|Third Angel, Inspiration Exchange, Compass Festival of Live Art|
photo Jonathan Turner
Live Art is a sphere that continues to gain traction in Australia, though the then-artistic director of Performance Space, Daniel Brine, noted in his Durational Lattes discussion that it is a term that “has a specific relationship to the British scene.” Shying away from reliance on cultural importation is a valid position, but might negate lessons offered from international perspectives, not to mention a dialogue with similar practices that have long existed in Australia, albeit under a different name. These are some of the thoughts I carried with me as I set off to the Compass Live Art Festival and Symposium in Leeds whilst on a recent trip to the UK.
Compass is an initiative forged between Leeds-based Waymarking (Sarah Spanton) and the Arts Council England, and led by a consortium including festival curator Annie Lloyd and the organisation East Street Arts. Compass presents events throughout the year, but the main focus is the Live Art Festival that couples a weekend-long artistic program with a symposium program of workshop discussions.
The artistic program happened in markets, an empty shopfront, the City Museum, the streets and in galleries and theatres. Activating the city with art in unexpected locations provided a gentle and occasionally critical counterpoint to the pre-Christmas shopping frenzy that seemed to be going on around, and mostly obliviously to, the festival. ‘Exchange’ is now a familiar theme in contemporary art, with artists looking to propose alternatives to capitalist modes of economic exchange and viewing the artwork as a point of exchange for artists, audiences and the public. A number of the works in Compass asked participants to contribute something of their own, and then consider what they received in return.
|Brian Lobel, Carpe Minuta Prima, Compass Festival of Live Art|
photo Jonathan Turner
|Jenny Lawson, Bake me a Cake, Compass Festival of Live Art|
photo Jonathan Turner
If exchanges are meant to be fair and balanced and offer something of value to all involved, Third Angel might have hit the nail on the head with Inspiration Exchange. The charismatic Alexander Kelly sat in a Victorian period model kitchen in the Leeds City Museum cataloguing the things that inspire people. You told your story to him and the cramped kitchen audience and then gave it a name to be recorded. In return he chose a card and recited a previous participant’s inspirational story. When people told their stories, they shared with great personal investment. When Kelly re-performed them, whimsy and banality were absorbed by the skill of a master storyteller, always looking to transfer inspiration.
The ‘bigger-ticket’ events recalled the indebtedness of Live Art in the UK to pioneering experimental theatre groups such as Yorkshire locals Forced Entertainment and the English-Belgian group Reckless Sleeper. Reckless Sleeper’s The Last Supper interrogated storytelling and history-making with what transpired almost as a word-association game of recalling the notable dead and literally eating their words, squares of paper disappearing into the performers’ mouths once their contents were recited. Performers and audience sat at dinner tables on the stage, intimately sharing the last meals of executed prisoners as distributed through a kind of raffle. We considered martyrs and criminals alike as defined by their last words and meals. We considered whether we were supposed to eat the cheeseburger and decided we were. Forced Entertainment’s And on the Thousandth Night… (see RT60) further undid the devices of narrative theatre. The pay-offs of duration in performance were explored as themes of half-told stories resurfaced over six hours of stop-start “Once upon a times” that were continuously elaborated and expanded, becoming more and more ridiculous.
It was the Symposium program of workshop-discussions that most defined the issues and politics concerning Live Art as artists, students and academics from a range of disciplines, arts workers and government body representatives mooted questions of access, city making, intimacy, dialogue, touring, funding and more. In the Symposium plenary it was noted by many that more discussions were started than could be resolved. Live Art continues to skirt definition as an art form, and yet still succeeds as a discursive strategy, a research engine and a creative space.
Compass Festival of Live Art and Compass Symposium, various locations, Leeds, UK, Nov 25-27; http://compassliveart.org.uk
RealTime issue #107 Feb-March 2012 pg. 6
© Megan Garrett-Jones; for permission to reproduce apply to firstname.lastname@example.org