festival. Wilton’s Music Hall is continuing its excellent experiment in music, writing and performance, Constructionism Salon, which forms an interesting companionship with the work presented in Meltdown.

After his re-enactment of the giant opera Einstein on the Beach at the Barbican, American artist Robert Wilson returns to the UK with Walking, an Olympic project on the northern coast of Norfolk. In a collaboration with Dutch visual artists Theun Mosk and Boukje Schweighman, the performance will be an intervention over three miles of coastline comprising installations that create a dialogue with the landscape. Reflecting on a different kind of landscape- political and architectonic, Ian Giles is presenting a performance and installation at TJ Boulting Gallery in London titled Captivity, a portrait of a contemporary society refusing to admit its tragedies taking the form an opening performance in the setting of an indoor climbing wall, whose traces remain inscribed like memories in a landscape.

Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall commission sees a curated work by Tino Sehgal featuring a group of two hundred performers inhabiting the Turbine Hall in a series of conversations, embodiments and engagements with the space and visitors. Sehgal is perhaps notoriously known for his deliberate rejection of all forms of documentation aside from critical texts and conversations erupting from his live works, extending the realm of the live and the life of an artwork outside of the walls of a gallery. His work ranges from the subversive to the playful, and seeks to engage in a matrix of participatory performances informed by his background as a choreographer.

Coinciding with a different form of collective engagement- the London Open exhibition- Whitechapel Gallery are hosting a discussion titled Real World: Dissemination and Intervention, exploring the ways in which work gains agency and presence through the artist’s engagement, in this case, with the gallery wall. Performance artist Mel Brimfield is also in conversation at the beginning of this month discussing her new commission for the Government Art Collection, and Brian Lobel will be presenting his show about illness and the body Ball and Other Funny Stories About Cancer at the Dada Festival in Liverpool, reflecting on the relationship between sexuality and identity politics beyond the medical context.

In a particularly intriguing theatrical collaboration, American experimental theatre company Wooster Group are collaborating with the Royal Shakespeare Company on a production of Troilus and Cressida  due to arrive at Riverside Studios at the end of the month. Under the artistic direction of Elizabeth LaCompte, Wooster Group have been at the forefront of American experimental theatre that seeks to deconstruct, recreate and challenge the politics of the performance act in the lineage of Richard Schechner’s Performance Group. Their past engagement with canonical texts, and their approach to considering the ways in which text is present within performance make them an interesting collaborator for the RSC.  In tandem, Edinburgh International Festival sees an adaptation of Macbeth by Barbican favourites TR Warsawa and Summerhall is hosting Songs of Lear by Song of the Goat Theatre, looking at the linguistic and poetic aspects of Shakesperian language as part of the Edinburgh Fringe. Also experimenting with language, Swiss director Christoph Marthaler debuts Meine Fahre Dame at EIF, an experiment in linguistic deconstruction. An interesting set of tandems using performance as a site for experimentation, research and thinking- proof that it’s the nomadic nature of the practice that fuels its multi-fold engagement with a wider cultural spectrum.

As a final wink towards the ways in which performance practice can engage with its architecture and mechanics in interesting modes, the Live Art Development Agency’s DIY projects, currently in their ninth year, bring together artists seeking to challenge their own practice, constructing unusual contexts for research and dissemination. This year, Nigel Bartlett is curating a week of performance viewings in Getting Out More Often that seeks to show the broad sites in which performance can be located,  challenging the idea of radicality in performance and sean burn and Mike Layward are examining the nature of freedom inspired by the 1882 anarchist bomb plot in Walsall. Performance artist Dickie Beau holds a workshop in fabulation titled Water Shouldn’t Be Water, in which participants will engage in a number of undisclosed set of re-enactments of selected workshop scenarios, Stacy Makishi is hosting an investigation into live art and spirituality through a series of provocations, and Nigel Barret and Louise Mari will be challenging the assumption that an artist’s life and opinions are of any interest to audiences.

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Diana Damian Martin

Diana Damian Martin is a London-based performance critic, curator and theorist. She writes about theatre and performance for a range of publications including Divadlo CZ, Scenes and Teatro e Critica. She was Managing Editor of Royal Holloway's first practice based research publication and Guest Editor for postgraduate journal Platform between 2012-2015. She is co-founder of Writingshop, a long term collaborative project with three European critics examining the processes and politics of contemporary critical practice, and a member of practice-based research collective Generative Constraints. She is completing her doctoral study 'Criticism as a Political Event: theorising a practice of contemporary performance criticism' at Royal Holloway, University of London and is a Lecturer in Performance Arts at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

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