Sunday, 2 December 2012

More Penny Arcade

As I get older, I have started to become more and more obsessed with the idea that younger generations have less interest in the past than is necessary. It might be the result of my education in Classics, which encourages the study of ideas across long historical cycles, or the desperation of an aging critic trying to claw back some authority in an age of instant gratification. Either way, my reliance on Wikipedia undermines any moral position I might hold on the matter, so I have to trust to other artists to justify my angst.

When I interviewed Penny Arcade, I did ask her about the way in which Live Art - which didn't really exist when her generation started to make it - has become ossified into a category. Part of the problem is critics like me, spending far too long trying to define every single performance into a genre, but there is a broader context. The professionalisation of all work - a post-graduate qualification is necessary these days to be a chef - is reflected in the arts and while I am reluctant to criticise academic institutions for offering opportunities to study the arts in a recognised context, the homogenisation of training, where a degree becomes an appropriate vehicle for dance training, is problematic. 

On a practical level, the skills of a dancer have no parity with those of an academic historian - not better, nor worse, but different. Penny Arcade, however, has more serious concerns. 

After explaining her own extended gestation period, Arcade contrasts this with the contemporary situation. "Younger artists today at completely at the mercy of the brainwashing they have received: that rather than developing INTO artists, they are instantly artists after four years of art school and must immediately start making PRODUCT which naturally because they have little life experience can only mean that they immediately start stealing the ideas, modalities and often entire identites of highly achieved artists and they think no one sees this!"

Having expressed my worries about a Live Art scene that appears to reinvent itself in short cycles - a lack of historical perspective leading to the same "original" ideas appearing every few years, I had asked Arcade why this might be the case. She continues.

"So we are left with a scene that is highly derivitive and this has been true since the early 90s. So we are looking at twenty years of virtual stagnation. In the early 80s performance was the domain of women, queers and minorities. I had come from the highly experiemental period of the 60s, influenced by artists who had been experimenting since the 40s, 50s and early 60s: work that today would still be highly original."

Arcade herself has always been concerned with history - the revival of Bitch! Dyke! Faghag! Whore! is a reminder of how she has been making queer theatre since the 1990s, and challenges the notion that contemporary performance is stuck in the present - and she quickly responds to my moaning about getting old by being positive about the process.

“So many people are obsessed about getting older and losing function as they get older but some things you get better at as you get older and making art is one of them," she says. "And after you make art for about thirty years you can either do it or you can’t. It is not a matter of being talented, of being promising, being bright, being precocious, being innovative. It’s about: 'Ok, well, can you just make the fucking art please?' Just write the book, do the painting and in spite of everything, in spite of the chaos that is going on around us, when no one cares about my book, when no one cares about my painting, fine! I am making them because that is what I do. That is my function as a human."

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