Alessandra Cianetti: In the publication ‘Live, Art and Performance’ Adrian Heathfield sees four main ways to address the multiform approaches of Live Art practices: the categories of temporality, displacement, flesh and ‘elemental life’. Do you think this definition refers specifically to UK and European practices? Or does it extend to the US tradition as codified by RoseLee Goldberg?
Lois Keidan: I think Live Art as a concept is not so much to do with defining the practice of artists but more about how to contextualise and frame those practices. RoseLee Goldberg’s famous canonisation is more to do with performance art and the practices of artists within the visual arts who are working in a gallery context, and with the image. I think there is a sort of difference with the UK and Europe in comparison with the US in that the framework RoseLee puts around performance artists is to do with the relationship within visual art and dance primarily, whereas in the UK it was much to do with visual art and theatre and I think that to a certain extent it is possibly the same in mainland Europe as well. But for me Live Art is not about that, but a way to talk about what art can be, about how is made, where is made, who is made with, who is made for, how it is experienced, how is written about, how is documented and archived. Adrian Heathfield’s categories absolutely relate to both performance art and Live Art .
AC: The border has been the centre of attention for many artists – think for example about Guillelmo Gómez-Peña, Francis Alÿs, and Tania El Khoury. Artists have been challenging both physical borders and the borders between disciplines, genders, traditions, spaces. What is in your opinion the relation between Live Art and borders?
LK: Live Art is a way to break down borders and boundaries within artistic disciplines, and a way to disrupt and rethink hierarchies. Live Art is able to cross boundaries between art and politics and cross not only conceptual borders but also physical ones, due to its site specificity and responsiveness to its contexts and audiences and its non dependence on language or much of the paraphernalia of art or theatre or dance.
AC: I am interested in the shifting notion of Europe with the actual crises we are currently witnessing and living within. How are Live Artists responding to it in your opinion? Which works do you think are relevant to describe the response Live Art is giving to these current urgent issues? How do you relate with other European realities?
LK: There is not much that I am aware of at the moment, and maybe it is too soon for artists to respond. However I can think of the work of organisations such as Counterpoints Arts, Index on Censorship, Tania Bruguera’s Immigrant Movement International, and the collective Between the Borders based in Liverpool. From my limited experience what artists and others based in the UK are doing in response to the European situation seems more immediate and practical than conceptual. It is about getting resources to the Jungle in Calais and organising petitions to local Councils demanding homes for refugees. I’m not so aware of artworks or projects that are in direct response to the crisis.
We are part of a EU funded project called the Collaborative Arts Partnership Programme (CAPP). It’s a network of nine partner organisations focusing on collaborative practices within socially engaged contexts. Some of the conversations we’ve been having are about how we might collectively respond to this crisis and what our cultural and political responsibilities are, especially as there are partners in Hungary and Germany – countries on the front line of the current situation.
AC: Among LADA’s main resources to build knowledge around Live Art are the Study Room and LADA’s online shop Unbound. How does this archiving and knowledge-sharing effort keep up with an always new and changing practice such as Live Art? How do you involve the overall community in supporting this work?
LK: We partly do that internally – three members of the LADA team have their own practice – Alex Eisenberg is an independent curator and producer, Katy Baird is an artist and curator, Aaron Wright is an independent curator. But we also collectively keep our eyes open and are constantly thinking about what we should be representing and stocking on Unbound. With the Study Room, how we acquire materials and undertake research is much broader – we always ask Study Room users to recommend titles and subjects that we should have and respond to that feedback. So for example, recently a Study Room user said that we didn’t have material on ‘motherhood’ so we approached artists that we know are doing work around that subject. They sent us their reading lists, we acquired these titles and also commissioned one of them to write a Study Room Guide on the subject. We also try to involve the overall community by opening up the Study Room on evenings and weekends through our new Study Room Ambassador Scheme, and by having Study Room Boxes or Unbound stalls at festivals and events.
AC: The Live Art Development Agency has always had strong links with the US performance scene while also developing a network in Europe. In the past few years you have been participating in European festivals such as the Venice International Performance Art Week. Are there in your opinion differences in approach, practices and audience’s receptions in your European experiences? I am thinking for example at the Venice Performance Art Week and at the concluded experience (at least in its form until 2015) of the Month of Performance Art-Berlin, in comparison for example to Performa in New York.
LK: I think that the way they are structured and supported are different. Artists, curators, thinkers and writers, are the same in Europe and the US because they are likeminded people, and are all connected with each other in terms of thinking about what art can be or can do and why it is important. I think those things are sort of interchangeable, but the conditions in which artists are having to work are very different and I think in the UK experimental ways of working are increasingly more accepted to the point of a sort of institutionalisation. The fact that there are so many academic courses and research and publishing projects related to performance is staggering compared to thirty years ago. The fact that Tate Modern opened Tate Tanks and even the way they are talking about the new building as a performative space and a place that people will experience reflects the institutionalisation of performance. The Manchester International Festival, and other institutional frameworks now recognise and embrace the interdisciplinary experiential possibilities of Live Art, if not Live Art. Whilst there are courses in universities across the US, and performance studies began at NYU, there is possibly not so much happening at an institutional level beyond New York and Los Angeles. I think that is partly to do with the US funding model. It is just very challenging for artists and curators to generate funding for this kind of work.
Europe is slightly different, a lot of performance and hard-core Live Art initiatives are still very much artist-led. There is institutional engagement and great festivals but possibly not to the same extent as here in the UK and its much more artist-led in Europe than it is here.
One interesting thing that is happening within performance art, and this is going back to your first question, is that performance art when it first began – if one can say such a thing – came about as a sort of rejection of the dominance of the art world way of working. It was about rejecting the art market, rejecting the commodification of art, and anti-institutionalisation – it was about artists’ experiences not about the market. What it is interesting is that, because there has been this huge resurgence of interest in performance art in the recent years, there is now a generation of young artists who are making performance art for the art market and I think that is happening increasingly within European, UK and US contexts (just look at the presence of performance in most major art fairs)
AC: Your ongoing project Restock, Rethink, Reflect has concluded its series about Live Art and feminism in 2015 and, if I am not wrong, 2016 will see the beginning of a two-year series of events, reflections and publications on Live Art and class. Do you think that the UK Live Art scene and its responses to the UK class system has been impacted by the arrival of migrants, refugees and the current debate about remaining or not in the EU? How? What are other LADA’s projects in the pipeline for this year?
LK: All these issues will inevitably come into that project but we are still at a very early stage. We had a Study Room gathering about it, that was really a broad ranging discussion about questions of privilege actually and whether Live Art is its own privilege.
Among the other projects we are working on in 2016, is Playing Up about Live Art and kids. For years there was very little relationship between Live Art and children but there has been more and more artists working with kids in interesting ways – more about art with kids than art for or about kids. There have been really fantastic projects like the one by Campo in Belgium, commissioning artists such as Gob Squad and Tim Etchells to make works with kids. So we have been doing a lot of work around that with colleagues in Live Art UK such as Contact Theatre in Manchester which has a brilliant policy of working with kids and young people at all levels including the selection of architects for the building and the appointment of its artistic director. Playing Up is a project with the brilliant German researcher Sybilla Peters and a collaboration with Tate Family programmes who see Live Art as a really effective cultural strategy for engaging children. Playing Up is a game that adults and kids play together based on Live Art approaches and referencing specific works. We’ll be launching it in April at Tate Modern with a three day mass play in and a symposium on Live Art and kids. We particularly talk about our work as giving agency to underrepresented artists, communities and constituencies and have been doing work with older women artists in Restock, Rethink, Reflect on Live Art and feminism, so it is now exciting to do something around kids – its an exciting new territory for us.
There will be an other DIY programme this summer, we have a bunch of publications coming out this year, and more Live Online projects, including the continuation of the LADA Screens series we launched last year. We will be doing some online commissions and archival work digitising our resources and extending online access to the materials we hold. We are always looking forward and back at the same time – looking back into history but also investing in the future.
Lois Keidan is the Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Live Art Development Agency, London. From 1992 to 1997 she was Director of Live Arts at the ICA, London. Prior to that she was responsible for Performance Art at Arts Council of England, and previously worked at the Midland Group, Nottingham and Theatre Workshop, Edinburgh.
Feautured image credits: Manuel Vason (Guillermo Gómez-Peña)