Guest Editor Sale from 1 May 2017 - 31 May 2017
Robert Daniels is a Senior Lecturer in Theatre at The University of Chichester, and leads on their MA in Performance (Theatre/Theatre Collectives) programme. He's also joint Artistic Director of Bootworks Theatre, and author of DIY and DIY Too (available on Unbound).
"Imagine we're in an over-emphatic, jubilantly ecstatic, evangelical event... you know, the kind that's equally at home in an opulent stone and glass palace as it is a conference centre, stadium or tent... all singy-dancey, and full of ecstasy and hysteria.
... the one where the frail old lady with arthritis shuffles up to the stage. The preacher, all maroon-faced, sweaty and shiny - with as much pomp and majesty as he can muster - lays his hands upon her head, screams instructions (to a ‘something’: not-in-the-room, but sort-of floating above), and squarely punches her into the arms of expectant, immaculately suited, assistants. The crowd swoons. People faint. The ‘demon’ has been 'released'.
Next week she'll shuffle up to the stage and ask the preacher to cure her whiplash.
This is what I think of when I imagine a lot of (mainstream) “Theatre”: masses of people blindly, dogmatically, following an orthodox (and more often than not, some kind of guru), willfully stepping up to get smacked down... replacing one pain with another. Supposing that this is all some kind of miracle cure, and trampling on any heathen that thinks or says (or does) differently. Same goes for “Art”, “Live Art”, “Dance”… whatever your poison. Same shit different day. I dislike reverence. I dislike obtuse and esoteric ‘theory’, and fluffy notions of ‘purity; or ‘truth’ in a lot of discourse (in/with ‘the Arts’ in particular).
Don't misunderstand me though, my analogy to religious evangelicalism is not obtuse. Or particularly rebuking. I'm agnostic, so I do believe in having faith. For me, there's simply something about it all that reminds me of the witticism (variously attributed to Einstein, Franklin and Twain) that "insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result.”, and I think this true of the way in which our ‘Arts’, cultural industries, the academy, and arts ecology have dawdled their way into a state of such inadequacy and imbalance.
… Ok… I’ve perhaps started this a little over-emphatically myself. Let me explain… you see, as an ‘academic’ (as well as an artist) I’ve had to read a look of books. That’s all. And I’m just often surprised (and fairly bored) with wave after mutual-masturbatory wave of reverence and platitudes towards artists and work - when (because of said reading) I’ve seen it all before. Too many books - too - are rolled out and waste trees on the same old boring people and subjects too.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with all this per se - some work/ideas (etc.) needs to be repeated (and sometimes it’s ‘better’ too) - but I just feel too often that despite apparently working in a much-better-than-before ecology of the arts, I’m constantly in need of reminding myself of the difference between what I’m ‘supposed’ to like, and what I actually like. Or, what is ‘good’ and what is actually ‘good’.
That’s one of the reasons I often use LADA and Unbound as a resource: it gives space and voice to a lot of stuff I’ve not seen or heard of before (or rather: a range of work I think should be seen and heard of more).
As a maker, I recognise I’m also courting a certain kind of scrutiny at my own work. The kind you might get if you’re a maker and also a ‘reviewer’ of other’s work (which I’ve also done). Let’s be clear: in no way am I claiming to be an iconoclast or something ‘better’… I just don’t like doing or believing in things ‘just because’, and I don’t like it if I can’t get my hands dirty and have a go at something ‘new’, or ‘different’… or perhaps just the same, just on my own terms.
My interest in "DIY" (performance) is especially rooted in this predicament. I’m drawn to the notion (and ethics and symbolic metaphor) of doing it oneself: crafting, learning, teaching, sharing, giving, making, experiencing… finding another way… working it out… and so on.
All these, for me, are highly political things to do too. Live Art and contemporary performance have a rich history of this kind of thinking and doing.
"DIY" might suggest isolationist positions but this is a simplistic (mis)understanding. The majority of everything I do as an artist or teacher is with others... directly (as in my relationship to my collaborators in Bootworks) or tacitly (as a teacher in HE). My books are an attempt to make sense of nearly 20 years of doing it ‘myself’, and helping others to do the same. They, also, give space to a range of Art makers and doers (emerging and established) to share, articulate, and promote their practices. In Bootworks, we embrace a sense of partnership with our audiences, with much of our work built around structures for co-authorship, interaction and participation. As a teacher - despite my role as 'authority' and leader - I'm often making and learning with my students... or at least helping them to make and learn.
DIY is - for me - about independence. The joy and reward of doing it with my own hands, for better or worse, and the physical feeling of having crafted and made something, from kit or from scratch. Books are still the most crucial places in which I learn to do things myself. They are almost always more reliable than the Internet (but the Internet is also good… just saying).
The unread/read ratio of my own book collection is about 60/40. I just keep getting them... adding them to the pile... admiring them. I have a bit of a fetish. Of the 40% read, most are re-read, and routinely referred to and used. These are my favourite kinds of books: ones you can use. Not as a doorstop (sometimes as a doorstop)... but as a teacher, and maker: to feed, instruct, inspire, stimulate… and sometimes as evidence, reason, purpose, context and to better understand what has come before, and what is yet to come.
Therefore my focus, as this month’s guest editor is on books that share practice and promote making: books and editions that try to articulate practice, and some artist-made books. Most index DIY, some don’t, but elaborate or underpin some of the work I do. Books by people that “DIY”, books that helps others “DIY”, and books that are (have been) “DIY”. I’ll only promote the ones I actually have too… without a doubt there are many on Unbound that are great, but I’ve not seen or got yet… but seeing as my own work is rooted in contemporary theatre/performance and that’s still an under-represented area in book form, I’ll also give a little focus to the companies, artists and collectives like my own, currently stocked on Unbound."
PLAYING UP: A Live Art Game for Kids and Adults
£9 / Original Price £12
Without a doubt one of the most important resources available for Live Art and young people IN THE WORLD. This edition should be a continued resource, updated and added to. I only actually got it just because I missed out on getting a coveted copy of LADA’s The Performance Pack… which I’m still searching for… but when I unwrapped and read it I realised I’d accidentally bought my favourite resource of last year. Expansion packs LADA?
The Many Headed Monster
£26.25 / Original Price £35
A great resource. Some more books coming out/already out on space/site/audience contexts, but none as performative, and as well designed and packaged as this.
Richard Dedomenici Is Still An Artist
£3.75 / Original Price £5
I must recommend this little beauty of a book. I didn’t actually get it from Unbound, I found it in a (particular Bristol gallery) shop. I’m always on the lookout for little books like this (see Sheila Ghelani’s book also listed below) and think they’re just the best thing. I like this one in particular because it’s playful, interesting, and simple, just like Richard ;) x
Gob Squad, Do It Yourself
£18.75 / Original Price £25
Because you should… always. This DVD is a really well designed and packaged filmed workshop of their general practice. I thought before I watched it that I would get insight into the genius of their work… because they are without a doubt one of my absolute favourite collectives… what I got was something grounded in simplicity and a play-through of some (for me) very ‘usual’ exercises. I like them more for demystifying themselves.
Gob Squad and the Impossible Attempt to Make Sense of it All
£8.25 / Original Price £11
Lovely binding. Delicate. Great design. A little repetitive, but that’s kind of the point: well-known works are brought up and discussed through the book and you notice little changes each time as it continues… as if repeating the story over and over makes them tell it better. It does. What a lovely book.
The Making of a Memory
£9.75 / Original Price £13
I love the fact that this book allows and incorporates reflections and recalled memories that might not be actually true… I like Gob Squad, OK? They’re fucking heroes.
A Choreographer's Handbook
£14.24 / Original Price £18.99
I’m always reminding myself (and my students) of Burrows’ confession that the worst piece he made was when he tried too hard to make a piece of ‘experimental dance’, and ended up “making a piece about making a piece”. I feel you, Jonathan…. too often.
A Mis-Guide to Anywhere
Eds. Wrights and Sites
£7.50 / Original Price £10
THE template for making site specific/responsive/generic (whatever your site relationship/connection) work. When I talk about wanting books I can ‘use’, I mean ones like this especially.
A Sardine Street Box of Tricks
Crab Man and Signpost
£5.63 / Original Price £7.50
This book was the template for our 30 days to Edinburgh project. A perfectly simple and frank account of working with/in “the street”. Phil Smith writes in such a way that makes acute, obtuse theory seem completely easy to understand. This book breaks things down for the maker in clearly understood ways, weaving anecdote, and personal experience with argument and critical insight. A writer that knows what he’s on about not because he’s read all the books, but because he’s got the bloody t-shirt.
Rambles with Nature
Eds Sheila Ghelani and Divya Ghelani
£7.50 / Original Price £10
This is a gorgeous little book. A performance in literary form. An example of a self-made book that is just as carefully crafted, and brilliantly written/devised, as the work they make.
Forest Fringe: The First Ten Years
£10.50 / Original Price £14
What should be stocked is Forest’s Paper Stages books… but this will more than do… Forest are hugely important to me and Bootworks, as they were (are) the only place that could give our niche work space at the EdFringe. Artist-led, and not-just-for-artists, they blaze trails - still - for independent/alternative work to exist and thrive at the biggest arts market in the world.
£20.99 / Original Price £27.99
Why is this book still relevant? It’s like 20 years old for Christ’s sake! Well, it IS still relevant. And so are Forced Entertainment… completely essential reading. When this book came out I was an undergrad, and there was literally only Oddey’s “Devising Theatre” book that gave an account of making (devised theatre). Not a single word or point in Certain Fragments feels out of date (whereas Oddey’s book… need I say more!). This book will last forever. I hope. A fucking BIBLE for students of theatre and performance making.
Exercises for Rebel Artists
Guillermo Gómez-Peña and Roberto Sifuentes
£14.99 / Original Price £19.99
Near the end there’s a list of ‘rules’, one of them goes something like: “respect and revere your elders, then kill them ritualistically”… need I say more? From what I learned as a student about his practice and works, I expected Gomez-Pena to be an uber-radical, flamboyant and aggressive artist. When I met him, he was soft-voiced, generous with his time and thought, completely absorbing, and beautifully kind. This book is about as generous as you can get when it comes to sharing your practice.
Good Luck Everybody: Lone Twin
Eds. David Williams and Carl Lavery
£25.13 / Original Price £33.50
“If you can’t say what you’re doing in one sentence, then you shouldn’t do it.” So they say. Or something like that. If only more artists tried this mantra. A superb account and ‘theorising’ of one of the best art-duo’s in the UK. If only we all had people like Carl Lavery and David Williams writing about us… or just Carl and David (absolutely stunning academics!). Exceptionally lucid and rigorous writing… perfectly easy on the eyes too.
All Work and No Plays: Blueprints for Nine Theatre Performances by Ontroerend Goed
£15 / Original Price £20
This is surely the best current template for articulating and ‘scripting’ contemporary devised performance out there: their work always feels ‘young’ (and while the company generally are, the directors, I know, are not)… and in that sense of ‘youth’ one feels something beautiful. The kind of spirit only young work and artists can have: raw, honest, precarious, idealistic, and bombastic. Bloody glorious. This book gives ‘ingredients’, ‘recipe’ and script for all their work to date. And it is absolutely fascinating.
Action Plans: Selected Performance Pieces
£11.24 / Original Price £14.99
Seeing their work in ‘script’ form is weird. So much of what Gemma and James do - for me - is purely about the ‘event’ experience and liveness. I LOVE watching them perform. Their ideas are super-fucking-cool, and I like their process too. Seeing them play with the format of how their work can be documented and presented in such a holistic and practical way is completely brilliant.
The Forest and the Field
£11.24 / Original Price £14.99
Chris’ book came out just after mine. I remember trying to make a spat about Peter Brook’s Empty Space, but never really having the balls - or vocabulary - to properly break it down. Then I read his SUPERB deconstruction… and I just wanted to have his literary babies… lovely writing. His podcast should be on your iThingy too.
£7.50 / Original Price £10
Basically, if you don’t own this, you should. Period. It’s full of tasks and practical insight. And if you’re one of the lucky few people who actually have a copy of Schoolbook 1 I will literally do ANYTHING you want for it.
Here's to another 10
£5.24 / Original Price £6.99
LOW PROFILE are great. This book is great. Seriously. This is a great example of how (and why) indie sector makers should document and articulate their body of work. LOW PROFILE are also brilliant makers and people. A great example of artists who didn’t have to suck London’s cock in order to make it. Their individual and collective practice is diverse and difficult to label, but I’ll always look to them as examples of artists that holistically empower, serve and drive their local community, and relationship to the public. I’ve said ‘great’ a lot. I feel like I’m writing a Donald Trump speech. Not that his speeches are ‘written’. More like a crayon spewed up by a cat.
£13.49 / Original Price £17.99
A simple and original way to document and articulate practice, and one’s work. The different page types, paper stock, and non linear arrangement: it satisfies all my artist-book desires. They’re a great company, with some epically beautiful work. It’s great that the design allows them to speak about and articulate their work in multiple perspectives, keeping the vocabularies and languages neat, while letting them overlap, literally.
Perform Every Day
£9 / Original Price £12
I love/hate this book. A massive tome considering its physical content, with lots of empty space… but I think that’s the point. Superbly simple, and accessible. If Keri Smith wrote a book on Live Art, it would probably be something like this.
The Dust Archive
Alexander Kelly and Annie Lloyd
£11.25 / Original Price £15
What a wonderfully perfect book/idea this is. Its premise and concept is so gloriously simple, and its result so perfectly succinct and cogent. You know that cliché rule in theatre making: “don’t just say it, show it”… this is a book that does just that.
and if you’re rich enough, go buy ALL of Forced Entertainment’s, Gob Squad’s, and Blast Theory’s DVDs.
Finally though… simply because they’re FREE - FREE GODDAMMIT:
The Free University of Liverpool
Splat! The Adventures of Little Bitch: Part One
The Famous Lauren Barri Holstein and Alethea Raban