Barry Laing delivered the article below live in an abbreviated form during a recent public forum called “Who Needs Live Art”. The forum was hosted by Field Theory and took place in the Supper Room at Arts House on August 31st. It grew out of what appears to be a growing desire amongst ‘cross discipline’ Melbourne artists to gather and critically discuss contemporary practice. The title and the function of the forum was intended both as a provocation and a genuine question. Who are we, what do we need and what form should a gathering of this kind take?
The event was attended by approximately 40 people and included a participatory development showing of Strange Passions by Triage as well as Barry Laing’s presentation and much robust discussion. It is hoped that the connections and energy generated by the forum will evolve into an ongoing process.
Who Needs Live Art?
from Notes Towards a Collective Rant offered as a spoken provocation by Barry Laing at Field Theory’s Excursion #2, 31st August 2011, Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall, Melbourne.
Tonight’s event is titled Who Needs Live Art? On the LALA website, it is also promoted as an ‘Excursion’. To ‘excur’ might habitually mean to wander, digress, run off and escape from bounds. To participate in an excursion might be to linger upon a deviation from a clear and definite path. I intend to wander in order to stay ‘live’ and the performance maker in me suspects that any ‘clear and definite path’ is anyway always and already provisional, and so I’m not sure yet what I might be deviating from. I have no intention of running off – unless you try to hurt me. Really. And so I’m left with an attempt to ‘escape from bounds’…
Who needs Live Art? Escape Artists.
This question ‘Who Needs Live Art?’ troubled me initially. Not sure why. ‘Cause I thought ‘I get it’, the thrust of it. Maybe it’s because it ‘gets me’, catches me, frames me, binds me up. Maybe because it is not mine. I wanted to squirm out of it.
In a piece called ‘A Conversation: What is it? What is it for?’[i], the philosopher Gilles Deleuze says:
Questions are invented, like anything else. If you aren’t allowed to invent your own questions, from never mind where, if people ‘pose’ them to you, you haven’t much to say. […] Objections are even worse. Objections never contributed anything. It’s the same when I am asked a general question. The aim is not to answer questions, it’s to get out, to get out of it. Many people think that it is only by going back over the question that it is possible to get out of it. But getting out never happens like that…
For example, borrowing from Deleuze, and transposing ‘Live Art’ for ‘philosophy’: ‘What is the position with Live Art? Is it really ‘live’? Isn’t it mediated and mediating like everything else?’ Deleuze says this is “very trying”.
So, OK, if ‘getting out of it’ doesn’t happen like that, how does it happen? Because I like to think of myself as a bit of a contrarian, I’m going to try and escape from bounds, to get out of it, by ‘answering’ the question anyway, but while I’m doing that verbally, I’ll be thinking of another question (which I’ll return to later) and so my ‘answers’ won’t really be answers, but playful and serious offerings of things at stake in a conversation about Live Art.
So who needs Live Art? Escape Artists.
There are plenty of ‘takes’ or emphases possible in the question Who Needs Live Art?:
Who needs ‘Live Art’?
Who needs Live Art? (who is here, even, who is the process for [ie. this Salon], why?)
Who needs (to call it) ‘Live Art’?
So, Live Art, names, definitions, categories – I’ll let you wander between the possible meanings above, I’m going to keep moving …
Who Needs Live Art/names, definitions and categories – who needs ‘em?
Conscientious Objectors and No-one. We’ve heard from my good friend Deleuze on ‘questions’ and ‘objections’ … the thing is to get out of it … questions, categories…of others, left with nothing to say …So, the thing is to invent one’s own categories and questions, from wherever. Is Live Art a ‘wherever’? Is it our ‘own’? Or does it constitute other people’s questions and objections in the form of art (and there’s plenty in this notion here …in understanding, perhaps, what Live Art was/is in part – the contrariness of refusing other people’s categories and questions)? If it is, or if it does, who needs it? Either way, Conscientious Objectors. Following Deleuze then, that’s No-one, apparently (‘cause objection never contributed anything). And yet the dilemma of ‘inventing one’s own questions from wherever’ remains. Who Needs Live Art? Conscientious Objectors and No-one.
Live Art/Names, definitions, categories … who needs ‘em?
Name Callers (and Their Enemies), that’s who.
I’ve been thinking about the proposition: a dramaturgy, any dramaturgy, imagines its audience/spectators/witnesses/participants (and even, here these four words imagine different dramaturgies and beg the question). Think of ‘dramaturgy’ as all that which concerns the ‘world’, circumstance or situation of an artwork, event, performance or Live Art work.
An Email Exchange on the SCUDD[ii] List (The Standing Conference of University Drama Departments – UK):
“What Knowledge is Here?”
23 March – 24 March, 2009
Simon Piasecki (S.Piasecki@LEEDSMET.AC.UK)
What Knowledge is Here?
At dawn on Saturday 28th March, Simon Piasecki will drag Robert Wilsmore down all 199 steps from Whitby Abbey, in their first collaborative performance for a decade. This action will be documented by Peter Morton and Richard Molony.
Insomniacs and curious bystanders are welcome.
I’m gonna go out on a limb here, and say – that’s VERY ‘LIVE ART’!
McDowell, Wallace (W.B.McDowell@WARWICK.AC.UK)
Well, whoop-dee-do, for fuck’s sake. Will the dragee be taken head or feet first? Doubtless the next edition of ‘An introduction to Performance head injuries’ will provide the answer.
Dr Wallace McDowell
University of Warwick
Simon Piasecki (S.Piasecki@LEEDSMET.AC.UK)
I’m sorry Dr Wallace we’ll write a little play about it afterwards with
lots of witty, offensive language for you to enjoy. For future reference,
please note I have a private email address as well.
Course Leader BA Hons Art, Event, Performance
Senior Lecturer in Performance Practice
Leeds Metropolitan University
Indeed, ‘What Knowledge is Here?’ Clearly Dr Wallace is neither an insomniac nor curious bystander. Likewise, he is perhaps not imagined as audience/spectator/witness/participant by Piasecki and Wilsmore. And so, we could also say, a dramaturgy imagines its enemies, its Other/s, it oppositions.
In case you thought name callers and their enemies only ‘went hard’ in the Academy, consider this from the current edition of Realtime[iii]:
Oscar Redding and Jonathan Auf der Heide are adamant. The only social value of their work is as a useful corrective. “As far as mainstream content goes” Redding says, “it seems that there’s a lot of thought given to presenting material which isn’t offensive. But I’d rather stab myself in the cock with a sharp fork than sit through another play by Joanna Murray-Smith or Tony McNamara”.
Ouch. A couple of names called as ‘useful correctives’ there! Friends? Enemies? Is Oscar ‘Live Art?’ A ‘hater’? Or is he just not particularly fond of theatre?
At least where cock-stabbing is concerned, performance artist, poet and super-masochist Bob Flannagan got there before him, notoriously driving a nail through his penis into a block of wood – as performance.
Ouch. “Why would you do that?!” I can still hear the cringey, whiney exclamations of students of mine perhaps habitually more familiar and comfortable with Murray-Smith’s work than with Bob’s or Redding’s. (Why is that?)
But what was Flanagan doing and why would you do that? Was it called ‘Live Art’ then? Did he need it?
Read his answer to these questions with his performance poem staged as the answer to a question, called ‘Why?’[iv]
Live Art/names, definitions, categories … who needs ‘em? Name Callers and Their Enemies and People who Don’t Mind their Questions Answered with a Question.
Live Art. Who needs it?
Resistance Fighters. James Hillman and I (we’re like that) have argued that in the context of theatre and performance, wherever there is resistance, there is ‘body’ – as in a good red wine. Mmtwuh! A ‘something’ to push against, resistance, body: within theatre and performance and between ‘Theatre’ and other forms in order that ‘Not-Theatre’ might be given a name. Live Art, anyone? Guillermo Gomez Pena resists in his ‘In Defence of Performance Art’[v]. Not quite Live Art, is it? Or is it? But an art nevertheless full of body, politics, contrary forms and a resistant ‘dramaturgy’ as ‘world view’. I commend to you a terrible piece of ‘Theatre’ and an exemplary piece of ‘Performance Art’ – Gomez Pena’s and Coco Fusco’s Couple in the Cage. Who resists? Who resists what? How? With Performance Art? ‘So yesterday’! With Live Art? With ‘new’ dramaturgies eg., of the body, of the audience/spectator/witness, of participation, of the everyday, of the amateur (as opposed to the brittle righteousness and self-satisfaction of ‘the professional’ – shit, sorry …am I name calling?!), of place, site, participation, and of the event? Is Live Art the ‘body’ born of these ‘new’ dramaturgies? Born of resistance? Is it the conceptual ‘head’, now, of a series of resistances? Who needs it? Resistance Fighters. Are we?
Who else …?
Academics, Pedagogues, Grant Applicants and Funding Bodies. In other words, Art Industrialists and Knowledge Brokers (and yet aren’t industry, commerce and academic institutions precisely some of what the resistance is all about/forged in opposition to? Wait a minute. Aren’t they our friends? Don’t we make Culture together? Hang on. Are these our questions?).
Yet it’s not all about or even simply a question of ‘oppositions’, but of politics, in the foundational sense of the ‘polis’, and the problem of a polis reduced to the contestations and negotiations, questions and answers and objections, no less, of people otherwise unilaterally grouped together who don’t seem to like each other much. It is a question of how to be here, now, on our own terms, speaking and stuttering and offending and fucking up in our own languages – not those of dead artists or anyone else (except the dead philosopher Deleuze and the dead artist Flanagan, ‘cause they’re my friends). Who’s the ‘us’? Who’s the ‘who’? People. Here. Now. This loner and that family …me and you …us and them …all of the others. In all of this, who needs the name, the definition, the category of Live Art? Do Art Industrialists? – that people might be processed (oh dear, again?), returned to economy, capital and industry that ostensibly also produces ‘Culture’, all the while concealing the means of production. Do Institutionalized Knowledge Brokers need the name, the categories, the definitions of Live Art that, under the guise of ‘new and original contributions to knowledge’ in captial R- Research cultures, the mechanisms of returning dollars to Universities as investment in Research can be enacted as economies of scale? And who needs these guys? Perhaps Live Artists as Grant Applicants and Live Artists as Artist-Researchers need them and the identifier ‘Live Art’ for the same purposes? Hmmm … Excellent! K-ching, k-ching! (Call me cynical. I prefer skeptical.)
Live Art. Who needs it?
I think I mentioned Loners and Family-makers. Have you noticed there’s a lot of solo artists doing Live Art? Very suspect. Loners. Not team players. Then again, groups and collaborations abound. Who’s in the family and who’s not? Gary Winters of Lone Twin, clad inappropriately in an army surplus poncho and hiking shoes, various paraphernalia including a Norwegian hunting horn and a clipboard slung around his neck, spends much of one performance with vertical rows of lights one foot away, sweating profusely, performing a rain dance that looks like dog-paddle standing up. “This is what I do to feel a part of things”, he says. Waddya reckon, a bit whiffy? In or out? What about Tacquacore, hardcore Muslim Punk artists and their fans born of an original fiction in a novel? ‘Family’ mismatch? Mike Parr sewing his lips together in solidarity with asylum seekers. Resistant Live Art political activist? Or just a wanker? I received another SCUDD email this morning, like an exorcet into the hull of my email inbox – a press release for Daniel Ploeger’s Electrode 2011 – in which Ploeger fakes the orgasm of an anonymous subject while an anal probe connected to a muscle sensor registers the activity of Ploeger’s sphincter muscle. The performance installation forms part of Ploeger’s Doctoral research project. A dirty cousin or just a very strange man, likeable, but strange? What of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s claim that the events of 9/11 were “the greatest work of art for the entire cosmos”[vi]. 9/11 as ‘Live Art’ at the limits? Live Art, who needs it? Those having 10 Year Anniversaries – lest we forget. Is Stockhausen in? The Terrorists? Who’s in the family? Yoko Ono and her scissors? Marina Abramovic and her knives and guns? Franko B with his catheter plugs in arms for release of blood using his own body to excur, to escape from the bounds of the body? The lonely, solitary, always moving Claire Blundell Jones introducing tumbleweed into British landscapes with a leaf blower? Gob Squad? Francis Alys? Robert Long? Mother and family-maker Mierle Laderman Ukeles as self appointed Artist in Residence for the New York Sanitation Department? Before Ukeles, perhaps no-one had ever thought of the question ‘Do Sanitation Workers Need Live Art?’ It was her question, she answered it – with art, with performance, with political activism all imbricated, entangled together and continuing until this day…
Who needs Live Art? Loners and Family Makers.
Cheapskates and Amateurs. One reason Lone Twin use walking as their primary modus operandi in performance is because it’s cheap. Accessible. Anyone can do it. It’s free. Sarah Rodigari, walking from Melbourne to Sydney in her faux epic Strategies for Leaving and Arriving Home, understands. Anyone know Rodigari…? You see, cheapskate. Despite the extremely arduous nature of these artists’ work, none of them train. Gregg Whelan (Lone Twin) likes a good lie down when he’s not working and Rodigari once scolded me while working on a creative development for a show with “Training’s for pussies!” How unprofessional!
And then there’s Liars and Dissemblers. Live Art has acquired a reputation somehow of being more ‘authentic’ than theatre and other forms of spectacle. But anyone who has paid any attention at all to the extended family and various lineages knows, perhaps uncomfortably, that Live Art and live artists are just as adept in the art of lying as their estranged illusionist ‘others’, the ones they call names, their imagined enemies. I’m going to lean on Alan Read here[vii], dissembler that he is, ‘cause then he’ll appear to provide an ‘answer’, I get to wiggle out of it and look good by association – I’m such a schmoozer – or bad, depending on your own ‘take’ and objections (remember, they’ll never contribute anything). Read points out that “‘live’ has ‘lie’ within it” and that there’s no greater veracity in Live Art’s claims to ‘truth’ and authenticity than other forms of cultural banditry that deceive in their very capacity to construe the already fabricated world of ‘live culture’ as the (real) ‘true world’. When Live Art claims the title of authenticity, is it more deadly than the dead art it seeks to usurp? Why claim the title when ‘the true’, under this regime, might for all appearances attain little but the same status as ‘the dead’? What image do we have of ourselves that we speak so urgently of ‘truth’? Lying’s more fun, and anyway, argues Read, “the truth is the raison d’etre of the university, not the artist, and live artists in particular should feel no compunction to walk under this sign”. Friends? Enemies? Practice-as Research, anyone? Read turns to the notion of the human and “the promised” and the slippery proposition that “the lies of performance perjury performance” – and herein lies its ‘promise’. We love swearing/promising the truth (eg. in court, in the theatre, to a loved one), and have great pleasure in the pseudo secret knowledge that we will do no such thing, that ‘the ‘promise’ is always already broken, that through playing here at the interstice of truth and lies, we ‘perform promise’. The per of performance carries things through to temporary completion. A living art may convulse the deadly imaginal, political, ideological and aesthetic fields that dead artists inhabit and an alternative might just emerge: born of lies that take exception to the surface of too easily acquired truths; born of the promise of human potential and “impotential”, born even of human failures. Alan Read, Tim Etchells and Matthew Gouish (The Institute of Failure) and a plethora of others understand this major trope in Live Art and performance. What are the limits to action beyond the incumbent conventions of art and culture? What is there to discover in the relationship between “the ‘can’ of performance and the ‘cannot’ of the performer?”
Alan Read argues that what distinguishes Live Art is its exceptionality. He says, “Live Art is barely live and barely art” and is of the order, necessarily, of “exceptional acts in cultures that are constantly concealing their own conditions of production”. So, Live Art as resistant to cultures that “consume themselves” – ie., self-devouring cultures, deadening, deadly and finally dead. Read segues easily between ‘Live Art’ and ‘Performance’. Performance, he suggests, doesn’t “stand (in) for” anything else, unlike a long history of doing so by drama and theatre. It is simultaneous, commensurate with itself, here, and now, without “alibi”, no suspension of disbelief required. If it doesn’t ‘stand in for’ or point to an elsewhere, what does it do? What kind of doing is it capable of? What not? What kind of politics, asks Read (I’m squirming out of it – politics is so un-sexy), does Live Art do? He invokes and extends body discourse in suggesting that it is “auto-biographical” and “bio-political” – not ‘about’ ‘The Body’, but of the body-politic and simultaneously in exception to it. In cultural climates that would do away with exception, “the necessary conditions for Live Art to occur are the arrangement and rearrangement of resistances to conditions of dead art that would otherwise prevail”. Live Art needs Resistance Fighters. I think of a history of Live Art evolving in the UK in the shadow of Thatcher. Here, now, in the wake of the Howard years, what is the name we might give to a parallel evolution?
Who needs Live Art? I’m sick of this question. Should we otherwise say, with Read, ‘performance’? Performance enacted by Liars and Dissemblers and Those Who Make Promises.
Shit. I think my questions, and categories, and calling of names and objections are starting to leak, to signal what I would otherwise answer to the Salon question if I were to proceed sincerely, seriously … as if I was not implicated, as if I was not always and already caught up in this thing called ‘performance’ – if not Live Art – where the telling of lies in face of clear and present tyrannies may just be the means of getting at some possible and promising truths.
Who needs Live Art? Listmakers.
Conscientious Objectors and No-one
Name Callers and Their Enemies
People who Don’t Mind their Questions Answered with a Question
Institutionalized Knowledge Brokers
Live Artists as Grant Applicants
Live Artists as Artist-Researchers
Loners and Family-makers
Cheapskates and Amateurs
Liars and Dissemblers
Those Who Make Promises
Did I mention Listmakers
Now, my ‘secret’ unspeakable question (lest it become a question not of your own invention)?
‘How might we have a conversation and not a series of questions, answers and objections?’
© Barry Laing 2011 email@example.com
[i] Deleuze, Gilles & Parnet, Claire. ‘A Conversation: What is it? What is it for?’ in Dialogues, New York: Columbia University Press,1987, pp. 1-35.
[iv] Flanagan, Bob. ‘Why?’ http://royalcaute.blogspot.com/2008/03/why-poem-by-bob-flanagan.html Access date: October 11 2011
[v] Gomez-Pena, Guillermo. ‘In Defence of Performance Art’ in Heathfield, Adrian ed. Live: Art and Performance, London: Tate, 2004, pp. 76-85.
[vi] http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/19/arts/attacks-called-great-art.html Access Date: 11 October 2011
[vii] Read, Alan. ‘Say Performance’ in Heathfield, Adrian ed. Live: Art and Performance, London: Tate, 2004, pp. 242-247.