I’m in the book!
In 1997 I graduated from Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, with an MA in Fine Art. My graduation piece was Joshua Sofaer, a biography by Margaret Turner. I hired the actress Angela Vale (my friend’s mum) to play Margaret, and launched the volume at Books etc. at number 120 Charing Cross Road, now TK Maxx. It was the week’s number 1 best seller. Number 2 was, Diana: A tribute in pictures.
Despite the endorsements on the cover, that book was (of course) full of empty pages. 22 and a half years later, here is another book, not by Margaret Turner this time but edited by the magnificent Roberta Mock and Mary Paterson with a humbling plethora of contributors, and this time, there are words and pictures in it.
The contributors to this book have filled the empty pages of Joshua Sofaer, a biography by Margaret Turner, and created Joshua Sofaer: Performance | Objects | Participation.
I’ve thought a lot about death during the creation of this book, about wanting it to be done, somehow in order to die. For the avoidance of doubt: I don’t want to die (at least not now, not yet) but there is a sense in which it’s trace of me already lasts beyond me. The book seems to want to close a chapter on the life of those it describes. It says that it is ok to full stop.
Expert opinion rates human extinction by 2100 at 20%. That seems remarkably high to me. Global warming, nuclear war, untreatable infection. I imagine the legal deposit copy of Joshua Sofaer: Performance | Objects | Participation bobbing slowly in the flooded basement of the British Library document supply centre at Boston Spa in Yorkshire.
ITEM 2: PLAYING UP
One of the contributors to that book, who also has plenty of titles of her own, is Sibylle Peters, and one of them is Playing Up. Playing Up is a game children and adults can play together to explore artworks and strategies that might broadly fit under the umbrella of Live Art. It is a publication which invites discovery through action, and in that sense exemplifies what it also describes. Peters is brilliant at finding mechanisms for action research through performance. Her work is multi-valent, occupying the most radically divergent of social spaces: from the children’s playground to the brothel. This title is a must for those interested in intergenerational conversations in the context of art.
That knowledge creation can be explored beyond the publication of a conventional book is very much part of Unbound’s offer. They also stock artist editions of various sorts. As part of their 20th Anniversary celebrations Live Art Development Agency commissioned Robert Daniels to create the series, Tiny Live Art (Development Agency). The series sits at the intersection of performance documentation and the creation of new artworks, documenting 20 performance ‘moments’ nominated by artists and curators through a callout.
In Great White Way (2001-2009) William Pope L. dressed up as superman (the ultimate icon of the white strongman) and crawled the length of Manhattan along Broadway, elbow by elbow, his black body intentionally interrupting the smooth flow of pedestrian traffic and thought. In Robert Daniels’ tiny version you can endlessly replay this moment and consider its reverberations by moving the tiny figure of Pope L. along a reproduction Broadway street sign, in the comfort of your own home.
ITEM 4: in practice
Unbound also stocks hard to get documentation and is an amazing resource for accessing work that would otherwise not have the possibility for distribution. One artist I regret not seeing more of these days is Howard Matthew. Matthew was one of a generation of artists that I considered peers of mine in the 00s. His work was deceptively simple; playful on the surface but avoiding neat conceptual interpretation. In 2011 Matthew moved to Australia and has been working in youth arts education. It’s great to see that you can still access content not even available on the artist’s website, through Unbound.
Even when it might be in a conventional book format the contents might not be in a form usually expected in a world of publishing confined by the rigours or conventions of book editing. So it is for Awkwoods: Daniel Oliver’s Dyspraxic Adventures in Participatory Performance. I experience the world as a place of chaos, and I impose systems, rules and routines as a way of trying to manage that experience. I can imagine that Daniel Oliver also experiences the world as a place of chaos but his solution, so different from mine, is simply to go with it. His performances seem to come from a place of compulsive exhortation: explanations which seem to make no sense but nevertheless somehow do. This book offers an insight into some of his cognitive dysphoria and is aimed at those who are invested in a neurodivergent world.
Personally, I love a verbatim interview or conversation. (One of my main resources for thinking about contemporary culture is Apartamento Magazine – ostensibly a twice-yearly journal dedicated to ‘everyday life interiors’ but actually more a series of verbatim interviews with artists, designers, chefs, and architects from around the world. Perhaps Unbound should consider stocking it.) Agency: A Partial History of Live Art edited by Theron Schmidt is a kind of Live Art parallel to Apartamento Magazine. The thing about the verbatim conversation is that you can imagine that you are there, taking part. In this series of edited verbatim dialogues, artists, curators and thinkers unpick a wide range of topics, arranged in themes: bodies, spaces, institutions, communities, actions.
If you want to get an overview of where Live Art is at and how it got here, this is the book for you.
In her speech to the Conservative Party Conference in 2016, then Prime Minister Theresa May proclaimed, “If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere”. As someone whose family has moved country generation after generation, I have difficulty in answering the question, “Where are you from?” and have struggled with a sense of national identity. My sense of citizenship is, however, strong.
This book explores the concept of citizenship in the expanded field of performance studies, encouraging a consideration of the way in which citizenship provides for identities and demands responsibilities. As the UK leaves the European Union what could be more appropriate than a consideration of what it means to perform citizenship?