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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
Fractured & Entangled, a recording of the book’s online launch event featuring contributions from Karen Christopher, Tara Fatehi Irani, Mary Paterson, David Williams, Eirini Kartsaki/Joe Kelleher and Jemima Yong.
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:
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.
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 email@example.com
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?