Acts Re-Acts: A Reflection

Acts Re-Acts, a month long festival of performance held at Wimbledon Space,  brought together practitioners from across UAL through a series of residencies, performances, talks and screenings. Participants included Eleanor Bowen & Laura Gonzalez, Stella Capes, Edward Dimsdale, Katie Elliott, Rossella Emanuele, Richard Layzell, Douglas O’Connell, Camilla Palestra & Hanae Utamura, Annette Robinson & Belinda Wild, Jane Collins, Finlay Forbes-Gower, Katie Lerman, Italia Rossi & Trish Scott, Michael Spencer, Tansy Spinks & Iris Garrelfs, Mette Sterre, Jennet Thomas, Paul Tarrago and Charlotte Turton. The festival was initiated by Simon Betts, Peter Farley, Clare Mitten, Lois Rowe and Jane Collins in response to the fact that theatre and fine art practitioners often work in parallel rather than in dialogue, with the aim of bringing these different practices into the same discursive realm.

Scott, a CCW PhD student, whose research project Socialising the Archive examines the relationship between performance, documentation and the archive, reflected on the festival for the Graduate School. She is interested in the translation between events and documents and in amalgamating art and archival encounters.

Michael Fried’s ideas in Art and Objecthood (1967) (as conveyed by Ken Wilder) were used to position the festival in critical terms, specifically via a closing debate. In this text Fried compares modernist painting with minimalism, attacking the latter as being “theatrical”, setting up a divide between art and theatre proposing that “art degenerates as it approaches the condition of theatre”. He argues that once a work starts to exist for an audience in a particular time and space it fails to transcend its own objecthood, and approaches the condition of non art. The success of art, Fried argues, relies on its ability to defeat theatre, to surpass its own objecthood, becoming autonomous from the beholder. In later writing, Fried contrasts theatricality with absorption (anti-theatricality); the difference between an artwork engaging with an audience (e.g figures in a painting staring out of the picture plane, looking directly at the viewer) and an artwork making no concession to an audience (i.e. figures in a painting being absorbed in a world of their own). Acts Re-Acts sought to test the relevance of these ideas in relation to contemporary performance practice.

This idea of a boundary between fine art and theatre, absorption and theatricality was addressed head on by Richard Layzell who noted that in the 1970s, as a fine art performer, there was pressure not to cross the line/break the fourth wall (as demonstrated through his re-enactment of Twitch). Now, for Layzell, the dividing line has gone (as demonstrated in his screening of Art Work – Work Art, a performance in which he is both waiter and performer in a cafe).

This sense of openness and fluidity characterised most of the work in Acts Re-Acts. Instead of being easily identifiable as either fine art or theatre, work tended to be experimental, interdisciplinary and collaborative. Rather than there being a division between works (in terms of performances being either fine art or theatre), tensions existed within individual works. One of these tensions was between the live and the recorded, most performances being predicated on a dialogue between live and unlive media, akin to what performance theorist Rebecca Schneider terms interanimation. This is where live media (e.g. performance) and capture media, or media-resulting documents (i.e. video, photography) cross constitute and improvise each other. At Acts Re-Acts this meant that many of the works occupied complex temporalities, and afforded different modes of beholding and types of engagement within a single work.

In Jennet Thomas’s I am your error message, a performance critiquing institutional ideology and capitalist reward structures, what appeared to be a fictive world was portrayed on screen alluding to an ominous, spreading error that needed to be eliminated. But rather than this projection existing in a separate world, immune from theatricality, with no concession being given to the audience, Thomas entered into a live dialogue with the work, bringing it firmly back to the here and now, the space and time of the video bleeding into the space and time of the gallery.

Edward Dimsdale’s work Model Love Re-Kindled, a durational installation and performance involved the artist subjecting a sequence of photographs purporting “to capture a series of instances of love at first site” (Simon Jones) to forensic scrutiny, then playing with the representation of these actions using a visualiser and other devices. Dimsdale’s performance questioned not only the narrative inferred by the photographs but also the very nature and status of the photographic act itself. From observing the photographs, to becoming the observed to turning his phone camera on the audience, Dimsdale experimented with subject/object relations, delving into the various meta levels of the work, playing with the invisible fourth wall. The focus of the work and relationship with the audience constantly shifted, theatricality and absorption operating in symbiosis.

Having more critical debate (beyond one panel session) would have been good. But if Acts Re-Acts is just the start of a growing forum and a way of providing space for considering interdisciplinary performance that will continue to develop, the creative team behind Acts Re-Acts played this well. If Acts Re-Acts had been more about words and discourse, and less about the work, I suspect what might have been reinforced were differences and boundaries, rather than areas of communality. Letting the work lead the dialogue, rather than conversation being at the level of textual extrapolation, established a baseline for what constitutes performance within UAL. It’s now time to build on this, and the momentum generated by the festival, through further discussions and events.

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  1. Pingback: Programme Director Research Profile: Lois Rowe | CCW Graduate School Blog

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