Lois Keidan and Daniel Brine
Live Art is a fluid landscape. Spanning the extremities of performance cultures, Live Art is not a singular form of art but an umbrella term for intrinsically live practices that are rooted in a diversity of disciplines and discourses involving the body, space and time.
Disrupting borders, breaking rules, defying traditions, resisting definitions, asking questions and activating audiences, Live Art offers different approaches to the nature and the experience of art and has revealed itself as one of the most potent and provocative sites in contemporary culture. Live Art is a research engine where the limits of art and ideas are tested and new possibilities imagined.
As a strategy to investigate the permissible and possible in art, Live Art has generated what Joshua Sofaer has referred to as 'an explosion of conventional aesthetics' and brought concepts of interdisciplinarity, hybridity and convergence to the foreground of our culture. Whether challenging the orthodoxies of fine art practice, exploring the limits of theatricality, appropriating the idioms of mass culture, pushing at the boundaries of choreographic conventions or exploring the performativity of cyberspaces, Live Art practices occupy all kinds of mediums in a volatile state. From the forbidden to the hidden, from demonstrations to presentations, from the domestic to the galleries of Tate Modern, Live Art is actively engaged within a plurality of cultural contexts and critical discourses. Live Art is an expansive body of approaches offering audiences immersive experiences, engaging them as complicit partners in the making and reading of meaning. In the simultaneity, interactivity and convergence of our media saturated culture, Live Art invests in questions of immediacy, reality and hybridity: creating spaces to explore the experience of things, ambiguities of meaning and the responsibilities of agency. Live Art practices have constructed new strategies for the expression of identities beyond the old distinctions of ethnicity, gender and sexuality; where the disenfranchised and disembodied become visible, where the politics of difference are contested, where complexity is confronted and new ways of being in the world are illuminated.
To employ the term Live Art is not to attempt to define or contain what it might be, but to contribute to the construction of a cultural map that includes artists who chose to operate within, across, between and beyond received conventions. The cartography of Live Art does not ask us to rewrite the maps we know, but to reread them: to follow unfamiliar routes, cross borders, and re-examine signs and symbols in relation to cultural and social change.
The exploratory nature of Live Art can lead to a perception that it is an 'emergent' practice but this misrepresents its provenance and rich lineage. Live Art has evolved from the Performance Art practices that so radicalised the space of the gallery in the late 20th century. In a determined contestation of cultural and social politics and a rejection of objects and markets, artists turned to the body as their material and site and to ideas of presence, process and place.
Such transgressions within the aesthetics and conventions of Fine Art have informed, and been equally informed by, artists questioning the politics, dynamics and narratives of the theatre space; artists working at the edges of choreography and a host of performance and performative cultures; and radical practitioners in the realms of cultural theory, commentary and activism.
Performance Art now sits comfortably within the canon of art history with exhibitions and publications such as Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object (1998), programmes such as the Whitechapel Gallery's A Short History of Performance: Part One (2002) and the representation of performance's ephemera and residues within Tate's collections and displays. But Performance Art should not be seen within an entirely historical context: it is an explosive methodology that has also evolved and shape-shifted in response to cultural and political change and one that continues to impact upon the broader fabric of contemporary processes and practices. The artists we have brought together as part of the Live Culture event exemplify some vibrant aspects of this ongoing and explosive methodology.
To position Live Art on the cultural map we must follow the trajectories between the historical and the contemporary. Since the late 20th century, a generation of artists have developed all kinds of live practices informed by the precedents of performance art but shaped by fresh realities. Working across mediums, contexts and spaces, artists have opened up new artistic models, new languages for the representation of ideas and identities and new strategies for intervening into the public sphere in urgent, exciting and influential ways. Setting out to make theatre for audiences 'who grew up with the television always on', Forced Entertainment come from a generation of artists who have rewritten the rules of theatre to reflect the conditions of the contemporary. As influenced by visual art and popular culture as any literary canon, they have destroyed the pretence of theatre, smashed the languages and codes of its performance and reimagined the stories it can tell. Breaking the traditions of the site, circumstance, aesthetics and expectations of performance Forced Entertainment have in turn been instrumental in shaping a whole new breed of creative artists.
Like other choreographers of her generation, La Ribot is committed to investigating the nature of the body in performance and extending the boundaries of formal conventions. Placing herself at the centre of a 'slippery surface' of disciplines, images and meanings, her practice occupies a space somewhere between dance, performance art, visual art and feminist discourse, employing the artist's body as 'a woman', 'a canvas', 'an object' and 'a concept'. In their employment of the body as an active and transgressive site, Live Art practices are central to the charged contemporary discourses around the nature and politics of embodiment. Working within sculpture, photography, video and live action Franko B is at the forefront of artists testing not only the limits of the permissible in representations of the body, but the limits of the material body itself. In Franko B's live work his abject, naked, monochromatic body is a site to express the sacred, the profane and the unspeakable and an invitation to witness the human condition at its most carnal, exposed and essential. In a culture where images of violence and extremity have become daily entertainment, Franko B employs his bleeding body as an affirmation of life and beauty.
The body can also be a signifier of complex cultural identities that challenge received readings of 'the other'. Live Art exposes the gaps in our cultural representations and exploits what Guillermo Gomez-Pena has called its 'negative spaces' to investigate different ways of bridging the gaps between the fractured and fragmented narratives of these times. Gomez-Pena's work in interdisciplinary performance, installation, video, journalism and cultural theory has been instrumental in shaping discourses around the politics of identity and illuminating the cultural side effects of globalisation and the commodification of 'revolution as style' by corporate multiculturalism and global media. For Gomez-Pena performance is a hybrid space, an interactive space, a space to break apart genres, identities, experiences, cultures and politics, a space to embody, fetishize and problematise signifiers of difference, and a space for audiences to reflect on their own attitudes, fears and desires toward 'the other'. For Oleg Kulik, as with other urgently politicised artists, the body is not so much a presence, signifier or canvas, as an active force. As the only conceivable means of address to the crisis and collapse of his condition as a 'post Soviet' artist and curator, Kulik turned to the language of action as a strategy to disrupt social customs, break cultural taboos, puncture complacency, transgress the conventions of art, bridge the gulf between the artworld and realworld and bring us closer to the 'absolute reality' of our unmediated, uncontaminated, 'animalistic elements'.
Given its history of dis-placement, any address to the parameters and possibilities of Live Art must consider questions of site and circumstance. For artists working outside of the constraints of galleries and theatres, within civic or social spheres, or at the points where live and mediated cultures converge, the specifics of context and space are central. The new media and screen-led practices of artists such as Blast Theory, the location-specific work of Rona Lee, the socially engaged interventions of Pope & Guthrie, and body-specific inscriptions of Aaron Williamson all expand the formal and cultural frameworks that Live Art occupies. As part of Live Culture we invited these artists to turn curators and to use the gallery walls as a screening space for other influential British performance works dealing with the question of site. These screenings are accompanied by Joshua Sofaer's entertaining and illuminating video What is Live Art? that works as an introduction to the field. Whatever place or territory it may occupy, Live Art is about the experience of art. It is active, temporal and ephemeral and only 'exists' after the moment of its creation as traces, ephemera, documents, commentaries and memories. Inevitably, the currencies and histories of a culture that privileges the object over the idea do not serve Live Art well. In response, artists like Hayley Newman are testing the relationships between action and image and the role of documentation in the mediation of performance. Connotations - Performance Images 1994-98 , Newman's photographs and texts of fictitious performance events, reflect the ambiguity implicit in attempts to 'record' a performance and raise questions around the authenticity of Live Art events and the status and nature of their witnessing.
Connotations also acknowledges the contested histories of Live Art; the ways in which the precedence of the image has created, as Newman says, 'a handful of historical performances that have become notorious through their own documentation, leaving others behind that have not made the translation into the single image'. The histories of Live Art are indeed contested, but also as fluid, ambiguous and complex as the area of practice itself. Live Culture presents and opens the question of the histories of the live, by signaling that the archiving and rendition of Live Art can take place within a diversity of frameworks from the institutional, to the personal and the critical. Constructing a new field of art historical study from works that leave few traces and cross many disciplines, historian RoseLee Goldberg's seminal, and constantly updated, book Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present (1979) not only traces a history of performance but confirms its critical importance to the history of art in general. At the other extreme the artist Marina Abramovic has, for over twenty years, collected materials from an eclectic range of sources in a highly personal archive of approaches to the body as a material and object. The histories of Live Art are also addressed within the culturally specific strategies of curators such as Yu Yeon Kim whose Translated Acts , an extraordinary survey of politicised body art from East Asia, addresses the ways in which the West's misrepresentation and marginalisation of 'non- European' art has determined contemporary cultural values.
Live Art can no longer be read through any singular history, be seen through a disciplinary lens, or be held in any cultural boundary or place. The processes and practices of Live Art have been critical to the resurgence of interest in experiential and performative practices within the visual arts and to the adhoc, tactical and itinerant aesthetics of so many contemporary visual artists. Live Art traverses the distinctions between high and low art, between restricted and popular culture. As liveness increasingly comes to invade and infect the fabric of the media streams of Western high-spectacle culture, the question of how we locate Live Art has never been more vital. Whether addressing Live Art's histories, its relation to the contemporary visual arts, or to the broader culture within which it is now received, Live Culture seeks to enact the ethos of experimentation, of limit testing, of dialogue, and the activation of relation through which Live Art has sustained its vibrant charge.