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For ]performance s p a c e[<sup>1</sup>

For ]performance s p a c e[<sup>1</sup>

For ]performance s p a c e[<sup>1</sup>

For ]performance s p a c e[<sup>1</sup>

For ]performance s p a c e[1

Victoria Gray, 2014-01-29

A report on ]performance e c o n o m i e s[, the 2013 public programme curated by ]performance s p a c e[, London, UK.


The body, it seems, is still a rogue. The actioning body in action has always been (and must continually become) a stain on the clean surface of representation. It is therefore fraught and caught between. It activates actions in and through a body that aims to be dissident to the anaesthetization and commodification of the body via a visibility politics that 'pays', (the image, the product, the popular, the commercial), whilst simultaneously being co-opted and embedded within it. Since cultural value seems to have shifted from objects to experiences and from effects to affects, we have embodied this covert change in and through our flesh, our bones and the viscera of our fibres. That is to say, we have become the currency. Bodies, affects and subjectivities are worth something, but to whom and for how much we cannot be sure. Our affect is valuable...fact...yet at our own expense. Bodies, as generators, carriers and mediators of that affect are sought and bought, played out through our highly sensitized (and easily mobilized) fingertips as valuable market information with powerful corporate exchange value. And yet, there are still those places whose desire to affect bodies is not so cynical. Places where an affective exchange is not such a two dimensional encounter. In these spaces, the range of affective and emotive responses are far more nuanced than an average consumer experience survey. Bodies in these 'live' spaces are at liberty again to rediscover and redefine the 'use value' of their now estranged and phantom limbs. In these dissident spaces our senses are liberated from their current captivity in limbs deployed to purchase, to click, to swipe, in now patented gestures. In these places, affect is a human currency and not a monetary one. It is the glue that binds a community of artists. It is the specific kind of care that touches and transmits body to body to body to body, and becomes bodies plural, ad infinitum. It is in the latter affective context that I'd like to situate my own experiences of ]performance s p a c e[ and in particular their 2013 Arts Council England funded programme, aptly titled ]performance e c o n o m i e s[.


]performance e c o n o m i e s[ was a multi-strand programme with two curatorial threads titled, ]performance e x c h a n g e[ and In Conversation. The overarching aim of the programme was to enable artists and audiences to unite across generational and geographical constraints with a view to sharing and developing Performance Art practice for current and future generations. As well as presenting live performance works, the programme addressed issues pertinent to artists, audiences, critics, educators, curators and organisations that have a stake in the future of Performance Art. Key to this debate were questions of financial sustainability, opportunities for international networking, resource sharing and peer critique. Whilst it could be said that the UK has a relatively strong infrastructure for live work of a performance or performative nature through national organisations such as Live Art Development Agency, Compass Live Art and Live Art UK for example, I would refrain from assuming that these already established frameworks are easily transferrable to the particularities of Performance Art practice.3 It is precisely the redundant argument as to the definitions and disciplinary boundaries of what is or is not Live Art or Performance Art in historical, political, cultural or aesthetic terms, (or worse still, to argue which of the two are better or worse), that I want to avoid. To avert an unintentional polemic, it might be safer to phrase this problem as a question. Are there productive differences between Live Art and Performance Art practices, and if so, can these differences be located in the materiality of not only the art works themselves, but in the differing approaches to the art making process, the curatorial concerns, the critical frameworks and the pedagogical approaches that they employ? In fact, we can answer this question by asking another, much simpler one. That is, what if ]performance s p a c e[ didn't exist?


If ]performance s p a c e[ ceased to exist, it is safe to say, that there would no equivalent permanent and physical space in the UK dedicated to nurturing a critical community of Performance Art practitioners. If ]performance s p a c e[ ceased to exist, where would we default to in order to find a a place of Performance Art research and dissemination outside of mainstream education and commercial gallery structures? If ]performance s p a c e[ ceased to exist, who would be a hub, a home, to curious national and international artists in transit? If ]performance s p a c e[ ceased to exist, which organisations in the UK would support challenging and difficult work that foregrounds process above aesthetic and market driven concerns of product. If ]performance s p a c e[ ceased to exist....

The answer to these questions can be found in our inability to successfully answer them. This blank, this pause, points to the gap. This negative gap opens up a positive space, a space for Performance Art. Precisely, this gap is one that ]performance s p a c e[ continues to nourish, nurture and fill. The spare fact is that in the UK, (discounting festivals and temporary curatorial performance programmes), there are no equivalent permanent and most importantly, physical spaces who are performing this critical function.4


Returning back to the processes of making and programming, ]performance s p a c e[ have carefully and critically developed strong curatorial and pedagogical activity. For example, Ritually Reading and Researching, ]performance s a l o n[, and ]performance o p e n[, commit to creating process-led opportunities for artists that make no discriminations on aesthetic or 'experience' based grounds. RRR, a live & web based laboratory for Performance Art research, ]performance s a l o n[, a platform for sharing and critically discussing artists' works, and ]performance o p e n[, a self curating artists platform, are consistent testament to this. By turning a focus back to ]performance e c o n o m i e s[, as a specific curatorial project, I want to highlight the significant volume of artists' work delivered in this branch of the programme, foregrounding the artistic concerns of it's two strands, In Conversation and ]performance e x c h a n g e[.


In Conversation initiated three pairings of creative exchange. Each process was documented and disseminated online across a five month period resulting in a three week programme of trans-disciplinary exhibitions. As an audience member, not based in London, I was able to follow each of the three projects, FORMative, aGender and Install-Action as they unfolded.5The value of the online spaces for resource sharing and dissemination can't be underestimated, both in the temporal context of the projects but perhaps more importantly for future audiences. The online 'blogs' were carefully curated and critically informed but there was another quality to these immaterial exchanges that was most powerful. This brings us back to affect. At times I was affected by the personal, emotional and sensate sharing's between the curated artists in ways which informed my experience of the eventual live performances. More than providing a 'critical' and 'historical' context for these artists' work, the online private/public exchanges offered a 'personal' context for the work that audience members would not have encountered otherwise. The artists in this project revealed an emotional context which is most often than not, eradicated from much Contemporary Art work for fear of the 'I' and the maintenance of objective and 'conceptual' poise.


As both audience member and participant of the ]performance e x c h a n g e[ programme, it might be most useful to close by reflecting on the value of the exchanges that I encountered in this aspect of the programme. My responses have to be four fold. That is, I need to consider my experience from the perspective of an artist, an audience member, a co-director of a Performance Art organisation (O U I Performance) and as a friend.

]performance e x c h a n g e[6 brought together international performance organisations in order to share resources, influences, methodologies and performances. At each exchange, ]performance s p a c e [ invited two additional Performance Art organisations to share their work with peers and a London audience. This programme was unique in that it situated emerging, early-career and established artists next to each other in a programme of work that eschewed entrenched hierarchical structures. To be concrete, in some cases, artists with 30+ years of experience were showing work alongside those with less than 3 years worth of professional performance experience. This curatorial approach is incredibly important in that it smashes the glass ceiling created by most traditional curatorial selection processes which align artists of similar ages, experiences and aesthetics. The latter model is a safe option, and in a somewhat paranoiac fashion, obliges itself to 'protect' audiences from 'difficult' work and the unknowable emerging artist. ]performance e x c h a n g e[ reversed these negative exchange values that foreground aesthetic judgement, and as a result, we were able to experience a rich programme of new ideas, works and approaches. The idea that the 'established' artist has as much to learn from the 'beginner' is a concept not so strange to Performance Art and we are better for it.


Following each performance event, there was an important opportunity for feedback on the work presented. Critically, space and time was also given over to facilitate public discussions on strategies for developing a sustainable future for Performance Art organisations, both nationally and internationally. The ]performance e x c h a n g e[ thus gave participants an opportunity to re-think how, why, where and when we make work as artists and who for. These (often passionate and heated) discussions challenged all involved to ask difficult questions about financial sustainability and the 'costs' of sustaining a permanent and physical organisation such as ]performance s p a c e[. Specifically, we were reminded of the personal cost of financial instability and the ways in which artist-led organizations inevitably entangle their artistic, personal and professional resources in such a profoundly complex way. Personally, (because I think it is critically important to speak in these terms), I was moved by this fact, and yet, was made concerned by how quickly these conversations turned to bare bones issues. Literally, questions such as, 'how do artists feed themselves?', 'how do artists pay the rent?' were frequent and very real. Earlier I talked about the materiality, not only of the art work itself but the material conditions and implications of the making and curatorial processes. These conversations about sustenance are the underbelly of this debate and are exemplified in stark 'bread and butter' terms. They point to the success of ]performance s p a c e[ and their tenacity to continually programme, even when financial means have been spare. Clearly, these conversations gesture towards a question with a more obvious answer, that is, do organisations benefit from a degree of financial stability. The resounding answer is yes and the positive effects (and affects) will be experienced by artists, audiences and the improved infrastructures for Performance Art in the UK. This is patently clear in the recent Arts Council England funded programme ]performance e c o n o m i e s[, and evidences just what impact an organisation such as ]performance s p a c e[ can have with the appropriate financial support and care.

These are all difficult questions to ask and to answer. Despite the overwhelming expertise, histories, legacies and energies assembled from all over the world throughout ]performance e c o n o m i e s[, we all on occasion drew blank. The gap opened up again and made a space, a space that forces us to keep asking these questions. This is why ]performance s p a c e[ is pertinent to Performance Art in the UK. They make the gaps more visible and for that reason we are made all the more hungry for it, for performance.


1 This text follows on from a piece written by myself and originally published by Bellyflop Magazine in 2010 titled, Beyond Necessity: Can we save performance, or, can performance save itself? The text has recently been re-published in 2013 by Live Art Development Agency in, Keidan, L & Wright, A, (eds) Live Art Almanac Volume 3. Oberon Books. http://www.thisisliveart.co.uk/publishing/the-live-art-almanac-volume-3/

2 Each of the sub-headings are taken from the ]performance s p a c e[ manifesto - http://www.performancespace.org/ethos-and-attitude.php

3 I say this carefully and with full respect for the aforementioned organisations. I am also mindful of the support that Live Art UK and LADA specifically have offered ]performance s p a c e[.

4 I make a distinction here between permanent and physical spaces for Performance Art specifically in the UK however do not wish to discount the important function of other organisations such as Bbeyond (Belfast) and O U I Performance (York), for example, who are committed to a similar agenda, albeit without a permanent space. I am also acutely aware of the range of festivals in the UK that promote Performance Art and Live Art practices but to name any specifically in this relatively short article risks unintentionally privileging some more than others which is not the intention of the article or the writer.

5 See www.performancespace.org/in-conversation for links to resources and the list of artists involved.

6 See www.performancespace.org/performanc-e-x-c-h-a-n-g-e for further information on artists and organisations involved.


The definitive list of artists and organisation who participated in the 2013 funded programme were:

In Conversation:
Leo Devlin, Bean & Benjamin Sebastian
Poppy Jackson & Nina Arsenault
Nathan Walker, Klara Schilliger & Valerian Maly

Performance Exchange 1:
]ps[ - Poppy Jackson, Benjamin Sebastian & Bean
City of Women - Mara Vujic, Leja Jurišić & Teja Reba
IPA - Jurgen Fritz, Dominic Lipp & Valentina Chirota

Performance Exchange 2:
]ps[ - Fabiola Paz, Annalaura Alifuoco, Dani Ploeger, Bean
Bbeyond - Brian Patterson, Brian Connolly & Laura Graham
PAErsche - Marita Bullmann, Boris Neislony & Evamaria Schaller

Performance Exchange 3:
]ps[ - Owen Parry, Robin Bale and Sikarnt Skooliyasporn
OUI Performance – Victoria Gray, Nathan Walker & Christopher Mollon
grütaler9 - Teena Lange, Dolanbay & Lindsay Tunkl

Writer Detail:

Victoria Gray is an artist and writer based in York (UK). She has presented solo performance work in the UK, Germany, Poland, France and the USA. Her writing on performance has been published in peer-reviewed journals and artist books. With artist Nathan Walker, she is co-director of O U I Performance, an artist-led organisation based in York curating performance practice. Currently she is a PhD candidate at Chelsea College of Art and Design, University of Arts, London researching affective perception and the politics of affect in performance and writing. In 2011 she was invited to be an informal board member of ]performance s p a c e[.


Photos: Marco Berardi

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