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.
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 JosephineGiles 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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?
The first time I visited an institutional archive, I was overwhelmed even before arriving. For months leading up to my trip, I spent days sifting through the algebraic pages of archive finding aids, seeking out letters between curators and artists, searching page after page for keywords, that might ignite the purpose of my research among the excess of information, of Roman numerals and serial numbers. The titles of folders were opaque— ‘Correspondence, Phone Logs, Manuscripts, Video and Film, Audio’. It felt like there wasn’t a straightforward way to begin or an easy way to orientate myself toward the material. Yet, I had grand visions of the discoveries I would make, the unknown details that would emerge through the fog of the research process as I conjured up the elaborate detective work of the literary scholars imagined in A.S Byatt’s Possession.
On my second day in New York, I walked to Bergen Street Metro in Brooklyn, before taking the F train all the way to 57th Street in Manhattan. The metro journey was long and crowded as I commuted in another grey city, snaking through men in suits and pushing through crowds, in the middle of an unbearably hot East coast summer in rush hour. Once I arrived at The Museum of Modern Art’s large archive, sweat slicking the backs of my knees, I passed through a series of thresholds, first security, a metal detector, then stowing my bag away, forgetting my passport, and retrieving my passport and finally winding up to the 6th floor of the sixth floor of The Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Education and Research Building, where I was given a sheet of rules about copyright and a quick induction about how to use the archive. I longed for water but all I had in my plastic bag was a pad of paper, passport, a pencil, and my American pay-as-you-go phone.
As I dutifully began the research process, retrieving files and folders filled with artwork shipping records and laundry bills from the 1970s, it was becoming clear I had somewhat romanticised the serendipitous encounters of the archive, in the months of anticipation of this trip. As a condition of accessing the archive, you agree to ask permission to take photographs of any given singular page, and you are asked to read each piece of paper or singular file one at a time. This led to a somewhat stilted experience; once you had opened a box that contained all the folders and then opened one folder that contained one record, you were committed to it, and once absorbed, you had to return it to its file, before beginning the process again with another singular record, photograph, or object.
In Archive Fever, Jacques Derrida writes that the archive, or archon, is the house of the law. In Ancient Greek, it means domicile, masculine, singular. It is the place of authority, operated through the commands of those who rule, of those who make and represent the law. Most of my experiences of the archive, especially in places such as MoMA, or the Library of Congress or the Getty Research Institute conform to this image—sterile, sacrosanct repositories, spaces where I have felt compelled to behave and carry out research in a preordained way. Over time, however, I have learnt that the archive rarely offers some authoritative arc of grand and explosive discovery. Archive work is laborious work. Archive work is satisfying and investigative, it involves slowly tracing connections, genealogies, and epistemologies, comparing ragged clippings from newspapers with undecipherable, handwritten notes. Archive work, often, is slow and frustrating.
Working in Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Art archive was distinctly different to other experiences I have had in the archive. Firstly, the room is small, organised but not overwhelmingly neat—the room feels predisposed to happy accidents or coincidental encounters. It is as if, with brown file boxes lining the walls and a large desk in the centre, the archive encourages the visitor to delight in rummaging. There were a few items we needed to photograph— images of Neil Bartlett’s A Vision of Love Revealed in Sleep, from 1989. Portraits of Pamela Sneed from 1994. Double-exposed images—cerulean blue and hot red—of a performance work by Ronald Fraser Munroe. But we also rifled without purpose, without a list of things we necessarily needed to look for, and so we stumbled upon items we wanted to find and that we didn’t know we would discover: a small black and white promotional postcard from the first National Review of Live Art in Scotland in 1988. On the front of the postcard, two men embrace. In the image, one man looks on, his eyes closed in a sense of quiet acknowledgment, perhaps even denial. Another man—his lover perhaps—holds him tight, his eyes searching for his—for solace and comfort. Exhibition marketing materials for the Third Eye Centre from 1986. Photographs of Mona Hatoum performing at New Work: No Definition at the Third Eye Centre in ’87.
While other archives I have encountered have created a sense of reverence, or have felt alienating and cold, my experiences in the CCA archive felt symptomatic of a feeling I experience in the archive every now and again—archive joy. Archive Joy, might imply, as So Mayer once articulated it, as the joy of ‘stealing something back from a culture that wanted to erase you.’ It might mean lingering in the messiness of the archive, of not finding what you want, but finding something otherwise. Archive joy might signal the unpredictable desires that get activated in the archive, that flare up and arouse you. It might mean discovering something ephemeral and seemingly unimportant—a receipt, a handwritten postcard, an over-exposed polaroid image—that works against the grain of the archive’s persistent exclusions.
 Jacques Derrida, ‘Exergue’, in Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression [trans by. Eric Prenowitz], (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, pp. 7–24, p. 9
 I take this phrase from an online talk hosted at Tate, London, between Sharon Hayes and So Mayer. Speaking Through Love, 16thFebruary 2022 [Online].
We have two exciting conversation events lined up for Glasgow and Edinburgh at the end of May, with more to come in June. We’d love to have you join us – see below for details.
Live Art in Scotland:
Building a Better Residency
26th May 2022 / CCA Club Room, Glasgow / 2-5pm
Scotland’s live art and new performance sector is coming together to talk about the future of artist support and development. What does experimental and interdisciplinary practice need to thrive and flourish? How are different organisations approaching the work of supporting creative exploration and risk?
With contributions from Take Me Somewhere, The Work Room and the CCA, this forum will share information on residencies and development schemes on offer for artists working in Scotland. We’ll hear from artists on how different opportunities have supported them to develop their practice, and think – together – about what the future of artist residencies might look and feel like.
What would make a difference to the development of your own work? What are the conditions that allow creative experimentation, exploration and risk-taking?
Where are there gaps in what’s already on offer? How do residencies line up with other kinds of training, support or development?
If the past decade has been characterised by continuous growth, what might shape the next chapter of Edinburgh’s existence as home to the world’s largest arts festival? What are the practices adopted during the pandemic – often centred on access – that we want to see continued in the rush to return to ‘business as usual’? And how can the Edinburgh festivals offer space for creative risk when the cost of taking part is still often steep?
March and early April have been a busy period for the Live Art in Scotland project as we start to share more and more of the project’s initial outputs, and work to create spaces for broader conversations around the histories of live art. A few highlights:
We’re very excited to share the first version of the Live Art Scotland: Research Resources guide, a directory of more than 30 archives, collections and other materials that might support further research into live art, performance art and interdisciplinary performance in Scotland. It’s the research-focused partner to the practitioner directory launched earlier in the year – together, we hope they might give a better picture of the past and future ecology for experimental practice.
Live Art: Histories of the Present took place in early April, with presentations from Gavin Butt, Harriet Curtis, Dominic Johnson, Vanessa Macaulay, Phoebe Patey-Ferguson and Heike Roms. Recordings of these talks, along with other documentation of the event, will be available here later this month.
I’m listening to interviews that have already started to feel like a record of an entirely different moment in time, even though they only took place last year.
Part of the process of transcribing the project’s interviews with practitioners involves fact-checking to catch the names of artists and projects that were unclear, or whose names have changed over time. This is slow, careful work – slower than I had first anticipated because of the necessary acts of care involved.
Before that moment, though, is the work of close listening, and an attentiveness to the quality of sound transmitted by laptops, wireless networks and satellites. Nearly all of the interview conversations took place by zoom and I’m keen to preserve the imperfect and sometimes scratchy quality of audio as part of what we experienced in the original event. These recordings are the marker of a particular moment in time, a particular set of conditions, as much as any attempt to engage with artist’s memories and practices.
During this process, draft transcripts and recordings are shared with the interviewees for their review. This is an important – if not vital – step of the project’s approach to informed consent. Small additions or corrections added at this stage are marked with [square] brackets, most often clarifying a personal reference by adding a surname but also occasionally introducing a missing detail like the name of a venue or performance work or, more rarely again, to add important nuance that was lost in the flow of conversation.
The expectation of something like perfect recall ghosts the project, though I try hard to (gently) reassure that this is not the goal of the research. Memory is naturally imperfect, and the act of recall reinforces some details while allowing others to fade from view: this project works with rather than against that dynamic.
The first set of interviews and transcripts will be launched later in summer 2022.
Here’s a recording of a talk I gave as part of the Glasgow Theatre Seminar series in December 2021 with a socially-distanced live audience in Glasgow joined by a remote audience via Zoom. The talk was hosted by Professor Dee Heddon, who you’ll hear me to talking with at a few different points.
Last night I gave a talk as part of the Glasgow Theatre Seminar series on live art, curation and the development of Scottish experimental performance. I’ll post the audio here once it is available. One of the things that I was interested in exploring was a range of different curatorial approaches taken by producers, programmers and artists in seeking to (re)invent contexts of support, development and promotion for ‘new work’. Taking as a starting place the New Work No Definition season – mentioned previously here – I considered the framing of work by artists as varied in their practice as Mona Hatoum, Forced Entertainment and Neil Bartlett (among many others) as the ‘theatre of the visual artist’.
In the broader context of this project, I am interested in performance curation and performance curators as a means of thinking about the interplay of artists, organisational strategies and institutions, and in turn, about processes of institutionalisation in relation to live art – a line of enquiry that’s strongly motivated by a knowledge of and interest in practitioners who were and are both artists and curators, for whom curation is an extension or articulation of their artistic practice.
Marta Keil has suggested that the presence of the profession of the curator in the performance arts is a consequence of systemic changes in European performing arts characterised by ‘the substantial growth of the international festival circuit and development of networks between artists and producers; the creation of new spaces, enabling the progress of independent projects and shifting the focus to a nascent, non-institutionalized system of work’ (Keil 2018: 320).
In historicising the figure of the performance curator, Florian Malzacher emphasises:
Contexts. Links between artists, artworks, audiences, cultures, social and political realities, parallel worlds, discourses, institutions. It is not by chance that the curator in the visual arts sphere emerged at a time when artworks often no longer functioned without a context, refused to function without a context. (2010: 12)
Writing in the journal Theatre, Bettie Ferdman similarly acknowledges the origins of the term curator in the visual arts before calling attention to the work of
A growing number of artistic directors, festival programmers, creative producers, and artists [who are] not only are beginning to pay attention to what gets seen—either commissioning new work and/or selecting finished work—but are also conceptualizing how, where, when, why, and for whom such events are structured and presented. (2014: 7)
In illustrating his argument, Ferdman points to the work of Lois Keidan at the Live Art Development Agency as exemplifying the practice of curation as ‘both cultural and financial strategy’ (2014: 9), a process of labelling work in a way that might legitimize it and make it intelligible to and thus eligible for support from funding structures, while also offering a critical frame for its reception through an emphasis on both ‘the live’ and the interdisciplinary.
Running through these three perspectives is a sense of performance curation as the product and response to a particular set of changing contexts or conditions of possibility, both emerging from the work of artists and serving to constitute the terms of its production and reception. Part of that work is an act of naming or making intelligible – whether directed by a single named programmer or curator, or a committee of artists-as-peers. What conditions of possibility does a phrase like the ‘theatre of the visual’ enable?
This weekend I’m taking part in the LIVE ART DATA book sprint, a collaborative project between archivists, theatre historians and performance researchers at the University of Glasgow, Stiftung Universität Hildesheim and Hochschule Osnabrück.
A ‘book sprint’ is a method of creating a book in a very short period of time, using the space of a conference to discuss and revise draft chapters before almost immediate publication of a new open-access text. In my own contribution, I’m exploring the particular challenges of working with archival traces that are distributed and fragmentary, scattered across and within collections that are personal, institutional and constitutionally incomplete – and as often existing outside of Scotland as within it.
In thinking about how a range of different archives might be brought into conversation, I’m drawing on a model offered by the Live Art Development Agency’s study room guides which are intended to help visitors navigate its open-access collection of live art related videos, DVDs and publications. Commissioned from “artists and thinkers”, these texts exist alongside the study room’s formal catalogue of its holdings to offer curated pathways or points of entry to LADA’s diverse holdings. In LADA’s own words, “the idea is to enable Study Room users to experience the materials in a new way and highlight materials that they may not have otherwise come across.”
What would a study guide titled ‘Live Art in Scotland’ look like? How might it help researchers navigate not just a single collection but a series of collections, each with their own history and context of encounter? And how might such a strategy serve to interrogate the absences within those collections and the institutional, organisational and artists practices that they might be given to represent?