Saturday, January 01, 2000

"Live. Art and Performance", ed. Adrian Heathfield

Live. Art and Performance
edited by Adrian Heathfield

The drive to the live has long been the critical concern of performance and Live Art where the embodied event hasbeen employed as a generative force: to shock, to destroy pretence, to break apart traditions of representation, to foreground the experiential, to open different kinds of engagement with meaning, to activate audiences. This book is about the life of these traditions in the present; about the 'genre' of performance and Live Art; about the live element of contemporary art, its aesthetic, philosophical and cultural potential. Live looks at the performnace of the very late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

- Introduction, Adrian Heathfield

This is not a comprehensive study. In fact, it isn't a study at all. It seems careless in its selection of artists (Forced Entertainment and Marina Abramovic appear twice, for instance), it does not explain the theory behind every work it presents, or give more than I tiny paragraph about the artist's biography. It lets the artists do the talking. And they do. Or they don't. Some, like (Forced Entertainment's) Tim Etchell, are as much writers as performers. They impress with their honesty, attract with their wit, provoke with their straight-forwardness:
Perhaps what we did was not so new, exciting and innovative. Those were the favoured words of PR people and the press and the favoured modalities of late capitalism in all its destructive, hysterical and hyperbolic excesses. No. No thanks. Maybe what we did was not so new and exciting. But old. And simple.

To stand in front of other people.
I am forty years old.
To be there. To be present. To be visible.
Alive to the possibilities of the moment.
Others, as the group Goat Island, seem more comfortable with the image, the layout, the surrounded, scattered words. They are more laconic, disciplined:
We make a film at ehgteen frames per seconf in a time of twenty-four frames per second. The film lasts one minute. We have eight pages. This leaves forty-five blank frames per page. We fill them with words. At each missing section, we say, 'We are missing the beginning...' or,'...missing a dance. We apologise...' Then we wait until the missing times has elapsed. We replace missing parts with substitutes. We call this 'repair'.
All this makes a lot of sense. Plenty. Because it is a fragment, a recording of an instant (the book came about thanks to one event (though not only out of it), called Live Culture and presented at the Tate Modern in March 2003. Which explains the collection. And the predominance of British artists. And the intended gaps and spaces. But we are intelligent readers, and the authors know it. We love to fill the gaps, to say, 'ah, yes, if this is so, I get the feeling we're somewhere' (pointing in some personally recognizable direction). This is what we do as spectators, and what we do as readers. And if you agree with me on this, you will find as much pleasure as I do in finding your own way out, or in, or through. With a little help from several wonderful critics (think RoseLee Goldberg and others, no worse writers or scholars), who do give some (though fortunately not too much) context of the amazingly photographed and incredibly diversified performances.
Don't lose heart. There is an audience that does not want old kinds of dramatic bull shit.
To stand in front of people. To be there. To be present. To be visible. From the top of my head to the tips of my feet.
- Tim Etchells, in: Live. Art and Performance (discover it at Amazon)
Some of the other included artists are: Ron Athey, Franko B, Bobby Baker, Jérôme Bel, Ricardo Dominguez, Jan Fisher, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Oleg Kulik, Alastair MacLennan, Hayley Newman (I hate her), Peggy Phelan, La Ribot and Stelarc.

(date of review: May 04, 2005, update: May 06)

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