Live Art – Histories of the Present

Live Art: Histories of the Present was a two-day symposium which took place at the University of Glasgow on Wednesday 6th of April and Thursday 7th of April 2022, with presentations from Gavin Butt, Harriet Curtis, Dominic Johnson, Vanessa Macaulay, Phoebe Patey-Ferguson and Heike Roms. Staged as part of the Live Art in Scotland project, it explored the complex relationship between live art and the material, historical conditions which have enabled, fostered, and sometimes constrained the possibilities for experimental and interdisciplinary performance.

About the event

The symposium was consciously designed as a slow event – that is, with space for conversation and reflection that might occupy as much time as the more formalised presentation of research, and in resistance of typically packed conference schedules where one speaker is followed immediately by the next. For many of us, the symposium was the first ‘in person’ research event since the beginning of the pandemic, and it felt important to take deliberate care in creating literal and figurative space for discussion.

The frame

Taking up Heike Roms and Rebecca Edwards’ invitation to reckon with the tangible outcomes of ephemeral practices—its networks and platforms, festivals, spaces, training programmes, funding schemes, publications, and archives—Live Art: Histories of the Present was rooted in the desire to explore strategies for historicising the curation and development of live art and experimental performance.

In inviting contributions from our speakers, we were also interested in thinking about the relationships between live art’s past, present and possible futures, asking:

  • How can live art serve as a ‘history of the present’, tracing the contexts, conflicts, and contingencies through which contemporary practices and institutions have emerged? What are the critical, conceptual, and creative strategies prompted or demanded by such an approach to history-making? 
  • How might we better understand the sustaining ecologies of live art beyond the relationships between artists and institutions? How are different economies of practice reflected in and produced by differing approaches to curation, development, and training?  
  • How does the intersection of research and practice—whether as practice-led research, research-led practice, or something else again—function as historiography? What perspectives does it invite, uncover, or generate?  

The talks

Dominic Johnson’s talk on the work and personal archive of Jon John (Jonathan Arias)
Phoebe Patey-Ferguson’s talk on sex, gossip and power in live art research
Vanessa Damilola Macaulay’s talk on the gaps and shadows in Black performance archives
Harriet Curtis’ talk on mess and messiness as ways of thinking about disruptive structures in live art and experimental practice
Heike Roms and Gavin Butt’s joint presentation on their ongoing Live Class: Art School project

The conversations

Each morning of presentations was followed by a conversation session modelled on Lois Weaver’s Long Table format, with a paper table cloth offering a space to extend, document and counter-point a spoken exchange between all of the symposium’s participants. This approach was extended through a session exploring the creative potential of the archive at the close of the second day: ‘What is your archive? What do we want to see in the future archive? How will future archives be collected, planned, created?’

Click on the images below for larger versions.

“Confronted with the archivist’s frustration, I respond awkwardly that my interest in the archive is more creative than intellectual. This is a lie, since I cannot parse the difference between these modes”

Julietta Singh, No Archive Will Restore You (2018)