Spring Update

We’re back!

After a longer-than-expected break for maintenance, the LAS website is back with an update to the Practitioner Directory of residencies and artist development opportunities. This second edition includes a range of new schemes and organisations across Scotland, as well as a brand new section linking to information about international residency opportunities. We hope you find it useful.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing reflections from this year’s BUZZCUT festival and insights from taking part in Art360 Foundation’s recent Demarco Archive Workshops (you can read Roddy Hunter’s notes on his contribution to the second workshop here).

On Monday, I’m also heading to London to take part in a study Study Day at Royal Holloway, University of London, on Cross-Historiographies of Theatre & Performance Art – as in Switzerland last year, it’s part of a growing effort to put the multiple histories of experimental performance into conversation with each other.

Live and Now: Stewart Laing

In this episode of Live and Now, Steve talks with director and designer Stewart Laing. As the artistic director of Untitled Projects, Stewart has led the creation of some of Scotland’s most adventurous, large-scale experiments in theatre and live art though – as Stewart himself notes – most often by making work that might fall somewhere between those two fields of practice.

In this excerpt, we follow the thread of influences on Stewart’s early practice – making work in and around the National Review of Live Art, and the emerging profile of Tramway as a leading venue for touring and international artists in Scotland – through the creation of a trilogy of works based on the novels of J.G. Ballard.

Contexts and documents

Live and Now: Sheila Ghelani

In this episode of Live and Now, Steve talks with Sheila Ghelani – an interdisciplinary artist whose work spans live art, performance, installation, social art and moving image – and whose most recent work includes Common Salt, a ‘performance around a table’ made with Sue Palmer that explores the colonial, geographical history of England and India.

Starting with Grafting & Budding – a lecture style performance examining ideas surrounding race, heritage, and mixing – we explore the development of Sheila’s practice as a solo artist in relationship to her work with Pacitti Company and Blast Theory, and the significance of a sequence of works presented as part of the National Review of Live Art.

Contexts and documents

Live and Now: Ashanti Harris

In this episode of Live and Now, Steve talks with multi-disciplinary artist, researcher and facilitator, Ashanti Harris. Working with dance, performance, sculpture and installation, Ashanti’s practice often focuses on recontextualising historical narratives – offering an exploration of the social, cultural and historical implications of the movement of people, ideas and things. Based in Scotland, Ashanti is co-director of the dance company Project X, lecturer in Contemporary Performance at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and co-facilitates the British Art Network research group The Re-Action of Black Performance alongside artist and curator, Sabrina Henry.

In this excerpt from a longer interview recorded for the Live Art in Scotland project, we touch on the origins of Project X as an organisation platforming dance and performance from the African and Caribbean diaspora in Scotland, and explore the creative works which emerged from archival research into Les Ballet Nègres, known as the first British black dance company, as well as Ashanti’s wider explorations of diasporic knowledge and experience through performance.

Contexts and documents:

  • Ashanti’s website, AshantiHarris.com
  • The Re-Action of Black Performance, a research group exploring ‘how the state of being re-active is used as a theme in Black British performance art, not only as an act of agency and resistance but as a creative catalyst in the form, process, intention and legacy of the works created’.
  • Project X,  a multi-disciplinary collectively run organisation working to platform dance of the African and Caribbean diaspora in Scotland and further afield.
  • A conversation between Ashanti Harris and Dr Ranjana Thapalyal to accompany Dancing a Peripheral Quadrille, a new commission for the Edinburgh Art Festival 2022.
  • Review of An Exercise in Exorcism, staged at Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA): ‘Built in 1778 for a tobacco merchant who made his fortune through the transatlantic slave trade, GoMA’s site is one of a number of neoclassical piles dispersed across the city that were constructed on the profits of the Caribbean plantations. […] An Exercise in Exorcism is one of a number of works devised by Harris on the theme of Guyanese Jumbies, malign ghosts that often inhabit particular locations’.

Live and Now: Karen Christopher

In this episode of Live and Now, Steve talks with collaborative performance maker, performer and teacher, Karen Christopher. For the last decade or so, Karen’s practice has focused on creating a series of duet performances devoted to re-examining the collaborative performance-making process. This work follows – and perhaps emerges from – some twenty years as a core member of the Chicago-based collaborative performance group Goat Island, who disbanded in 2009 after creation of their ninth and final work, a piece called The Last Maker.

In this excerpt from a longer interview recorded for the Live Art in Scotland project, we explore the Goat Island Summer school (originally staged at Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts) as one thread of the company’s longstanding relationship with Scotland – and the significance of making space to explore new forms of individual and creative expression, beyond the typical expectations that surround the development of new work.

Contexts and documents:

Everything so far

Since January 2021, Live Art in Scotland – or, more directly, me, Steve, supported earlier this year by Bryony – has been working to create a range of resources, materials and events relating to the project’s archival and interview-based research. The original funded period of the project has now come to an end, though I continue to work on a new book as well as a few different essays that I hope to share here in the coming weeks and months. For now, though, here’s a handy list of the project’s outcomes:

The podcast – launched earlier this week – will run for the next few months as I work to make the full collection of audio recordings accessible online.

Live and Now: Robert Softley Gale

In this episode of Live and Now, Steve talks with Robert Softley Gale about his solo show If These Spasms Could Speak, making My Left / Right Foot – The Musical for National Theatre of Scotland – and the pragmatics of taking ‘experimental’ work to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Robert’s prolific career calls attention to the specific circumstances in which live art and new performance becomes possible – as well as the potential for such work to cross over into mainstream spaces in ways that challenge any neat distinction between ‘fringe’ and not. In framing the chat, Steve also offers a pocket history of The Arches (a major Glasgow performance and club venue forced to close in 2015) as a space straddling those worlds – and whose absence raises persistent questions about the conditions of possibility for experimental practices and creative risk in Scotland.

Now / Not Now

After many months of work, we’re delighted to share Now / Not Now – a new free zine drawing together four provocative artist commissions with rarely-seen images from major Scottish archives. You can download a free copy here on the project website.

Our contributors:

  • Researcher and artist Johanna Linsley on performance souvenirs: ‘Somewhere between the ordinary and the ecstatic, the souvenir is both precious and disposable’
  • Live artist and theatre maker Ivor MacAskill’s neuroqueer response to their personal archive: ‘Do I refuse to tame it? Do I try to make it more unreadable and wilder?’
  • Performance artist and theatre designer Mamoru Iriguchi on vision and performing live: ‘Watching live streaming made me realise how much time I spend looking at stuff other than actual performance’
  • Writer and performer Harry Josephine Giles on inaccessible archives: ‘Sometimes making something accessible to the right people means keeping out the wrong people. How do you know when to pull up the drawbridge and when to build a ramp?’

As Bryony and I write in the introduction, the images and essays in Now/Not Now are the outcome of a series of complex encounters over the past 18 months:

First, at the height of the pandemic, when access to archives was heavily constrained, with the usual provision of gloves to protect material
from skin oils supplemented with masks, social distancing, and limited working hours. And then, as restrictions began to lift, a series of more open, porous moments: returning to archives to take the photographs that appear in this publication and, inevitably, making new discoveries.

While print might give the suggestion of permanence, we’re also excited to think about how small-scale publishing might serve as a kind historically-located snapshot – a way of thinking from and about a particular set of conditions. In practice, this means many of the images in the publication are as much about our encounter with the archive as the ‘document’ or event which our photographs might represent – a slide held up to a strip light, a poster rolled out on a worn, slightly-too-small table, a strip of negatives with hand-written notes along the margin.

For information on accessing the collections whose images are featured in the publication – as well as dozens more across the UK – check out the Live Art Scotland: Research Resources guide. Special thanks to the archive & committee folk at the CCA, Transmission, and Glasgow School of Art Archives and Collections for their help and permissions to use the images featured in the publication.

To request hard copies from our limited edition print run, please email stephen.greer@glasgow.ac.uk

Artist basic income

Take Me Somewhere has announced a new experiment in developing sustainable livelihoods for contemporary performance artists working in Scotland – a pilot Artist Basic Income scheme that will offer £213 per week for a 9 month period to two artists, as a contribution towards living costs. They write:

We believe that major, structural, financial interventions are essential in order to sustain and secure people’s livelihoods, particularly in the post-pandemic landscape and in combating societal inequality and the cost of living crisis. Although we recognise there is a wide need for this across the country, as an arts organisation our modest pilot focuses on artists/ performance makers working in the area of contemporary performance.

There will be no expectations attached to the funding in terms of artistic creation. We expect the funding to be used broadly towards living expenses.  The two artists selected will be paid additionally for their time to measure the potential impact made. 

One of the most significant parts of this scheme may be the decision to use a non-competitive lottery process in a manner intended to serve Take Me Somewhere’s ambitions of increasing the diversity of people working in performance: first, by drawing from a pool of applicants who self-identify as being part of an underrepresented group, and then from a pool of all other applicants.

Take Me Somewhere’s use of a structured lottery follows Jerwood Arts’ decision to use random selection to identify participants in its 1:1FUND scheme which awarded grants of £2,000 to pairs of artists, curators and/or producers for experimentation, research and development of new ideas without a predetermined outcome. As they’ve recently reflected, ‘while far from perfect, random selection has the potential to be a useful tool to arts organisations, funders and wider cultural sector when used appropriately’, serving to reduce barriers to applicants, enable a more inclusive application process and remove usual decision-making biases. You can watch a recent discussion of Jerwood’s experience here:

Take Me Somewhere’s pilot scheme can also be understood in relation to Ireland’s much larger scale Basic Income For The Arts programme which aims to support the arts and creative practice by giving a payment of €325 a week to 2000 artists and creative arts workers over a long period of 3 years, from 2022 to 2025. Here too, eligible artists were selected at random – and from around 9000 applicants. These and other efforts runs in parallel to the prospects of a universal basic income, as in Scottish trials of a Citizen’s Basic Income. Such schemes are based on the principle offering every individual, regardless of existing welfare benefits or earned income, an unconditional, regular payment.

Though Take Me Somewhere’s pilot is necessarily small scale, it points towards the possibilities of funding models which balance the principles of universal access to the arts with recognition of how particular artists and communities of practice may need focused support in order to redress persistent structural exclusions within the wider arts and culture sector.

The deadline for applications is 5th September 2022, and the pilot will run between October  2022  and June 2023. For further details and information on how to apply, visit Take Me Somewhere’s website.

Revolving Documents

Fast on heels of May’s public events, last week marked a trip to Switzerland to take part in the Revolving Documents conference at Museum Tinguely in Basel. Staged at the opening of BANG BANG – a major exhibition exploring translocal histories of performance art in Switzerland – the conference brought together international researchers and artists to explore different narrations of the ‘beginnings’ of performance art, and to consider the methodologies by which galleries and museums have sought to reconstruct and represent performance art histories.

Moving between the histories of specific contexts of the development of performance art – including Israel, Scotland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia – and the varying strategies by which ‘ephemeral’ events might be documented, we frequently came back to the question of narrative. That is, not simply what stories are told but the terms on which they are constructed and formed, how they might be placed in conversation or contestation, and to what end.

In talking about the history of live art in Scotland, I returned to idea of the absent tradition of Scottish performance art explored in talk for the Glasgow Theatre Seminars last year to consider other, competing narratives of Scottish cultural exceptionality emerging from events such as the Edinburgh Fringe and in reference to the mythos of the ‘Glasgow miracle’. What do such narratives naturalise as the backdrop for the emergence of performance art? How do they shape knowledge of experimental or interdisciplinary arts practices, and the communities of artists involved in their promotion?