Recently Madeleine Hodge visited Lois Keadon at the offices of the Live Art Development Agency to find out what is going on in the UK live art scene.
The cultural landscape in London has shifted in the past two years, in the wake of the appointment of a conservative government and in the following slew of heavy cuts to art funding, live artists are seeking new strategies for survival. Having returned to the UK wanting to get a better sense of this radically altered landscape I went to LADA (the source) to hear the tale, first hand, about the history of the form in the UK and how live art has changed.
Lois Keadon explains that the Agency was set up in 1999. With the support of the Arts Council it was formed as a response to the programming that had begun during her time as director of the performance program at the ICA. It is an art movement that came to currency during the social hardships and politically charged years of Margaret Thatcher’s government. Artist’s were making work that made visible the opposition to the cultural and social politics of the day. “It really came out of the work of a lot of radical artists from the states” says Keadon. In this time artists put their bodies and the political, social and cultural implications of the body at the centre their work. The political movements around Aids and Gay rights initiated by groups such as Act Up, with their “Silence is death” call to arms made this a highly charged time in which to be making work. American Artists, such as Ron Athey and Julie Tolentino, addressed the political body, a body of flesh, blood, sweat and semen. These works implicated the audience and made political engagement implicit in the social relations of the work. Keadon says that these artists were loudly rejecting the social and cultural politics of the time and that she was actively supporting work by artists that were making work about gender, race, religion and identity.
Following this, Keadon explains, with the advent of a new “socially inclusive” labour party and with the guidance of the Agency, live art in England experienced something of a golden age. Companies that started in the 80’s and early 90’s with nothing, surviving on dole payments and working out of garages were now receiving yearly funding that allowed them to take bigger risks. Artists that were marginalised were taken into institutions, they were given serious research positions, there was work in the education departments of major gallery’s, critical writing and academia developed responses to the work that meant this deliberately ephemeral art form had a sort of permanence and new levels of encounter. “We are looking at the end of all that now,” she says.
Along side these developments for live artists England witnessed new sort of visual art projects that borrowed from live arts challenging relationship to the audience yet without the political agency that live art would afford. Lois Keadon describes these projects as “Happy Clappy,” and she singles out one artist in particular, “Stand up Anthony Gormley”. In Keadon’s eyes Anthony Gormley’s 2009 Trafalgar square project One and the other signalled the death of interesting participatory practices. By inviting people of Britain on to a plinth for 100 hours of “real people” time, Gormley’s project highlighted the flaccidity and lack of criticality of participatory practices. His project “allowed” people to have time in the spotlight (on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square) without any particular framework. Keadon says that works like these remind us that involving people is not necessarily participation. She talks about the way in which these practices mimic rather than challenge the politics of contemporary capitalism. The rise in participatory practices has occurred with out the necessary reflection on what participation is for and why artists are using these strategies, We talk about how this sort of participation with its emphasis on engagement for engagements sake is not so different from David Cameron’s big society, where the illusion of a participatory society is played out in a large scale. Keadon makes the distinction that involving people doesn’t necessarily mean they are participating, “people think they are involved and actually they are being duped, it becomes a way of silencing people.” (and in the case of Gormley’s project of mocking them). She talks about a site specific performance she saw on a beach in Wales, in the 80’s. The performers kick sand in the audience’s direction and to the surprise of the performers the audience kick back. “Well what exactly were they expecting?” asks Keadon.
She says that with participatory art, artists have moved from the social body to the political body, into the collective body that we inhabit. She sees the creative response to the work of Culture beyond oil and Occupy London and artists that are addressing issues of climate change and capitalism are part of the next wave of live art practices. She says that she is still concerned that we make time to challenge issues such as race, gender, disability and identity as we still have more work to do, the agency is currently working on a series to address each of these areas of practice that will occur over the next few years. She says artists and small independently run spaces around London (such as LUPA and [performance space]) are experiencing a new sort of popularity without the support of the major institutions. The performance matters program, “trashing performance,” addressed a lot of questions about the future of the form, with artists working outside institutions and outside performance. With artists exploring they way in which the internet and new technologies are allowing for new kinds of connection, distribution and promotion of live art projects, and there is an audience as each week live art events are sold out across London.
However she also recognises that without the institutional support of places such as the TATE and the ICA the fate of long-term practices for artists is uncertain. Artists have long had to struggle with their desire to challenge a system while also developing strategies for survival within it and she is not sure what will happen, or where this younger generation of artists will go next.
The future, as always, is invisible.
The effect of the expansion of this art form from UK and North America into other countries and social political areas, can only serve to further the cause. Live art has had a series of iterations in different parts of the world and the way in which it moves, mutates and changes depending on the location seems particularly suited to the “liveness” of the form. Lois says that in particular artists in Britain are very connected to Australian artists, with ongoing dialogue in both directions. She says that almost each week an Australian artist will visit the office of the agency, they have coined a phrase “this weeks’ Australian”’. I guess this week that would be me.
Lois Keadon is a great person to talk to, she is very engaging and as she talks she repeatedly gets up and goes to the bookshelves as each point in the conversation is punctuated by references to publications the agency has produced and artists she admires. These are artists with whose names I am familiar, and whose names I have heard frequently over the last ten years, she refers to Joshua Sofaer, French Motteshead and Franko B among others. She speaks about their work and the community that exists around the agency as one that is generous and open and engaged with ethical encounter. But it does make me wonder about the next generation of artists that the agency might support, I ask about this about what is next and about where these younger artists might progress and she says … “watch this space….”
Madeleine is an artist, writer and researcher living in London, she has most recently been working in Spain with Banana Asylum to provoke new discourse between artists and the world through anthropological practices. She is a former Panther, founding member of field theory and she promises to write more for LALA in her role as foreign corespondent.
(Funny youtube clip from Mayor Boris Johnsons introduction to a One and the other.)