Features Diana's Month AheadOpinionPerformance Published 15 November 2012

Performance Map: November

Configurations and canons.

Diana Damian Martin

There’s something inherently problematic about canons and their formation; about the ways in which various configurations of work censor or enable meaning to emerge, and form connections between work that suggest legacies and pertain to dominant – or perhaps subversive- art histories. But also, personal canons- those works of art that shape an individual’s taste, or a collective cultural or perhaps even national identity, and those collections that never get a chance to occupy the public sphere; those collections of works that remain positioned on the margins of culture and its public engagement, outside of textbooks and history books; and those works that, through institutionalisation, have exhausted meaning, needing a different encounter to reinscribe a sense of authenticity. In other words, there is something inherently inauthentic about canonisation, and something inherently unnatural. This strikes me as a pertinent question not only in the context of this Monthly Performance Map, but in the recent presence of performance and live art in particular key cultural institutions, and in the ways in which the current socio-political context renders some works more pertinent than others, reinscribing agency in particular historical narratives and further convoluting others.

Canonisation occurs gradually, and it is dominated by a particular set of agents that hold the cultural capital – personal or public – to configure and contextualise. Toying with the problematic confidence of certainty that often renders an argument factual or authentic, canonisation tends to like the formation of narratives and categories, sometimes taking its cue from the dominance of certain tastes or anatomies of artwork within the public sphere. But how does a canon inhabit a culture? What, for example, were the processes that led to the dominance of a particular narrative of art history that places performance art within a wider nexus of visual art and its formal and political concerns? Within this landscape, ruptures become political too – the actual, context-driven meaning and presence of the avant-garde, the counter-cultural  the peripheral, and their displacement once institutionalised; the distinction between the politics of theatre and those of performance and the localised or perhaps inscribed boundaries that have separated these fields within the wider spectrum of art history.

This month sees the opening of Tate Modern’s new exhibition The Bigger Splash! Painting after Performance, which investigates the ways in which performance has shaped painting from the 1950s until now. It brings together the work of Viennese Actionists with that of David Hockney and Jackson Pollock, the politics of NSK with those of Cindy Sherman, and the paintings of Yves Klein next to Pinot Gallizio. It’s an intriguing collection of works that proposes a range of engagements with the live event, its documentation and orientation through process as modes of investigating notions of representation in art, as well as reconfigurations of a particular artistic landscape. Yet at the same time, it sets about to reconfigure a set of narratives into a coherent cause-effect dynamic without engaging with prior readings and understandings of painting and its action; on the one hand, this makes for an incredibly vague reading of performance simply as action, and on the other, it reinscribes a set of works into a canon that concerns itself primarily with aesthetics rather than affect, thus neutralising their historicity. It made me consider an earlier conversation that took part during one of the Salons in this year’s Spill Festival of Performance in Ipswich that considered genealogies of work, and the ways in which artists engage, explicitly or implicitly, with legacies and canons; in light of this, I wonder what the role of institutions is in making explicit questions of cultural value and relevance within certain art historical parameters, and how much this certain exercise of authority lends itself problematic for the future of that practice but also its relationship to its own history? In this case, it strikes me that there are crucial historical link with artists that have considered painting to be a form of action way before the Cold War period.

At the same time, Tate Tanks is opening I Am Not Me, The Horse is Not Me, a work by South African artist William Kentridge based on Nikolai Gogol’s The Nose; taking the theatricality of this short story as its cue, and using narrative, video and sound as critical tactics, the installation considers questions of agency in discussing configurations and readings of Russian modernism. It brings forward questions of authenticity within work through over – appropriation and manipulation, and it strikes me to be an apt and perhaps surprisingly critical companion to The Bigger Splash!. At the same time, Hackney Wick’s Performance Space is presenting a one-performance by feminist Mexican artist Rocio Boliver, whose work considers the ways in which the production of affect through performance might constitute politics – a canonical work in and of itself.

Liz Aggiss presents Survival Tactics at the Arnolfini, confronting and challenging the ways in which the female body is perceived onstage, taking its inspiration from the grotesque expressivity of Ausdruckenstanz whilst also engaging with a personal genealogy of work through a “homage to her historical mentors.” The venue is also hosting Extreme Rituals: A Schimpfluch Carnival, a three days series of performances and talks looking at the legacy of the Swiss performance group (who last performed in London at the ICA in 2006). Deploying a similar grotesque humour, physical endurance,and psychological tests as well as toying with the formal constraints of plays and radio broadcasts, the group engages with ritual as a form of social liberation, reinscribing the carnivalesque as form of subversion.

After Spill Festival’s National Platform, presenting works from over forty emerging artists across the fields of performance, live art and theatre, come Drunken Chorus, a season of live performance events aimed at early career artists. Drunken Nights takes its cue from its site – pubs and bars – inviting artists to produce work specifically for these kinds of venues; the work is selected from over one hundred applications from throughout the UK and cover a range of disciplines and forms, from music to stand up, confrontational to intimate. Three artists will be selected to undergo a development and mentoring period with artists such as Franko B and Cathy Naden. Taking place in Tooting and Tufnell Park, and featuring artists such as Selina Thompson and Josh Coates, the series of events positions itself both in the centre of a wider infrastructure and within its peripheral spaces. It’s an endeavor full of promise.

Inscribing herself within specific canons of work is choreographer and performance artist Rosemary Butcher, presenting a double bill of work at The Place After Kaprow: The Silent Room and The Book of Journeys. Shaped and informed by the work of the American Judson Group, in particular the work of Yvonne Rainer and Trisha Brown, Butcher’s work navigated from the US to the UK and is often associated with the rise of British conceptual dance of the nineties. With collaborations ranging  from Michael Nyman to Heinz Dieter-Pietsch, Butcher is an important figure in contemporary dance whose cross-disciplinary work has reconsidered notions of body and site. For her Place pieces she will be exploring the ways in which the female body inhabits interiors, and how these in turn become witnesses over a particular histories. After Kaprow is a dialogue between a performer and a screen based installation whilst Book of Journeys investigates the histories of these interior sites and their politics, from a monastery to a castle. Also on at The Place is Currency, a set of events that seek to capitalise on the ways in which dance can become a vehicle for shared experience; each evening will showcase both new and established work, providing opportunities to feedback and interact with Work Place artists and peers as well as over dinner.

Speaking of modes of discussion and ways of reconstituting meaning, the newly relocated Live Art Development Agency Study Room will host a set of three Gatherings that provide opportunities for artists and practitioners to discuss particular topics. Ranging from pornography to failure, and led by artists such as Amy Sharrocks and Ophelia Bitz, the Gatherings are an excellent opportunity to open up discussions surrounding issues of both individual and public ownership. Similarly, Bush’s Season of new writing, Radar 2012, offers a range of pre – performance Platforms that seek to deliberate on topics ranging from critical discourse and new writing to the politics of such work and its social necessity.

Sacred Festival continues with a double bill of work, Tattooing- The Smoke, in which artist Sian Ni Mhuiri will be tattooed by her mother onstage, as well as O, a work that challenges portrayals of the female body in performance through an improvisational score. Andrew Poppy brings Shiny Floor Shiny Ceiling to Jackson’s Lane, bringing together performance, spoken word, pop, rap, electro and blues in a cinematic landscape, and the Albany is hosting Beyond Circus, featuring Off the Ground, extracts from contemporary work by female artists, Tumble Circus’ Death or Circus and Circus Bites Cabaret hosted by Tricity Vogue.

Mapping out a different set of encounters is Fuelfest at Glasgow’s Tramway, featuring Uninvited Guests’ Make Better Please, the Fuel Body Pods and a show completely in the dark by Shunt founder David Rosenberg. Back in London, Camden People’s Theatre will be launching the Futureshock Festival, featuring The HS2 Project by Matthew Evans, looking at the impact of the construction of the new high speed rail from Euston to Birmingham and its impact on the local community, Tom Lyall’s sci-fi  one man show Defrag, Ross Sutherland’s Every Rendition on a Broken Machine and Amy Draper’s Angel Cake. At BAC Clout Theatre present How A Man Crumbled, looking at the Russian poet Daniil Kharms and taking inspiration from expressionist cinema and slapstick comedy. Tim Etchells is also presenting Sight is the Sound That Dying People Tend to Loose First as part of Neon Friday at BAC in a triple bill with Forced Entertainment’s The Coming Storm and a reading from the artist’s novel Vacuum Days.

I arrive at Tate Modern and the exciting Silver Swan by Clod Ensemble that will occupy the Turbine Hall from mid-November, but leave you with Heiner Goebbels’ Stifters Dinge returning to London at Ambika in Baker Street. The 2008 Artangel project by the German composer and director is inspired by the work of the 19th century poet, painter and writer Adalbert Stifter. Taking its cue from his rich and dense descriptions and enactments of natural landscapes, Stifters Dinge is a composition for five pianos with no pianists, a performance that features readings from William S Burroughs and Stifter, as well as interviews with Claude Levi-Strauss and Malcom X in a landscape where Bach and industrial sound collide with inky liquids and dilapidated machinery.

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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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