Theatre Journal 56.2 (2004) 287-289
[Access article in PDF]
Live Culture, a four-day symposium with performances and exhibitions, was held at the Tate Modern in London 27-30 March 2003. The event brought in theorists, performance makers, artists, and writers to talk about performance and included archived film material, photography, and durational performance. Tickets for the symposium sold out almost immediately, so this review centers on the performances and shows open to the general public.
Live Culture opened with a lecture by the acknowledged performance art expert, RoseLee Goldberg, who commented on slides from her own personal archive of photography and on film of performance and performance art since the turn of the century. Performance, performance art, and theatre have been melding and finding their liminal crossing points since the sixties, yet one aspect remains central to their uniqueness as an art form: their ephemerality. Goldberg made this issue central, and wanted to raise the problematics of that very ephemerality for the gallery, the theorist, and the historian. Just how do you archive, or even curate, performances?
This very question seemed to form the crux of the whole event. The borders between theatre, performance, and art have blurred and blended deliciously during the end of the last century. Mounting theatre pieces in an art gallery ensured that this question would be central to the festival. The question was also at the heart of the challenges faced by the curators as these theatre companies are more used to working in spaces better suited to an audience's comfort for durational work.
A diverse audience attended the opening of the exhibition on Friday, 28 March, crowding through the galleries in the west wing on level four. The performances that formed the main body of the gallery work were consciously durational: Forced Entertainment's Quizoola! lasted for seven hours, La Pocha Nostra's Ex-Centris (A Living Diorama of Fetish-ized Others) lasted between two and three hours, and La Ribot's Panoramix lasted over four hours. However, the gallery undermined the durational nature of these works. Gallery staff jangled keys through quiet performances and entered and exited through spaces, causing noise from one performance to bleed into another. The very essence of the gallery as a space to be passed through did not encourage people to stay and watch this durational work; in fact, people often melted away as quickly as they would glance at a canvas.
This disregard for duration was perfectly exemplified in the method that tickets were sold for the event. As with all exhibitions at the Tate, patrons had to enter within an hour of the time stamped on their tickets. If one wanted to watch all of Forced Entertainment but the ticket allowed entry one hour from the end of the show (like mine) that was [End Page 287] just tough luck. The gallery was staging durational performance without the duration. Forced Entertainment performed two of their pieces live on Friday and Saturday, 12am and Looking Down and Quizoola! respectively. On the third day they showed video work. La Ribot's Panoramix was repeated during the three-day period, as was La Pocha Nostra's Ex-Centris (A Living Diorama of Fetish-ized Others).
Click for larger view
| Figure 1 |
Tim Etchells and Richard Lowdon in Forced Entertainment's production of Quizoola!
Photo: Hugo Glendinning.
Forced Entertainment's 12am and Looking Down is a triumph of the dress-up box and the sign. Frantic performers rifled through an array of clothing hung on rails around the gallery space, found the right costume, put it on, and chose a sign made from cardboard labeling themselves to the audience. An actress wearing the placard "Rachel—Woman of the Month" strutted around the space looking triumphant. "Speed Freak" enabled one actor to bounce around in a frenzy; he performed the same behavior holding up the placard entitled "A Famous Existentialist." One performer sat on a throne in the middle of the space when tired and the others sometimes held up signs to refer to that seated actor. The piece...