Call for papers: Live Art – radicalism and complicity in a scene of constraint

This special issue of Contemporary Theatre Review calls for a renewed critical consideration of Live Art as a field of experimental and potentially radical practice after more than a decade of seismic changes to the landscape for interdisciplinary performance in the UK and internationally. How has Live Art developed in response to the ripple effects of the 2007/8 global financial crisis, the naturalisation of austerity economics and a resurgent culture war? How does the field of Live Art imagine its future – and its capacity for radical intervention – within heightened conditions of complicity and constraint?

In addressing these questions, this issue considers the complex relationship between Live Art and the social, economic and material structures which enable its existence. In the UK alone, a significant number of major institutions and collectives have changed direction, been forced to close, or emerged as new and important sites of practice over the past ten years. These developments include the closure of major venues such as Manchester’s greenroom (in 2011) and Glasgow’s The Arches (2015), the conclusion of the National Review of Live Art following its 30th edition in 2010 alongside the emergence of Forest Fringe, Centre for Live Art Yorkshire, Marlborough Productions, BUZZCUT and other artist-led organisations as key sites for the presentation and promotion of Live Art. For the first time in its history, the Live Art Development Agency has appointed new leadership – co-Directors Barak adé Soleil and Chinasa Vivian Ezugha – following the decision by its co-founder and Director, Lois Keidan, to step down as part of accelerated plans for organisational change amid renewed calls for anti-racist action.

While Live Art’s engagement with issues of gender, sexuality, disability, and race continues to offer powerful positions from which to interrogate and challenge cultural norms, it also remains an internally contested space. Practitioners and organisations are increasingly confronting or being forced to confront Live Art’s own place in sustaining patterns of institutional racism, class discrimination and (self) exploitation as well as the pervasive nature of conservative (and even regressive) funding and curatorial structures. Though artist-led spaces are often understood as offering resistant alternatives to institutionalised patterns of work, the past decade has also seen increasing awareness of the challenges – and risks – of collective practices where there are limited frameworks for accountability or transparency in decision-making, safeguarding or in the distribution of opportunities and resources.

These and other developments have been paralleled in the field of live art studies through publications that most recently include Chatzichristodoulou’s Live Art in the UK (2020), Field and Costa’s Performance in an Age of Precarity (2020), Schmidt’s AGENCY: A Partial History of Live Art (2019) and Wagaine’s Vanishing Points (2020), as well through major texts on the work of individual artists including The Last Known Pose: Essays and Reflections on the Work of Qasim Riza Shaheen (2018), It’s All Allowed: The Performances of Adrian Howells (2016) and Anne Bean: Self Etc. (2018). This work reflects an extended critical engagement with Live Art’s varied forms and contexts while also suggesting persistent gaps in existing scholarly approaches to the field.

In this context, this issue considers a past decade of practice and its current state to ask:

  • How has Live Art sought to extend, change and repair its practices in response to rapidly changing and uncertain social and economic circumstances? What are the structures which enable and sustain Live Art as a space of experimental and potentially radical possibility?
  • How has Live Art articulated – and responded to – institutional critiques relating to racism, transphobia, disability and class discrimination and other forms of persistent structural exclusion? How has Live Art engaged with its own complicity in sustaining these and others forms of structural oppression?
  • How have the critical and scholarly discourses around Live Art shifted in the past decade, and where do gaps remain in the field?

Contributions might approach topics including but not limited to:

  • Critical engagements with (including rejections of) Live Art by artists, programmers, producers, venues and funders (e.g. in relation to or preference for disciplinary curatorial frames and funding structures of visual arts, theatre and dance)
  • Live Art and the UK’s resurgent culture wars (e.g. in the characterisation of Live Art and contemporary performance as elite, metropolitan or ‘woke’)
  • Live Art and socially engaged practices during austerity, including the way artists have responded to negative representations in mainstream and tabloid media that led to the stigmatisation of certain communities including those on benefits, unemployed people, migrants and asylum seekers
  • Live art and transgender, gender variant and gender non-conforming identities
  • Disability, crip and anti-ableist performance and curatorial practices
  •  Live Art and Blackness (anti-racism, decolonisation, Black Lives Matter, Live Art UK / Cambridge Junction’s Diverse Actions project)
  •  Live Art and (post) colonialism; Live Art and diasporic practices & identities
  • Live Art and online / social media activism: Live Art and #BLM; Live Art and #metoo; Live Art and #extinctionrebellion
  • Ecologies of touring, curation and presentation within and beyond the festival model; Live Art and the ‘new normal’
  •  Live Art’s internationalism: European and international structures of development, curation and exchange
  • Live Art’s relationship to notions of austerity and ‘resilience’ given the sector’s self-characterisation in terms of risk, flexibility and adaptability
  •  Live Art practices of care and self-care, especially those that resist or provide alternatives to individualised conceptions of responsibility
  •  The infrastructural role of artist-led and venue-based organisations across the UK (e.g. BBeyond in Belfast, NI; Chapter in Cardiff, Wales; Buzzcut in Glasgow, Scotland and CLAY in Leeds, England) and how these strategies echo, relate to or differ to those in other national or international contexts.

We welcome proposals that engage with the broad, interdisciplinary and experimental field of Live Art, which can include work made across forms including (but not limited to) performance, dance, sound and music, physical theatre, digital, film, public art, comedy, installation and visual art but expands or escapes disciplinary norms. Live Art is typically defined by its awareness of how time-based arts engages in unconventional and exploratory ways with the notions of liveness, presence and sociality, often involving contexts beyond conventional gallery and theatre spaces.

Abstracts are welcomed for articles of 6-9000 words in length (inclusive of notes and references), documents of 4-6000 words (e.g., interviews, artist pages, manifestos), and shorter pieces of 1500-2000 words for Backpages and CTR’s online open-access publication Interventions.

We welcome scholars based in the UK and internationally. We especially encourage submissions from Black and global majority scholars and disabled scholars who are currently underrepresented in research publications.

Please submit 300-word proposals by Tuesday 1 February 2022 to the guest editors: Stephen Greer stephen.greer@glasgow.ac.uk and Phoebe Patey-Ferguson Phoebe.Patey-Ferguson@bruford.ac.uk. If successful, full articles will be due in December 2022 for publication in 2023.