Tag Archives: Douglas O’Connell

UKIERI Thematic Partnership at Wimbledon College of Art

The works realised during the March 2014 UKIERI Thematic Partnership workshop in Hyderabad will be on view in the main building of Wimbledon College of Art until 12 September 2014. These works are the result of a joint research project between Wimbledon College of Arts and the University of Hyderabad exploring The Means of Performance in the Digital Age. Jane Collins, Simon Betts and Douglas O’Connell from Wimbledon, together with CCW PhD students Jenny Wright and Vanessa Saraceno, collaborated with students at the Fine Arts and Theatre departments of the S. N. School of Art and Communication of Hyderabad.

The UKIERI thematic partnership investigates the impact of ‘new media’ on performance in India and the UK, bringing together two recognised centres of excellence to create a cross-cultural research platform at the inter-face of fine art and theatre. Using the ‘scenographic’ as a frame of reference, a broad term that encompasses all the elements that contribute to the composition of performance, this joint research compares how digitalisation and electronic media have been absorbed into our respective performance cultures.

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Find out more about the UKIERI Thematic Partnership.

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.

The Means of Performance in a Digital Age

CCW staff (Jane Collins, Simon Betts and Douglas O’Connell) and PhD students (Jenny Wright and Vanessa Saraceno) travelled to India for the second seminar, called The Means of Performance in a Digital Age, of the UKIERI Thematic Partnership between CCW and University of Hyderabad (the first seminar was held in September 2013). Once there, teams discussed the ‘materiality’ of production in digital age. The seminar considered the way new technologies are impacting on the ‘physical’ processes of making work and replacing the tangible materiality of wood, paint and metal. Wright and Saraceno led workshops at the seminar and have reflected on their experiences.

Wright said, ‘This work has links with part of my research into the development and use of drawing as a primal recording and learning skill. I am interested in the haptic, physical nature of drawing and how movement and the physical interaction with tools onto a surface is used both to record and to develop deeper cognition. My role as facilitator on the Fine Art drawing part of the UKIERI work helped me gather more evidence on the performative nature of drawing and its key role in communicating and developing abstract thought. Working alongside the excellent Fine Art team in Hyderabad  has led to discussions on supporting drawing within the art school curriculum across different fields. Our particular remit was developing work with digital theatre design. The MFA students I was working with in Hyderabad were really enthusiastic and open to extend and broaden their work into the digital realm, whilst also being true to the primal nature of drawing, in terms of gesture and mark making. I am certainly hoping to develop a long standing dialogue with the teaching staff at Hyderabad in terms of evolving drawing practice with students. I can also see many links being made with students at Wimbledon and Hyderabad, with a mutually enrichment of performative work in theatre and fine art drawing.’

Sarceno said,  ‘In my role as facilitator, I discussed with the students of the Theatre Department the case study of the artistic duo Claire Fontaine, formed by artists James Thornhill and Fulvia Carnevale. Claire Fontaine’s practice offers a perfect example of how to play with new media in order to further develop the potentialities of the performative gesture. Assisting the students in the development of their projects for the final exhibition, I have encouraged them to always consider the problematics of the specific context in which their performance take place, and to embody these problematics interweaving all the knowledge they have with the potentialities of a new artistic territory. The uniqueness of this project lies in its offering evident and incontestable results since its very beginning. Thanks to their rich cultural legacy, and a textured theatrical tradition, students at Sarojini Naidu School of Arts in Hyderabad have fully understood the potentialities of new media and were also keen to explore them further in relation to the political and cultural situation in India. Indeed, the titles of their projects -City of Trash; The Savage; Natural Disaster, to cite a few- refer to the status of life today in India. In their call for a different, more sustainable relation with the environment, the students have been able to employ new technologies not merely as a tool through which to look at the world, but as a path for a new sensorial dimension where to practice an alternative way of experiencing the world through the body.’

Ishu Kumar, a student from Sarojini Naidu School of Arts, also responded to the seminar, saying, ‘This workshop helped me break away from my notions of mainstream theatre and helped to view theatre and its methods in a different light. It allowed me to look at how different elements such as the projector, the body, as well as acting, can be combined together, as well as used alone to provide meaning to a performance. It also allowed to me understand a new language being developed in the field of theatre primarily due the advancements of postmodern world. This workshop helped me push the envelope in terms of my understanding of theatre. It helped me gain new view in terms of how a theatre production can be designed. It gave me a perspective which broadened my viewing and understanding of theatre.

‘The entire experience would help me in my future works. I am also keen on using the experience I gained in my future ventures and always keep in mind the possibilities of the digital media. I now have a clear understanding of how theatre and the digital media can work hand in hand with each other. I would also like to take the experimentation of theatre in new context further through my own future projects.’

Douglas O’Connell made a short film of the seminar.