The Performing Urgency series entangles both the arts and wider societal issues, resulting in its publications becoming key books when discussing the position of artistic practice within an extremely volatile and ever changing cultural and political landscape.
Turn, Turtle! Reenacting The Institute is the newest addition to the series coming at a time where the British public are still nursing their Brexit hangover and working to comprehend the severe attitudes of uncertainty and doubt within existing power structures. These worries obviously seep into the artistic sphere where ‘public funding of social, educational, scientific, and cultural institutions is under pressure due to state cuts and privatisation’.
Turn, Turtle! is comprised of six essays, three interviews, and six case studies of performance makers, institution directors, and thinkers. The book itself is broken into five parts, which cover a plethora of current economic issues and cultural concerns whilst also offering insightful solutions in engagement and reassignment of cultural power structures.
With the current mood of frustration with governing structures in the arts, the role of the institution is a topic which will arise in conversation more frequently than we all would like to admit. It is for this reason that this book is an invaluable resource in giving even the newest of arts readers an informative rethinking of the ‘functioning, position, and decision-taking structure of the organisations’ within the performing arts community.
Written by Drew Cole
Resources and Online Development Placement.
"Pleading in the Blood is essential reading for scholars of religion working at the intersection of ritual, performance, and contemporary art practices, as well as those with interest in abjection, gender and sexuality, the AIDS crisis, charismatic Christianity, and the construction of religious identity."Read the full review.
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.
Bobby Baker is a female performance artist who for a number of years has translated her personal life experiences into outside performances and other intimate works of art. All of Bobby's DVD's are on sale for £15 each, or you can buy the whole set for £120.
For the Live Art Development Agency's (LADA) next LADA Screens launch event on 10 October we will be showing Uncertain Fragments, a video essay reflecting on the work of Forced Entertainment, created by Hugo Glendinning and Tim Etchells.
To complement this event we have collated a small selection of titles on and by Forced Entertainment, Tim Etchells and Hugo Glendinning to browse:
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.
Unbound is celebrating its 10th Anniversary in 2016 and it's fascinating to look back on shifts and developments in Live Art publishing and distribution that have taken place since 2006.
Although LADA were partners on two exceptional publications in 2002 (Manuel Vason’s Exposures) and 2004 (Adrian Heathfield’s Live: Art and Performance), we only became publishers ourselves in 2006 when we embarked on Programme Notes Volume One. Since then we have published over 100 books, DVDs, Box Sets and Editions, including our own publications, artists’ publications, and co-publications with major publishing houses including the Intellect Live series in collaboration with Intellect Books. And we are not alone. In recent years, in response to heightened public interest, expanding areas of scholarly research, new archival initiatives, and developments in technology and online platforms there has been a relative explosion in Live Art publishing.
Unbound reflects these developments. When we launched Unbound in 2006 we sold around 50 titles and we now stock over 300. We originally set up Unbound on the advice of Adrian Heathfield partly as a one stop shop for all thing Live Art, and partly as a form of advocacy for this constantly evolving and expanding area of practice that was increasingly generating new forms of thinking and writing about art and new ways of looking at performance.
We’ve always approached Unbound as a curated site in terms of the titles we sell, the way users can navigate through different themes, and the contextualising materials we offer. Although we do sell many books by major publishing houses, at the heart of Unbound are independent, artist led books, hard-to-find publications, DVDs and editions.
In 2010 as part of her LADA Thinker in Residency Mary Paterson wrote A Navigation Through Unbound, a piece I highly recommend to everyone who is interested in Live Art writing and publishing.
In 2010 we wrote an article for Contemporary Theatre Review on New Adventures in Live Art Publishing that is probably worth revisiting on the occasion of Unbound’s 10th anniversary.
Read Contemporary Theatre Review: New Adventures in Live Art Publishing and Distribution
I am so proud of the book of Purge because it includes the voices of so many people who collaborated on the work with me, featuring interviews with other artists who have performed Purge, info/emails/responses that never made it into the stage show, and an essay - for me, a very important essay - about why Purge was created. Purge has been seen by thousands of audiences - both in person and via live-stream - and while many people are interested in the show because it's about virtual friendships (which is, understandably, a relevant topic) for me the work was ALWAYS first and foremost about love, and loss. The book gives me an opportunity to talk about the love, and I'm proud of that.
Other things I recommend from Unbound:
The Only Way Home is Through the Show: Performance Work of Lois Weaver Eds. Lois Weaver and Jen Harvie
Everything I learnt about performance I learnt from feminist solo and collaborative work, originally being a student of Holly Hughes, and later of Lois. Their work both in its content and in its ethos has been the most important influence on my practice and personal development.
Paper Stages Forest Fringe
Forest Fringe is the most important company in the UK, and has been my home (in both Edinburgh and internationally) for many years. They, much like collectives like WOW (discussed in Lois' book), produce as much daring work as they do produce a supportive and loving community.
Out of Now: The Lifeworks of Tehching Hsieh Adrian Heathfield and Tehching Hsieh
I am interested in exertion, commitment to an idea, and exhaustion; no one exemplifies that kind of practice more than Tehching Hsieh, whose work demonstrates an extreme commitment/sacrifice of the personal inside his work.
Access All Areas - Live Art & Disability Eds. Lois Keidan and CJ Mitchell
This collection is most important to me because it reminds me of the weekend symposium which it, in part, documents, one of the most awe-inspiring weekends of debate, discussion and performance by leading artists and academics.
Battle of Orgreave Jeremy Deller
This work, as I hope my work strives to do, takes a singular concept (have a battle recreation but focused on the miner strike) and beautifully produces it with stunning consequences. Deller's conceit is so simple and yet profound, and I find it a very moving work.
Forest Fringe is a community of artists making space for risk and experimentation at the Edinburgh Festival and beyond. They will be based at the Out of the Blue Drill Hall in Leith from 11th-20th August. And Live Art UK, the national network for Live Art venues, promoters and facilitators, which is coordinated by the Live Art Development Agency, will be in residence from 12th-14th!
As well as an opportunity to purchase publications and merchandise from the network’s 27-strong membership, interested artists and audiences can learn more about Live Art and where to find it.
Follow the link to see the full list of Unbound titles that will be available for purchase from Live Art UK in Edinburgh.