What is Live Art?

Live Art is now recognised as one of the most vital and instrumental creative spaces in the UK. Live Art is a research engine, driven by artists who are working across forms, contexts and spaces to open up new artistic models, new languages for the representation of ideas and identities, and new strategies for intervening in the public sphere.

Influenced at one extreme by late 20th century Performance Art methodologies (where fine artists, in a rejection of objects and markets, turned to their body as the site and material of their practice) and at the other by enquiries where artists broke the traditions of the circumstance and expectations of theatre, a diverse range of practitioners in the 21st century (from those working in dance, film and video, to performance writing, socio-political activism and the emerging languages of the digital age) continue to be excited by the possibilities of the 'event' or 'experience' of art that is live.

The term Live Art is not a description of an artform or discipline, but a cultural strategy to include experimental processes and experiential practices that might otherwise be excluded from established curatorial, cultural and critical frameworks. Live Art is a framing device for a catalogue of approaches to the possibilities of liveness by artists who chose to work across, in between, and at the edges of more traditional artistic forms.

Live Art has generated what Joshua Sofaer has referred to as ‘an explosion of conventional aesthetics’, as a gene pool of artists, whose work is rooted in a broad church of disciplines, have crossed each others paths, blurred each others edges and, in the process, opened up new creative forms.

To talk about Live Art is to talk about art that invests in ideas of process, presence and experience as much as the production of objects or things; art that wants to test the limits of the possible and the permissible; and art that seeks to be alert and responsive to its contexts, sites and audiences.

Live Art offers a space in which artists can take formal and conceptual risks, create a context to look at different mediums of expression, explore ideas of process, presence and endurance, and investigate relationships with an audience.

For many artists, Live Art is a generative force: to destroy pretence, to create sensory immersion, to shock, to break apart traditions of representation, to open different kinds of engagement with meaning.

Live Art practices have constructed new strategies for the expression of identities, and for many women, gay, culturally diverse and disabled artists, Live Art has proved to be a potent site, where the disenfranchised and disembodied become visible, and where the politics of difference are contested.

Disrupting borders, breaking rules, defying traditions, resisting definitions, asking awkward questions and activating audiences, Live Art breaks the rules about who is making art, how they are making it and who they are making it for.

Live Art practices have proved to be especially equipped to meet the complexity and sophistication of contemporary audiences’ values, identities and expectations. Live Art questions assumptions and defies expectations about who an audience can be, what they might be interested in, and the means by which they can be addressed.

Live Art occupies a huge range of sites and circumstances, from the institutional to artist-led interventions; from actions in galleries and performances in theatres, to artists working outside of the constraints of official culture, within civic or social spheres, in challenging and unexpected sites, or at the points where live and mediated cultures converge. Some may experience Live Art in a gallery, others in a theatre, and others still as an occurrence in some unusual location or a process in which they are involved. Live Art can also span extremities of scales – from intimate one-on-one encounters, to civic spectacles, to the mass participation of virtual events. Wherever they may take place or whatever shape they may be, Live Art practices are concerned with all kinds of interventions in the public sphere and all kinds of encounters with an audience. 

Live Art offers immersive experiences, often disrupting distinctions between spectator and participant. Live Art asks us what it means to be here, now. In the simultaneity and interactivity of a media saturated society, Live Art is about immediacy and reality: creating spaces to explore the experience of things, the ambiguities of meaning and the responsibilities of our individual agency.

Live Art is on the frontline of enquiries into what our culture is and where it is located, who our artists are and where they come from, what an audience can be and how they can be addressed.


We recommend Joshua Sofaer's DVD What is Live Art?. It can be viewed in our Study Room, purchased on Unbound, or you can read the text on www.joshuasofaer.com