Dominic Johnson writes about live art and performance art and is based in the Department of Drama at Queen Mary University of London. He has written a number of books, including most recently Unlimited Action: The Performance of Extremity in the 1970s. In partnership with the Live Art Development Agency, he runs the MA Live Art programme, which welcomes its second cohort of students in September 2019. Dominic serves on LADA’s Board of Directors.
Dominic's selections are available at 20% discount until Thursday 3 October.
I’ve guest-edited a selection of Unbound titles along the theme of “Back to School”, which might mean it’s aimed at (university) students, as well as scholars returning to teaching (and research), as well as to anyone who feels the need to reconnect with thinking about histories and theories of live art and/or performance art. I struggled putting this list together: to limit a potentially vast list, I decided to exclude single-artist studies, and so include only books that seek some sort of cohesive, argument-driven approach to live art and performance art as a richly self-sufficient field. That said, I also left off books that are handbooks (like those of RoseLee Goldberg or Catherine Wood) as well as books that I assume everyone is constantly (and rightly) reminded to read, like José Munoz’s Disidentifications and Peggy Phelan’s Unmarked.
The first book on my reading list is a classic of performance art studies by (to my eyes) the most influential (and prolific) scholar in the field: Amelia Jones’ Body Art / Performing the Subject. It arguably kickstarted the reinvention of a field of study in the 1990s, brought a series of key artists to light – like Carolee Schneemann, Yayoi Kusama, Hannah Wilke, Vito Acconci, and Bob Flanagan and Sheree Rose – and introduced a series of key themes and ideas, including particularity and contingency in the construction of meaning. Body Art can be a demanding text, but a close, slow reading of it yields many insights that are politically tantalizing: especially Jones’s dethroning of critical distance, her refiguring of phenomenology as a tool for reading bodies, and her celebration of intersubjectivity as ‘chiasmic intertwining.’ It’s a thrilling, sometimes maddening ride – one that must be mastered in order to understand everything that came after it. If it holds back its lusciousness, it compensates with sheer force of thinking.
Live: Art and Performance is a beautiful, strange, and engaging book. It was one of the outcomes of the iconic live art exhibition Live Culture at Tate Modern in March 2003, and both showcases the key artists and scholars who participated in the event – as performers and as speakers in the hugely important symposium, and also expands to give a broad and incisive characterization of live art as a vibrant and challenging field of practice. There are plenty of essays I still turn to, including Heathfield’s introduction and chapters by Amelia Jones (comprehensive), Franko B (polemical), Guillermo Gómez-Peña (strident) and Matthew Goulish (psychedelic). It’s full of beautiful images too – including Hugo Glendinning’s wonderful documentation of Live Culture – and so is also a good book to flick through.
Hold It Against Me is a modern classic. Jennifer Doyle is not only one of our most incisive theorists of performance and art, she’s also the most seductive and louche writer. Doyle gives us a set of tools with which to overcome our foibles – squeamishness, conservatism or benignity of taste – to allow us to appreciate more pungently that which gives us pause, including strong images and excessive actions. Her embrace of “difficulty” as a positive value is transformative. The opening section on Adrian Howells is a masterclass in thinking critically about our own (conscious and unconscious) impulses in what we see, enjoy, avoid, or miss in our encounters with performance and art.
This edited collection is a good primer for critical studies of live art in the UK. It was the first study of its kind, and it’s a welcome antidote to the broader American-centric tendency in the study of performance art. The book takes a thematic approach and includes studies of a wide range of artists in terms of key ideas including time and temporality, action, intimacy and risk, collaboration, institutionality, and the politics of Live Art.
The study of live art and performance art has not been strong in its general inclusivity and diversification, especially beyond repeated analyses of a small coterie of artists of colour who recur with ritual inevitability across key studies. This book blows that tendency out of the water, in part by demonstrating that the study of live art in isolation does a disservice to a broader and more inclusive analysis of different experimental practices. One of the wonderful chapters in this book is Tavia Nyongo’s wild study of Little Richard, who ends up looking like a pioneering live art hero: Nyongo’s analysis sets a new standard for how to write about (to celebrate and to critique) figures who don’t quite fit the disciplinary frames through which we seek to understand as well as to value our objects of study (and of desire).
Beijing Xingwei is the touchstone study of performance art in China – a site of much of the most exciting, transgressive, excessive art of the last three decades. Cheng theorises two trends: xingwei-yishu (performance art) and xingwei-zhuangzhi (performance installation). Her study is encyclopaedic, and both describes and analyses works that are often frankly staggering, while also situating the perceived excesses of Beijing xingwei in the geopolitical situation in China in the 1980s and 1990s, the development of an art market, and the rise and fall of the Beijing East Village. Cheng is also a brilliant, compelling, profound writer – aspects of the book approach a kind of performance fictocriticism to make sense of art works involving constitutively disturbing encounters between human and non-human animals, and the living and the dead.
Bryzgel’s book is incredibly comprehensive, borne out of extensive and unprecedented research. Those of us who have been following live art and performance art over the last twenty years, our interests have been magnetically drawn to Eastern and Central Europe, where much of the most politically and aesthetically brilliant work has taken place – often in vibrant and incredibly risky grassroots festivals. National contexts like Poland, Croatia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic have seen the most focused development of action-based performance , interventionist art, and relational aesthetics, and the more formally austere end of live art and performance art more broadly. Bryzgel does a standout job of cataloguing a vast array of such practices, including in countries that aren’t typically well represented in our understanding of histories of live art and performance art, including Ukraine, Belarus, Kosovo and Albania. This book is an important reminder of the need for Anglo-American scholarship to widen the net of its awareness beyond Western Europe. (It’s also a good way of remembering that Marina Abramović didn’t emerge mythically and self-sufficiently from a vacuum!)
After the Party is both a critical study of contemporary performance and visual art by artists of colour, as well as an elegy of sorts – namely, a remembrance of and a reckoning with the legacy of the late José Esteban Muñoz. Chambers-Letson’s encounters with art as prompts for both theoretical and confessional writing is virtuosic. He also allows performance art (by, say, Nao Bustamante) to intersect with works of sculpture (Danh Vō) or dance (Eiko and Koma) or photography (Tseng Kwong Chi). The effects of his writing are both intimate and loving, as well as politically incisive, allowing Chambers-Letson – or, more acutely, the works in question – to reveal and perhaps to intervene in situations of grave danger, terminal inequity, systemic violence, rampant “financialization” (of art, human potential, and interpersonal relations) as well as personal grief. If this makes his book sound maudlin, it’s not: it’s grief-stricken but strident, and a call to each of us to persist in strange and incorrigible ways – a call for “[a] collective attempt to survive conditions of negation and annihilation.”
Sensual Excess is the most recent – and the most lushly written – of my selections. Musser does at least two things that I find exciting and alluring: firstly, she writes with a verve that is totally seductive and gripping; and her case studies are surprising and canon-busting. Her book includes chapters on performance artists including Nao Bustamante, Patty Chang, Xandra Ibarra (La Chica Boom) and Amber Hawk Swanson, as well as visual artists such as Mickalene Thomas, Carrie May Weems, and Maureen Catbagan. Musser’s argument is that artists of colour have embraced sensuality and sexuality in performance to rewrite the codes of how intersections of sex and race are represented, towards what she calls revelatory performances of “brown jouissance”: “a reveling in fleshiness, its sensuous materiality that brings together pleasure and pain”. This book is vibrant, corporeal, and idiosyncratic.
I added this as a cheeky addendum of sorts. The obvious indignity of my including it is offset by the fact that – as an oral history – most of the words in it are those of others: of esteemed and beloved interlocutors like Ron Athey, Sheree Rose, Anne Bean, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Ulay, the late Adrian Howells, and others. It’s conversational and therefore highly readable, and a good introduction if you’re nervous of getting stuck into the weightier, more scholarly books I’ve listed above. Let it be a gateway to the more sustained analysis provided in each of the other books I’ve suggested.
Guest Editor Sale from 1 July 2017 - 31 July 2017
Andy Field is an artist, writer and the co-director of Forest Fringe.
Let’s change the world
Yeah! Let’s change the world
Not a little (a little)
A lot (a lot!)
Let’s change the world
Yeah! Let’s change the world
(‘Let’s Change the World’, traditional)
About seven years ago I was on the campus of Warwick University, just outside Coventry, for an event hosted by Fierce Festival and Warwick Arts Centre. As part of this event an artist called Eitan Buchalter waited at a zebra crossing for four hours. I remember very vividly his calmness and his neatness, arms by his side, gazing out across the street, like a young mathematics teacher who had lost himself in the middle of a quadratic equation and slipped quietly into a fugue state. The sun shone thinly on the neat green lawns and the childlike bends in the tiny campus roads.
Inevitably as cars would arrive at the zebra cross they would pause for a few seconds, anticipating that Eitan was about to cross, and on realising that he was not going anywhere, they would move on. Some would occasionally beep as if attempting to wake him from his trance or chastise him for his transgression of the traditional etiquette of zebra crossings. It was so beautifully tiny, his action, so delicately fleeting; like a bird flying backwards. A hiccup in an otherwise ordinary afternoon.
For one man, however, it was not such a small indiscretion. One man was furious. He shouted at Eitan, questioning what he was doing and why he was doing it, and on receiving no response he took it upon himself to right the miniature wrong that had been inserted into the day, shouting at cars as they stopped that it was ‘an art thing’ and that they shouldn’t stop. ‘What a waste of time’ he said, repeatedly. ‘He could be out raising money for homeless people.’
Since that day I have often wondered what it was that so provoked the furious man. Was it, as he would have it, the uselessness of the action, its essential meaninglessness when placed against other possible things that Eitan could have chosen to do with his time, like raising money for homeless people? In this context, it is the choice of action that is so egregious. Eitan clearly has dedication and endurance, and yet he is employing them in pursuit of something the furious man perceives as without purpose or outcome. Why choose to do something as indulgent and inconclusive as art when there is so much suffering in the world?
Or is there another possible cause of the furious man’s ire? Could it be that it is not the ineffectuality of Eitan’s performance that is upsetting him but on the contrary, its very effectiveness? How easily Eitan is able to send these ripples of disruption out into the world, his mere motionlessness stopping traffic, his small transgression unstitching the unspoken rules that hold the world together. Is this what the furious man is afraid of, that far from being useless, art is a virus with the power to topple civilisations?
Here are some books that I think might help us to resolve these questions. For the month of July 2017, these have all been discounted by 25%
The Art of Living: An Oral History of Performance Art
£16.49 / Original Price £21.99
These extraordinary lives are holding open space in which to re-imagine gender, identity, the way we relate to one another and the way we live in the world.
Eds. Nato Thompson, Gregory Sholette
£18.71 / Original Price £24.95
A catalogue of strategies for resistance.
£14.25 / Original Price £19
A document of a project that spanned a remarkable year and in so doing became implicitly bound up in the strangeness, to the point where it seemed Tim Etchells might be writing the world into existence.
Out of Now: The Lifeworks of Tehching Hsieh
Adrian Heathfield and Tehching Hsieh
£24 / Original Price £32.95
In Out of Now art becomes a vehicle for radical transformation, a rewriting of a life that is nothing short of remarkable.
Not if but when: Culture Beyond Oil
Eds. Jo Clarke, Mel Evans, Hayley Newman, Kevin Smith, Glen Tarman
Free PDF Online
If Art can be a vehicle for social change, then it must also recognise its frequent culpability in perpetuating capitalism and ecological harm, as in the toxic ongoing relationship between art and oil.
Tania El Khoury
£9 / Original Price £12
Tania is an extraordinary artist and this piece is the best example I can point to of the potential for the tangibility of live performance to change the way we relate to geopolitics and mediatized suffering.
Cassils: Artist Books
David J. Getsy and Julia Steinmetz
£23.63 / Original Price £31.50
Cassils’ work is doing something in the world.
4 Boys [For Beuys]
The Institute for the Art and Practice of Dissent at Home
£3 / Original Price £4
The Institute is a remarkable example of an activist practice that is deeply embedded in ordinariness of everyday life, they are a map to another kind of resistance.
It's All Allowed: The Performances of Adrian Howells
Eds. Deirdre Heddon & Dominic Johnson
£15 / Original Price £20
Adrian brought so much beauty and compassion into the world and I miss him very much.
Eds. Carol Becker, Lisa Yun Lee, Achim Borchardt-Hume
£22.46 / Original Price £29.95
In the info for this book Theaster Gates is described as "The poster boy for socially engaged art" and it makes me want to be sick a bit in my mouth, but you should read this book anyway.
Not Just a Mirror: Looking for the Political Theatre of Today
Ed. Florian Malzacher
£8.24 / Original Price £10.99
There is so much in this book you will definitely find something to cling to, and something to hope for.
Forest Fringe: The First Ten Years
£10.50 / Original Price £14
This is our book. You should buy our book
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
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.
Anne Bean, Holding Infinity in the Palm of my Hand. Photo: Marketa Luscacova
Anne Bean is a Patron of the Live Art Development Agency. In this Blog entry, she outlines her Patron’s Picks from Unbound.
To view all of our Patron's Picks follow the link here.
I was overwhelmed by possible picks of fantastic books and DVDs by friends and comrades. This made me decide to physically browse the Unbound store at LADA’s office in Hackney Wick, London, to find lurking presences that caught me and which I knew little or nothing about.
With the clamour of words on book spines, I pulled out one with a hardly-decipherable title in tiny pale letters, hiding in shiny cellophane. On top of an embedded acupuncture needle I read ‘Pain in Soul: Performance Art and Video Works by He Cheng Yao.’ I arbitrarily opened it and read "Quoting Beuys’ words 'art heals all wounds', He Chengyao reminds us how art can be experienced as a state of limbo … saving unconventional behaviour from the label of insanity that is often applied so readily." Her powerful images of ‘Homeless Mental Patients’ and ‘Families with Mental Illness’ are viewed with shifted awareness, through us recognising her identification with them and her own work manifestations.
Another ‘soul’ book, also dealing in social strangulation and pain, is ‘The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy,’ by Franco “Bifo” Berardi. The book speaks of a new alienation of people caught up in ‘voluntary’ overtime, ‘tethered to cell phones and Blackberries, debt has become a postmodern form of slavery, and antidepressants are commonly used to meet the unending pressure of production.’ Berardi calls for alternative lifestyles that cannot be commodified and if we collectively rethink the true meaning of the word “wealth,” in terms of human collaboration, then ‘the competitive illusion that is impoverishing everyone’s life, the very foundations of capitalism, would start to crumble.’ Soul is recognised as affinity.
Another ’hidden’ book with a black on black title is Giovanna Maria Casetta’s ‘Looking Good.’ It explores the fragility between identity and lived reality, right down to a visceral alienation from her own body: ‘Firstly, my smell had altered, I do not smell like me ... I don’t smell right, so I can’t engage with me.’
Fred Moten’s book ‘In the Break, The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition’ drew me in when I read, ‘F M argues that all black performance -- culture, politics, sexuality, identity and blackness itself -- is improvisation’ … the complex relationships between sound and resistance in the collective life of commodified human beings. I remember him speaking elsewhere about Sam Cooke’s ‘You Send Me,’ saying ‘to be sent, to be transported out of yourself, it’s an ecstatic experience … by the time you get to work that shit out as well as it should be worked out, we’re sent by one another to one another until one and another don’t signify anymore.’
Watching the DVD ‘No Such Thing as Rest: A Walk with Brian Massumi,’ the words and the walking and my thoughts merged: ‘rhythms of language… paces and pulses of ideas… bringing the thinking that is the doing into language… philosophy is the activity of running thought experiments… the mundane is full of events… modes of complicity … imagining and constructing qualitative alter-economies is a major task of our time and its task can only be done collectively… micro-political movements always succeed, they feed potential forward unto the iterative event-fabric of life… experiment with techniques enabling people to reconnect with relational fields that yield enhanced intensity.’
Finally, I was surprised and pleased to find ‘The Act of Killing’ by Joshua Oppenheimer - a pungent documentary that has stirred me more than any I can remember, with fact and fiction colliding and fusing, disturbing the fabric of one’s body and chilling the mind. It made me think of another disturbing work by Omer Fast, ‘Spielberg's List’, a documentary in which actors from Krakow conflated the Hollywood version of the Holocaust with historical reality.
I recommend browsing.
Check out this collection of publications, selected by LADA Patron Teching Hsieh:
Tempting Failure have created a collection for Unbound. The collection contains publications written by/featuring artists who are in their 2016 programme. Additionally they chose 4 of their favourite publications. Hellen Burrough, Associate Producer at Tempting Failure describes her choice.
Blinded by Love
By Franko B
Blinded by Love is such a grand beautiful book, with its embossed cover and gold-edged pages, it's almost surprising that whats inside feels so intimate and tender. Franko B has always been an important artist to me. I got my introduction to performance art and body art when, at sixth form, I was handed his first book by a friend who told me I’d love the work it contained. Everything from the way Franko turned his flesh and blood into art to the vulnerable messages formed in neon has moved me and inspired me, and motivated me to further explore the world of performance art. This book came out years later, it looks back at 15 years of Franko’s work and contains the same images that grabbed me when I was a teenager. They still affect me now. Blinded by Love is such a comprehensive look at the last 15 years of his career, accompanied by texts from Ron Athey, Jennifer Doyle, Amelia Jones and more, it’s where I always look when I need a reminder of how powerful live art can be.
Tempting Failure have created a collection for Unbound. The collection contains publications written by/featuring artists who are in their 2016 programme. Additionally they chose 4 of their favourite publications. Helena Sands, Legacy Producer of Tempting Failure describes her choice.
Ana Mendieta: Traces
By Julia Bryan-Wilson, Adrian Heathfield et al
Before I knew who this artist was I’d seen her images and they bothered me, niggled at me; provoking both discomfort and a desire to keep looking. Coming from a background of performance and fine art I’m fascinated in the ways in which she grapples with both worlds simultaneously. There is always absence in her work, something lost or missing. Yet she is present. Her passion marking a vehement refusal to thoroughly disappear.
Her “ between-ness”, through materials and states, always stays with me - silent indentations, traces, blood and bodies, elemental substances stripped and laid bare in the natural world. Matter and myth in a constant dialogue. We never quite see the act but always the aftermath.
Tempting Failure have created a collection for Unbound. The collection contains publications written by/featuring artists who are in their 2016 programme. Additionally they chose 4 of their favourite publications. Hannah Moore, Technical Producer at Tempting Failure describes her choice.
Performance Art from Futurism to Present
By RoseLee Goldberg
This was given to me when I came back to London to do my Masters in Performance Making in 2011 and it has been a wonderful tool in the understanding of performance art through it’s manifestos and history. It journeys through the establishment of Futurism and Constructivism in Russia at the turn of the 20th century through to the exploration of Identity in the early 1990’s. To me it is an in depth vocabulary of performance art history, mapping its evolution and continued development in parallel to social and political landscapes. A must for scholars and budding performance art historians.