To mark the extraordinary SACRED:Homelands festival of international performance taking place at Toynbee Studios from 23 to 27 November 2016, we have invited the festival’s curator Nikki Milican to create a collection for Unbound. SACRED:Homelands features UK premiere performances, durational/installation works and in depth conversations with artists travelling from Tonga, India, Canada, New Zealand, as well as Europe. In times of grave social and environmental injustices caused by war, pestilence and climate change that create so much upheaval of communities across the globe, the artists responded to SACRED:Homelands' invitation to make a “homeland” for a week in the East End of London, to gather, to share their lived experiences and what is sacred to all of us through storytelling and conversation.
Nikki Milican is the former Artistic Director of New Moves International, producers of New Territories and The National Review of Live Art (NRLA), the UK's most significant and influential festival of performance that ran from 1979-2010.
My choice of books reflect the concerns that arise in a curated programme such as SACRED:Homelands. I no longer read books on the history of live/performance art, as there have been quite enough of those. Generally speaking I will always choose a book written by an artist rather than an academic, as a strong artist's voice can, for me, be far more affecting as a form of protest and change (yes, some academics are artists, and some artists are academics - it’s interesting how the language becomes more obtuse).
The Art of Being Many - Towards a New Theory and Practice of Gathering
The performative art of gathering was something the NRLA did pretty well, especially in the audience’s queuing for shows. Had NRLA lived beyond its 30 years I would like to think the power of such a creatively and politically engaged assembly would continue to have a subversive impact on its constituency.
Small Acts of Repair: Performance, Ecology and Goat Island
I first brought Goat Island to the UK in 1988 when the group was Lin Hixson and Mathew Goulish and brothers Timothy and Greg McCain. The physicality of that first piece still remains a vivid memory. However, it is not for sentimental reasons I choose this book, I could also have opted for Schoolbook 2, because what remains so durable about their practice is their generosity of spirit in sharing it with so many. They are brilliant teachers and what better place to change the mindset of young people but to bring a radical edge to the classroom in their pursuit of the impossible.
Dangerous Moves: Performance and Politics in Cuba
Overt political voices have been subject to censorship in Cuba but as with countries like Chile, the more daring of the performance/street theatre artists have a habit of popping up in unexpected places and hold great appeal for those who feel they have little power to change things and are fearful of offering dissent.
Not Just a Mirror: Looking for the Political Theatre of Today
I was more fascinated by the publishers of this book. Called House On Fire, it is a network of ten festivals and theatres across Europe whose policy is to programme and co-produce work based on “the conviction that the arts have an essential role to play both in the communication between people and in the development of thought and debate about problems and challenges that our societies and the world are facing”. If I’d thought theatre had lost its political engagement a quick look through HoF’s list of Artist Creations and Thematic Events makes me wish I was still curating New Territories because we are not seeing enough of it here.
Exhausting Dance: Performance and the politics of movement
I ran a dance festival but was never a big fan of dance in the ways it was often depicted in the UK in the 90s. Thankfully I came across (then) radical artists like Truus Bronkhorst, Maria Voortman and later, La Ribot, Jérôme Bel, Raimund Hogue, Didier Theron, Xavier Le Roy etc., whose work helped create a festival that was a little more left field. It was work that encroached on areas of performance and visual art; this book explores these crossovers.
Museum of Water
I loved this interactive installation in Somerset House and this is a lovely documentation of two years of work gathering together a beautiful collection of public donated water samples, all of which had personal stories attached. As a resource we take for granted daily it was also a poignant reminder of how precious water is in many parts the world.
Turn, Turtle! Reenacting The Institute
At a time of European institutional crises can it be a symbolic moment for artists to reclaim the arts space. Always better to attack from within in my view.
Playing for Time: Making Art as if the World Mattered
A handbook for artists and activists, in fact for anyone wishing to harness their creativity to actuate change in the world. Perhaps a theme is developing here in this list - an urge for artists to reimagine our world at a time of upheaval and uncertainty. Lucy Neal gives a voice to over 60 artists and activists who break society’s rules and question our accepted value system.
Shoot An Iraqi, Art, Life and Resistance Under The Gun
Wafaa Bilal tells of a very personal and harrowing experience of the war in Iraq and his artistic response to it in his unsettling interactive performance piece Domestic Tension and the global public reaction to it, "one of the sharpest works of political art to be seen in a long time," Chicago Tribune. There is a growing grassroots movement addressing issues affecting communities due to climate change, economic hardship, wars and disease. SACRED:Homelands will introduce artists whose similar concerns are ubiquitous in their work.