Report back…

Live Art Development Agency / Tate Modern Play Up Symposium & Buzzcut Festival
Daniel Pitt

Following a (I think) well-deserved couple of weeks’ holiday, and off culture, I dived straight back into a week dominated by live art. If you’re not familiar with live art, the definitive definition is here on the Live Art Development Agency’s (LADA) website: “The term Live Art is not a description of an artform or discipline, but a cultural strategy to include experimental processes and experiential practices that might otherwise be excluded from established curatorial, cultural and critical frameworks. Live Art is a framing device for a catalogue of approaches to the possibilities of liveness by artists who choose to work across, in between, and at the edges of more traditional artistic forms.”

Another good analogy I’ve come across is that it’s like Punk, which wasn’t so much a discernible style as a broad genre of music (as well as fashion and art) that reflected an attitude to life, society and the ‘powers that be’. Live art is an attitude to art making and life, often arising from similar kinds of feelings about society and our role in it. It’s a desire to push the boundaries and give expression to communities and values which are often excluded from the mainstream. There are broadly shared aesthetics, but it’s not a genre or artform, as such.

Live art is important to us at Cambridge Junction: as an arts centre that’s committed to innovation and a diversity of artists and artistic forms, it’s one of the most exciting and relevant areas of art making today. Its influence can be felt within many artforms and across our programme. In Cambridge Junction’s very early days the performance artist Leigh Bowery appeared on the J1 stage in the notorious act of ‘giving birth to his wife’ Nicola Bateman who was the lead singer in the band Minty.
Cambridge Junction’s Director, Daniel Brine was formerly Associate Director of LADA, and Cambridge Junction is a member of Live Art UK, a national network of live art promoters. There are live artists in our programme for both adults (highlights: Nick Steur, Kim Noble, Lone Twin, Hunt and Darton, Action Hero, much of Night Watch and WATCH OUT festivals) and children (Tim Spooner’s The Assembly of Animals, for example), as well as our artist development and creative learning programmes. There has even been live art in our popular culture programme - Bryony Kimmings and Tim Key being recent examples. (The fact that we don’t always call it live art is indicative of it being more an approach than an artform.)
On Monday 4th April LADA and Tate Modern ran a symposium at Tate entitled Playing Up: Live Art for Kids and Adults (thisisliveart.co.uk). Playing Up is the name of a game created by Sybille Peters, director of a company called Theatre of Research in Hamburg, who are renowned as leaders in making exciting, experimental performance for kids. Over the weekend prior to the Playing Up symposium, LADA and Tate had done a mass public ‘Play-In’ for families with the game. The aim of the game is to learn about, and then recreate seminal, often disruptive, live art works from 20th and 21st century art history, giving adults and children the chance to play together, to encourage the breaking of rules and receiving a little bit of cultural education at the same time… or to just be liberated and make a mess. The game draws upon a wide range of works such as John & Yoko Ono’s Bagism, Jeremy Deller’s The Battle of Orgreave and Mammalian Diving Reflex’s Haircuts by Children.

The symposium also featured a variety of speakers – artists and curators, etc – who work with live art for children and young people. Highlights for me included the anarchic Darren O’Donnell from the aforementioned Toronto-based Mammalian Diving Reflex (mammalian.ca), a company who create participatory projects with young people with self-explanatory titles including Haircuts by Children and Night Walks With Teenagers, and Eat The Street which I experienced in 2014 in Birmingham, where primary school children are trained up as restaurant critics, and adults dine with them. Matt Fenton from Manchester’s Contact Theatre (contactmcr.com) explained how young people are entirely integrated into the running of the organisation, and we also heard a lecture from nine year old Sid, one of the youngest members of The Institute For The Art and Practise of Dissent At Home (twoaddthree.org), whose parents appeared at Cambridge Junction last October as part of Question Everything with the Festival of Ideas. I left excited by the opportunities and openness of children, and if you’re interested in experiencing some live art made with / by children at Cambridge Junction soon, catch Lookout by Andy Field (junction.co.uk/lookout), as part of WATCH OUT Festival, a collaboration with year fives from The Spinney School in Cambridge.

Later that week, I took the very long but environmentally-sound train journey north to Glasgow for Buzzcut – a pretty-DIY live art festival in its fifth edition that has become a really significant platform for new artists and risk taking live work, particularly since the demise of two significant Glasgow live art institutions: the National Review of Live Art, and more recently The Arches. It’s also become a great place to catch up with colleagues from across the UK. Nick Anderson and Rosana Cade, the two artists who run Buzzcut, are interested in how a festival can strengthen community – meaning both, I think, the ‘UK live art community’ and to be as welcoming as possible to the broadest range of people from Glasgow and Govan, the area where the festival currently takes place. All the shows in Buzzcut are free, it’s welcomingly hosted, with a supportive atmosphere and a very dedicated effort towards accessibility and disability awareness.
By being free and sited in a community centre, it is the only UK experimental performance event where I have seen real families wandering in and engaging with a programme of uncompromising live art that is not specifically aimed at children. I saw a 9 year old sitting,  concentrating deeply in Lucy Hutson’s film-based installation about genderqueer identities, and I was stopped in the corridor by another kid recreating a performance by Aaron Williamson from the Playing Up game. Openness at a young age to the broadest range of art forms and ways of being that live artists are exploring can only be a good thing. Long may it continue, and I hope we can bring some of that spirit and openness of audience to Cambridge.

If you are interested in exploring the UK’s live art scene further we suggest starting with the Live Art UK website, www.liveartuk.org