Live Art


From a paper by Lois Keadon (Live Art Development Agency UK) and Daniel Brine (ex- Carriageworks Sydney and Live Arts Development Agency)
...To employ the term Live Art is not to attempt to define or contain what it might be, but to contribute to the construction of a cultural map that includes artists who chose to operate within, across, between and beyond received conventions. The cartography of Live Art does not ask us to rewrite the maps we know, but to reread them: to follow unfamiliar routes, cross borders, and re-examine signs and symbols in relation to cultural and social change.

The exploratory nature of Live Art can lead to a perception that it is an 'emergent' practice but this misrepresents its provenance and rich lineage. Live Art has evolved from the Performance Art practices that so radicalised the space of the gallery in the late 20th century. In a determined contestation of cultural and social politics and a rejection of objects and markets, artists turned to the body as their material and site and to ideas of presence, process and place.

Such transgressions within the aesthetics and conventions of Fine Art have informed, and been equally informed by, artists questioning the politics, dynamics and narratives of the theatre space; artists working at the edges of choreography and a host of performance and performative cultures; and radical practitioners in the realms of cultural theory, commentary and activism.

Live Art exposes the gaps in our cultural representations and exploits what Guillermo Gomez-Pena has called its 'negative spaces' to investigate different ways of bridging the gaps between the fractured and fragmented narratives of these times. Gomez-Pena's work in interdisciplinary performance, installation, video, journalism and cultural theory has been instrumental in shaping discourses around the politics of identity and illuminating the cultural side effects of globalisation and the commodification of 'revolution as style' by corporate multiculturalism and global media. For Gomez-Pena performance is a hybrid space, an interactive space, a space to break apart genres, identities, experiences, cultures and politics, a space to embody, fetishize and problematise signifiers of difference, and a space for audiences to reflect on their own attitudes, fears and desires toward 'the other'. For Oleg Kulik, as with other urgently politicised artists, the body is not so much a presence, signifier or canvas, as an active force. As the only conceivable means of address to the crisis and collapse of his condition as a 'post Soviet' artist and curator, Kulik turned to the language of action as a strategy to disrupt social customs, break cultural taboos, puncture complacency, transgress the conventions of art, bridge the gulf between the artworld and realworld and bring us closer to the 'absolute reality' of our unmediated, uncontaminated, 'animalistic elements'.

Given its history of dis-placement, any address to the parameters and possibilities of Live Art must consider questions of site and circumstance. For artists working outside of the constraints of galleries and theatres, within civic or social spheres, or at the points where live and mediated cultures converge, the specifics of context and space are central. The new media and screen-led practices of artists such as Blast Theory, the location-specific work of Rona Lee, the socially engaged interventions of Pope & Guthrie, and body-specific inscriptions of Aaron Williamson all expand the formal and cultural frameworks that Live Art occupies.

Recent interview with Lois Keadon of Live Arts Development Agency regarding Live Art in UK who coined the term Live Art. This interview is from the LALA website coordinated by Martyn Couttes.

Lois Keadon explains that the Agency was set up in 1999. With the support of the Arts Council it was formed as a response to the programming that had begun during her time as director of the performance program at the ICA. It is an art movement that came to currency during the social hardships and politically charged years of Margaret Thatcher’s government. Artist’s were making work that made visible the opposition to the cultural and social politics of the day. “It really came out of the work of a lot of radical artists from the states” says Keadon. In this time artists put their bodies and the political, social and cultural implications of the body at the centre their work. The political movements around Aids and Gay rights initiated by groups such as Act Up, with their “Silence is death” call to arms made this a highly charged time in which to be making work. American Artists, such as Ron Athey and Julie Tolentino, addressed the political body, a body of flesh, blood, sweat and semen. These works implicated the audience and made political engagement implicit in the social relations of the work. Keadon says that these artists were loudly rejecting the social and cultural politics of the time and that she was actively supporting work by artists that were making work about gender, race, religion and identity.

(With the burgeoning support for Live Art)...England witnessed new sort of visual art projects that borrowed from live arts challenging relationship to the audience yet without the political agency that live art would afford. Lois Keadon describes these projects as “Happy Clappy,” and she singles out one artist in particular, “Stand up Anthony Gormley”. In Keadon’s eyes Anthony Gormley’s 2009 Trafalgar square project One and the other signalled the death of interesting participatory practices. By inviting people of Britain on to a plinth for 100 hours of “real people” time, Gormley’s project highlighted the flaccidity and lack of criticality of participatory practices. His project “allowed” people to have time in the spotlight (on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square) without any particular framework. Keadon says that works like these remind us that involving people is not necessarily participation. She talks about the way in which these practices mimic rather than challenge the politics of contemporary capitalism. The rise in participatory practices has occurred with out the necessary reflection on what participation is for and why artists are using these strategies, We talk about how this sort of participation with its emphasis on engagement for engagements sake is not so different from David Cameron’s big society, where the illusion of a participatory society is played out in a large scale. Keadon makes the distinction that involving people doesn’t necessarily mean they are participating, “people think they are involved and actually they are being duped, it becomes a way of silencing people.” (and in the case of Gormley’s project of mocking them).

Keadon says that with participatory art, artists have moved from the social body to the political body, into the collective body that we inhabit. She sees the creative response to the work of Culture beyond oil and Occupy London and artists that are addressing issues of climate change and capitalism are part of the next wave of live art practices. She says that she is still concerned that we make time to challenge issues such as race, gender, disability and identity as we still have more work to do, the agency is currently working on a series to address each of these areas of practice that will occur over the next few years. She says artists and small independently run spaces around London (such as LUPA and [performance space]) are experiencing a new sort of popularity without the support of the major institutions. The performance matters program, “trashing performance,” addressed a lot of questions about the future of the form, with artists working outside institutions and outside performance. With artists exploring they way in which the internet and new technologies are allowing for new kinds of connection, distribution and promotion of live art projects.

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