Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Dr Laura Bissell: Opinions on Opinions...

I was delighted to read Dr Laura Bissell's thoughts on performance and politics over at The National Collective Website. Not only does it draw a nice distinction between Performance (the stuff on stage) and performance (Schechner's idea of all human behaviour being understood as a form of performance), it promotes Joseph Beuy's wonderful image of 'everyone an artist' in a positive, constructive vision.

Bissell concludes, after comparing the hilarious welcome given to the MPs arriving in Glasgow this week to the staid debate staged between Darling and Salmond, that artistry isn't the preserve of those who make things recognisable as 'traditional art,' but an application of a particular attention to an area. It is a beautiful thought, and one that is supported by the more creative political activities of the past few months - if not necessarily in 'the traditional arts'.

Bissell also notes that 'Professional Performance was slow to respond to the referendum.' That '
in the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe less than 10 of the 3000 shows addressed the independence debate' might say more about the composition of the Fringe than the lack of enthusiasm for the subject, but her recollection of Andy Field's complaint against EIF director Sir Jonathan Mills, who tried to place his festival above politics, suggests an anxiety within certain sectors of the arts that 'politics' is a demeaning association.

Fields mocked the pretension of apolitical art: 'Perhaps when he leaves Edinburgh International Festival, Jonathan Mills can try his hand at creating the world’s first food-less restaurant.'

Discussing a production at The Arches - an example of capital P Performance dealing with the Referendum - Bissell (along with director David Overend) worries about the image used for Wallace. The reasoning here is less coherent to me - there is concern about whether the image of William Wallace has been ruined by Mel Gibson, or whether the poster is playing into a stereotypical idea of Scottishness, I think. 

Where I do disagree - but that is probably more about emphasis than anything else -  is with the assertion that Performance has 'left it late' to come in on the conversation. There have been some explicitly Referendum based plays - Alan Bissett left little room for doubt in his Fringe entry, Yestival  was a Big P tour and David Hayman's Coming Storm was unambiguously about the relationship between the Labour party and Independence aspirations. Going back years, Turbofolk  was Bissett dealing with national identity - and the consequences of the Union; Dusinane an intelligent meditation on the history of two nations. I'm not sure that theatre has under-performed in this case (and if it has, there are always the works of Rachel Maclean for a touch of performative complexity...). 

I would say that a few NO plays might have rung the changes though... strange how nothing came out of that.

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