Megan Vaughan investigates the complexities of Live Art writing and readership
Aaron Wright’s introduction to volume 4 of the Live Art Almanac is a heartening thing to read. In it, he talks about the growing prominence of Live Art within mainstream consciousness; ideas and practices that have long been a central focus for the Live Art community are finding new audiences through celebrity involvement, institutional change and, importantly, the “fast, cheap and independent” publishing platforms that have changed the way we read and share.
This breadth of documentation and discussion is undoubtedly a huge support to the Live Art sector and everyone who works within it, but increased profile comes with certain considerations. Here at LADA, we talk a lot about the way Live Art is referred to and perceived in the media. How do we reconcile the need for knowledgeable, contextualised discussion of difficult and sensitive works, with our wish to convey the universal human connection and kinship that we find at the heart of a Live Art experience? Is it possible to do both, and to do both well? And what happens when a work of performance inspires an explosion of responses, questioning and supportive, upset and angry? Can the legacy of a work be altered, depending on what you read?
Looking through this new volume of the Almanac today, it strikes me that one of its most valuable gifts is to place these pieces of writing alongside one another. When we skip around the internet, following shared links or cherry-picking from search results, the journeys we take may be wonderfully meandering but they can also lead us into an echo chamber. When Brett Bailey’s difficult and divisive work Exhibit B came to London in 2014, it was cancelled by the Barbican Centre after protests and objections. This Almanac places texts from Bailey and the Barbican side-by-side with responses from artists and thinkers. Compare Selina Thompson’s experience of the work with the press release distributed by the Barbican. Compare Manick Govinda’s argument against the cancellation with Ria Hartley’s discussion of its potential for harm. All are informed, all are considered, but all are very different.
Of course, it’s easy for a new narrative to be built through the selection (and omission) of texts for any collection of writing, but the act of bringing these varied responses together means that, for readers of this publication at least, Exhibit B will be remembered not for any one response, but for the breadth and variety of reactions it inspired; to the work, to the surrounding controversy, and to one another.
This way, we also begin to navigate that perennial problem of intended readership, and how to strike a balance between engaging, introductory pieces for curious newcomers, with sensitive investigations into the complexities and nuances of the Live Art world. Here, we include the best of both; we represent a plurality of voices; and, in doing so, we go some way to representing the huge expanse of perspectives and practices that exist within Live Art.
By Megan Vaughan, Programmes Manager at LADA.
Book Launch Event, 28 June.
Including two discussions chaired by Megan Vaughan.
Date Posted: 16 June 2016