Friday, 28 December 2012

Live Art in the Public Realm

Sometime in the early twenty-first century, a woman appeared at Glasgow Central station, standing still in the midst of the morning commuters and wearing a pin-striped burka. Around the corner, The Arches was hosting The National Review of Live Art, and this silent, evocative presence acted both as a challenge to the busy workers racing to work and an advertisement for the more esoteric events commencing in The Arches. Dotted about the city, individual live artists were creating happenings - barely recognisable as performances but at odds with the normal flow of daily life. Performance hadn't just climbed off the stage, it had taken a trip into mundane reality.

At a push, all performance happens in the public realm - theatres are not really private spaces - but the art that happens outside of the established venues has a particular context. The usual rules of interaction between audience and performer are not established, lending them a possible sense of danger. Busking has a long and honorable tradition, and shopping malls are happy to present the occasional event, usually around Christmas, but when Live Art takes a journey into the outside world, its idiosyncrasies are more likely to be abrasive, even when presented in the understated manner described above.

Although In Between Time is centred around the Arnolfini, there are a few events that happen in more public spaces. Like Mischief La Bas' sporadic forays into the high street, they are free at "point of use" and interject the unexpected. Simon Faithful is hoisting a Fake Moon over College Green; Kate McIntosh and Action Hero are getting busy in the docks; Carmine Mauro Daprile is "working with cosplayers, a subculture of people interested in costume and role play... to interrupt the everyday experience in central Bristol."

Daprile's Moon sums up the nature of these works exactly. The sudden appearance of a performance is disruptive, provocative: it need not be aggressive, but it is intrusive.

The purpose of such interventions, which have a rich history including the "happenings" of the 1960s and are often invoked as a version of popular protest - although they are not as evidently political as marches or boycotts - is to set up an exchange between the everyday and the theatrical. Both partners stand to gain.

For the artists, there is the opportunity to reach wider audiences - Live Art has a self-selective crowd, and there is often the danger that a work will only be seen by others within its community. Out on the street, there isn't the same filter. Through careful assessment of responses - Alex Rigg nearly got lifted one time for strolling into the road during a butoh inspired action - the artist can consider what kind of work will reach a broader group, or upset, or excite. It's possibly the most effective form of marketing for Live Art since it dispenses with the filter that media coverage inevitably adds.

For the audience, the Live Art action is a rare example of an event that is not determined by the usual economic exchange of the high street: it juxtaposes imagination and play against what appears to be "reality."

It's also fun to see a bunch of people piling around in strange outfits.

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