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The Spaghetti Club, outside Arnolfini The Spaghetti Club, outside Arnolfini
photo Mark Simmons
Located on the rapidly transforming old docks of Bristol, Arnolfini is a handsomely refurbished and busy contemporary arts centre replete with multiple gallery and studio spaces, theatre-cum-cinema, impressive bookshop, reading room and café. Arnolfini’s Inbetween Time Festival of Live Art and Intrigue proved to be an accessible, adventurous and marvellously eccentric event, prototyping a new kind of festival in which the real and the virtual blur and, above all, audiences enjoy new kinds of engagement with artists and artworks. Not only does interactivity take many shapes, digital and personal, but audiences also witness at close quarters the formation of new works.

Outside the building an old, red double decker bus, the Spaghetti Club, stood by the water, providing an all day gathering point for artists and audiences to gossip and critique, while the café was packed and the reading room in constant use. A short walk away, the L-Shed provided more gallery space. Across town, the University of Bristol’s Wickham Theatre and The Cube hosted a variety of performances.

Interaction

Large numbers of the public streamed into the This Secret Location at Arnolfini and the L-Shed, a free exhibition of works exploring the interplay of the real and the virtual. Here they saw their heartbeats and breathing writ large in George Khut’s Cardiomorphologies (Australia); they stretched out between layers of light and sound in Alex Bradley and Charles Poulet’s Whiteplane_2 (UK); activated the flight of clouds of white cockatoos to their night-time Central Australian roost In Lynette Wallworth’s intensely evocative Still:Waiting 2 (Australia); or went it alone into the light and utter dark in Ryoji Ikeda’s Spectra II (Japan). Installations were also busy: multiple screen videos by John Gillies (Divide, Australia) and Monika Tichacek (The Shadowers, Australia) and Deborah Pollard’s Shapes of Sleep (Australia) exhibiting the behaviour of very real sleeping bodies.

In contemporary art, the audience, either alone or in small groups is increasingly becoming an active participant in works of art, triggering events, slipping into immersive sensory experiences, meeting artists one-to-one in structured engagements, or simply following sets of instructions. In Inbetween Time this could range from sharing an elegant lecture-cum-meal of oysters and champagne (later followed by a brief solo visit to see the formerly tuxedoed host, Paul Hurley (Swallow, UK), transformed into a kind of oyster by swathing himself in bacon—an immaculately crafted but slender “angel on horseback” joke); joining in a conversation which is destined not to work (Carolyn Wright, Conversations with Friends, UK); a real kiss which is set in dental plaster (Charley Murphy, Kiss-in-Between, UK); sitting in on a bloody wound fabrication workshop (Uninvited Guests, Aftermath, UK); wandering the streets in headphones alert to the special sounds of Bristol (Duncan Speakman, Sounds from Above the Ground, UK); or finding yourself in a small room with a group of performers who are exploring telephone behaviour for 6 hours (Special Guests, This Much I Know, Part 2, UK).

Performance possibilities

If the public queued for and happily took to This Secret Location and other installations, another audience, often comprising students (in numbers that made us Australians envious) and performance fanciers, packed into the festival’s performance spaces.

Each morning the lecture format would transform as various artists used it for everything from E-Bay Power Selling (AC Dickson, USA), to demonstrations of silent movie slapstick devices (Howard Murphy, A Working History of Slapstick, UK) and robotics (Paul Granjon, The Heart and the Chip, UK-France), and the performance company Gob Squad (Me the Monster, UK) report on their research into fear—seeking out vampires and werewolves in public places.
Grace Surman, Slow Thinking Grace Surman, Slow Thinking
photo Adam Faraday
Other performances manifested themselves more conventionally at first glance. David Weber-Krebs (This Performance, Germany-Netherlands) turned the stage sculptural; Pacitti Company (UK) contracted us before we entered an intimate space saturated with British myth and history and reflections on our dreams and ambitions in the immaculately crafted and performed A Forest; Rosie Dennis (Love Song Dedication, Australia) seamlessly and bracingly hybridised performance poetry, physical performance and the stumblings of love; Miguel Pereira (Portugal) arranged for selected guests to murder his stage persona; Martin del Amo (Under Attack, with Gail Priest, Australia) wrestled with personal demons and Jacob’s angel; and Grace Surman (Slow Thinking, UK) duetted in surreal role reversal with Nic Green (other performers will work with Surman in other cities).

Big picture

What did Inbetween Time add up to? Whether thematised or not festivals sometimes sum up a cultural moment or epitomise a trend. As I’ve already indicated this was certainly the case with the range of ways audiences were engaged and the many hybrid forms in evidence. Tim Atack thought he detected something: “Being left hanging is a familiar motif in Inbetween Time. The themes of being incomplete, unfinished, beyond rescue or beyond recall seem to resonate through a series of otherwise contrasting works” (“Mortality Manifesto”). The fluidity of audience-performer relations and the easy interplay between the virtual and the real, self and other, body and machine certainly underlined the pleasures, in particular, and anxieties of the age with a new and pervasive intensity.

Creative tensions

The contrast between works-in-progress and complete and tested productions also provided Inbetween Time with a curious dynamic, especially given that the Australian works were in the latter category (Del Amo, Tichacek, Gillies, Pollard). Breathing Space UK counterparts will reach fruition at Inbetween Time 2007. As well, this tension extended to some contrasting aesthetic attitudes which we’ll address in the next edition of RealTime when we look at the extensive Live Art phenomenon, of which there is no equivalent in Australia. An enormous range of work is encompassed by the term Live Art, work which appears to hover between performance art and contemporary performance but is open to many more possibilities. In fact, it is most often described in terms of what it is not. Much of it seems solo, low budget and roughly crafted, with a calculated 90s anti-aesthetic or an air of intellectual burlesque and not a little bovva, but there are plenty of exceptions. It certainly has a strong institutional presence in the form of festivals, the Live Art Agency, New Work Network, Live Art Archive (its new incarnation in Bristol after a relocation from Nottingham was celebrated at Inbetween Time), well-established funding patterns, a strong regional presence, some committed venues and producers, and plenty of opportunities to work in Europe.

The Australian works were much admired, though sometimes described in terms of style, control and polish, while British live art and experimental theatre were seen in terms of conceptual power, a process orientation and spontaneity, which the Australians, in turn, sometimes read as under-conceptualised and under-crafted. The debate continued on our travels to Glasgow and Manchester where the Breathing Space Australia artists also toured, and was enriched by the experience of the National Review of Live Art at Tramway in Glasgow and our meeting with the Live Art Agency in London, more of which in RT 72. From my point of view, these differences were welcome, reflecting how different the artistic milieus are in Australia and the UK, thus making the ongoing Breathing Space exchange program between Arnolfini and Performance Space even more vital for what it offers in debate and, above all, ways of working. These creative tensions ran other ways too, even in live art itself, between younger and older generations of artists, not least in the problems of labelling. In a discussion of the issue of definition, writer Tim Atack commented, “This is a form in which the definitions are always being contested and the ground is always shifting, so let’s leave it at that.”

Thanks
Helen Cole Helen Cole
photo Jamie Woodley
Above all our thanks to Helen Cole, artistic director of Inbetween Time, for an adventurous festival of the moment and of the future, and one which brought Australian and British artists together in a much needed and ongoing program created with Performance Space. Our very special thanks go to Helen for inviting the RealTime editors to run a review-writing workshop and securing the funds with which to do it.

The workshop was a wonderfully immersive experience with a fine team of 6 writers who committed themselves to a hard task with vigour and good humour, turning out reviews daily on demand. The writers were Marie-Anne Mancio, Niki Russell, Winnie Love, Osunwunmi, Ruth Holdsworth and Tim Atack. You can read their reviews on the Inbetween Time section of this site.

Our thanks also go to Tanuja Amarasuriya and Tim Harrison for making our 2 weeks at Arnolfini friendly, comfortable and efficient. Thanks also go to the Australia Council’s Community Partnerships & Market Development division for additional funds to extend our visit beyond Bristol to Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and London, as part of the Undergrowth Australian Arts 2006 program.

The workshop has allowed RealTime to meet writers both British and Australian in the UK who will contribute to future editions of the magazine as the cultural exchange between the 2 countries accelerates and intensifies, adding, we hope, a level of documentation, review and debate.

Keith Gallasch, Virginia Baxter, Gail Priest


RealTime-Inbetween Time, Reviewing Hybrid Arts: Intensive Workshop, Jan 30-Feb 8; InbetweenTime Festival of Live Art and Intrigue, Arnolfini, Bristol, Feb 1-5

RealTime issue #72 April-May 2006 pg.

© RealTime ; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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