Wednesday, 28 May 2008

East End Collaborations, 24 May 2008 - Part 2

Ian Giles ‘Heat Feet’
Johanna Linsley ‘I’d rather die than die alone’
Ruvi Simmons and Shirin Barthel ‘I can lose but I always win’
Holly Slingsby ‘Fallout’
Jennifer Southern ‘The Heroes Leave, The Clowns Come In’
Arlene Wandera ‘Kukhu’

For ‘Kuhkhu’ Arlene Wandera created a calm corner of Africa in the Pinter Building’s Rehearsal Room 2. The fifteen or so audience members who had signed up sat in cross-legged silence, waiting for Wandera to begin and taking in the Batik print columns, sweet smelling perfume and red lamps, which made the room feel like a campfire at sunset. When she arrived, Wandera (wearing a Batik dress and headscarf) welcomed us all with a beatific smile. She sat on a stool and motioned us to move closer, until we were gathered like a crowd of schoolchildren at her feet.

Wandera’s performance laid out the ritual of writing and storytelling, without words. She slowly revealed her writing tools – glasses, fountain pen, writing paper, blotting pad – in order to write a few short messages, which she folded and handed to individual members of the audience. Not one of the lucky recipients myself, I was reminded of the anthropologist Levi-Strauss’s observation that the ritual of writing is just as powerful as what the words say. After a while, the audience began to share the secrets among them. The ones I read ranged from reverence for cultural tradition, ‘I fear losing my mother tongue’ to a more current type of cultural observation, ‘Once I walked into a lamp post when I was checking out this fit guy.’ Wandera’s careful construction of ritual made all the secrets seem important, but more strikingly, it concentrated the value of sharing knowledge itself.

In Johanna Linsley’s ‘I’d rather die than die alone’, in contrast, secrets were passed around but there was no sharing of knowledge. Linsley plucked participants from the audience to sit in a circle in the centre of the room. What followed was, among other things, an intricate explication of exclusion, assumption and privilege. Members of the inner circle were given slips of paper to read in silence. Linsley and two helpers secreted these secrets around their bodies – in a shirt collar, up a sleeve. They announced rules but never explained them, addressed audience members by their first names without a shred of intimacy, and their intonation made each firm instruction sound like a rhetorical question. The effect was a menacing sort of passive control, which may or may not mimic the religious Oneida Community, a Christian commune set up in the US in the nineteenth century, which was referenced disjointedly by fragments of text left around the room. Linsley’s perfromance was impressively imposing, even if it was also utterly incomprehensible. The level of imposition was summed up by the way she left the room - by asking audience members to pick up papers, collect chairs and turn off equipment. In other words, she made us clear up after her.

Jennifer Southern’s ‘The Heroes Leave, The Clowns Come In’ was in some ways the opposite of these controlled performances. Also without words, Southern’s clown-cum-S&M apprentice prepared the stage for prat-falls and sexual innuendo. The piece explored the threatening aspects of clowning, as well as the comedic aspects of sexual fetish, but when Southern finished by groping an audience member I felt it was one clown-step too far. Condom balloons are one thing, unwanted sexual advances stray onto quite different territory.

Clowns are in fact often disturbing - there is something terrifying about the static aesthetic of their painted faces. In ‘Heat Feat’, Ian Giles also combined the aesthetic with the physical. Bounding onto stage in bare feet, Giles lit two camping stoves and stood on a metal table above them. Gradually his toes began to curl. His face began to twitch. His shoulders jerked, his legs jumped and his mouth began to scream as the table got hotter and hotter. Beside him was an opera singer who sang scales that rose in pitch and volume along with the temperature of Giles’ ordeal. Eventually he was jumping up and down on the table in what appeared to be considerable pain, but somehow the operatic accompaniment made it look both beautiful and unreal. This aesthetic interpretation of physical hardship made clear how easy it is to distance oneself from spectacle - because the opera singing labeled this ‘art’, I forgot to care that Giles’ feet were burning. What does it mean, ‘Heat Feet’ asked, to engage with a work of art?

In ‘Fallout’ Holly Slingsby also endured a self-afflicted ordeal. Seated in a pitch black room, she started to hyperventilate as a light that she held swung back and forth towards her. Swinging one way, the light revealed a woman rigid with fear, swinging the other way, the audience itself was thrown into complete darkness. Unlike Slingsby, I enjoyed this dramatic undulation but, at the climax of her piece, I was still none the wiser as to what made Slingsby so afraid.

Throughout all of these stories, secrets and physical tests, ‘I can lose but I always win’ by Ruvi Simmons and Shirin Barthel was playing in the Arts Lecture Theatre. I saw the film at the beginning of the evening – a durational performance between a man and a woman, who lay cards out between each other. The pattern behind this card ritual was also unexplained but, like Wandera’s writing performance, the ritual itself was shown to be important. Moreover, and also like Wandera, Simmons’ and Barthel’s patient repetition seemed to invite viewers to watch the game. And yet its title, ‘I can lose but I always win’, suggests something a little more sinister. Like most of the performances in EEC, this piece seemed simple on the surface but hinted at something deeper, and manipulated.

Mary Paterson

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

East End Collaborations 24 May 2008 Part 1

photo Gore Hore Fazan 'Blowing in the Wind'
Photographer: writers own

Louisa Hendrikien Martin ‘Improv’
Johanna Linsley ‘I’d rather die than die alone’
Geoff Hore Fazan ‘Blowing in the wind’
Performance Klub Fiskulturnik ‘Mass Exercise with Nadia and Olga Sokolski’

East End Collaborations (EEC) is a collaboration between the Drama Department at Queen Mary, University of London, and the Live Art Development Agency. The one day programme offers a range of support structures for novice Live Art artists and enthusiasts in the form of the ‘Everything You Wanted To Know About Live Art But Were Afraid To Ask’ advice session. It also incorporates the annual open submission ‘EEC platform’ which presents emerging London based live art practitioners.

From a visitor’s perspective, the ‘EEC platform’ is a showcase of firsts, and as such is always an unknown quantity. It presents relatively unheard of artists at the outset of their London careers, showing new work that is often at a raw stage. For a critic, whether armchair or professional, the challenges of such a grass roots event are numerous. No-one wants the artists at EEC to be discouraged, but equally, artists are selected in order to experience a realistic professional scenario, one in which critique certainly plays a part. In addition, EEC offers no press release, artist’s statements or biographical information and googling the artists in question doesn’t reveal much. No ‘press reserved’ places mean that the reduced capacity and one to one performances have to be fought for, and in many cases remain unseen. When you do get in to see the work gut reaction needs to be tempered in accordance with the nurturing, professional development aims of EEC and the artists’ relative (in)experience. In short, all the usual critic comforts are missing, and it is hard work to raise critical thinking above the melange and remain intellectually open to what EEC throws at you.

One of the first things it threw was Louisa Hendrikien Martin’s ‘Improv’, which consisted of the artist standing in a darkened studio with solar panels strapped to her body, which were then rigged up to audio speakers. Audience members were invited to shine electric flash lights onto the solar panels, which triggered electronic sounds according to the direction and strength of the beams of light. ‘Improv’ highlighted light and sound as visceral. However, the purely physical interaction between Martin and her audience made her body-in-performance passive; a silent, reflective receptacle for the audience’s light beams. As if trying to achieve more of a ‘result’ in terms of sound - or figure out the intellectual root of their involvement- the audience’s torch waving got more and more frantic. Perhaps, like me, the other torch bearers were fighting a surprisingly destructive urge – like a child in a museum with an interactive exhibit - to push Martin’s technologised body harder and faster until it ‘did something’ or broke.

Stumbling out of ‘Improv’ we were lead straight into Johanna Linsley’s ‘I’d rather die than die alone’; a complex instruction-based piece in which performers and selected audience members sat in a circle and silently passed notes to one another under the supervision of Linsley’s disquieting schoolmarmish persona. After 45 minutes the quiet note-passing ended in what can only described as a spoof freestyle contemporary dance; complete with po-faced writhing on the floor and dangerously flailing arms. All in all, ‘I’d rather die than die alone’ was long, slow, opaque and difficult. This is not necessarily pejorative. In a scene where artists frequently debase and dumb-down their work - searching for the next new thing to catch the imagination of an ever more saturated audience - slow, long, difficult and opaque is sometimes to be lauded. However, for those outside the circle, the feeling of exclusion and art school in-joke pervaded. From where I sat ‘I’d rather die than die alone’ looked like Linsley’s own brand of arduous Goat Island-style drama or the birth of a modish live art cult. No doubt both would have devoted followers.

Amidst all this traumatic coming and going, Geoff Hore Fazan was brave enough to provide the audience with four hours of light musical entertainment on the steps of the arts building. Complete with velvet suit, untidy moustache, mouth organ and acoustic guitar ‘Blowing in the Wind’ was undoubtedly Fazan’s tribute to Bob Dylan, performed on the anniversary of the singer songwriters’ birthday. But on the dirty, blustery Mile End Road Fazan’s gentle performance - including fun moments at the end of each page when he ran out of score – was a reminder that Folk music is a poignant and passive - but not apolitical - statement in a country at war, whether it is the US in the 1960’s or UK in 2008.

The EEC Platform ended with an outdoor session of ‘Mass Exercise with Nadia and Olga Sokolski’ of Performance Klub Fiskulturnik. With lurid tracksuits, stern facial expressions and loudhailers, the Sokolski sisters adopted the activities, slogans and pamphleteering of a communist political party and loudly herded audience members into doing a soviet style exercise regime in the Queen Mary University campus courtyard. The sisters’ artistic rally call for ‘An art that everyone can join in with, an art that is alive!’ is sincere and provides a much needed antidote to a plethora of commercial art world products. However, in their reliance upon a stereotype of 1970’s communistic Eastern Europe, together with the ubiquitous figure of the militaristic gym instructor, Mass Exercise is probably not as harmless as it seems. That said, it is hard to argue against great fun and good physical exercise in the form of live art.

Rachel Lois Clapham

For more information on EEC and a list of the selected artists in the 2008 line-up see

If you want to reproduce this text please gain permission first by emailing

Friday, 23 May 2008

Open Dialogues in Berlin.

Before Open Dialogues arrive in Berlin for the New Life Berlin Festival we wanted to let you know who was selected for the Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin critical writing programme, also more about the model we are using for the project.

Don't forget to make a link to the blog (below). We hope to see you online, or in Berlin, after the 31st!

Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin is a collaborative writing project that is taking place as part of the New Life Berlin festival; a festival of participatory, live and socially engaged art ( All through New Life Berlin, a group of 16 international writers will work closely with the festival organisers, artists, participants and visitors and post REVIEWS, INTERVIEWS, OPINIONS and INFORMATION about the work shown. We also have commissioned texts from writers experiencing the festival from across Europe and the US.

Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin will explore the possibilities of contemporary critical, theoretical and art writing in the context of the New Life Berlin Festival (31st May – 15th June 2008). The three main themes of the festival are: Transnational Communities, Artistic Social Responsibility and Artistic Social Responsibility

The critical writing programme matches the structure, themes and artistic content of the festival itself; it is curated but participatory at its core, involving on and offline communities in examining artistic responsibility and new modes of existing for art critics. Within this model, the purpose of the programme is four fold; 1) it provides written (online and printed) critique and documentation of the festival, 2) examines the notion of community, 3) explores the role of criticism in relation to participatory art and 4) acts as professional development for new and existing Berlin based and international critical writers.

Keep checking on the blog for the latest posts and news about Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin activities.

If you're watching the festival from abroad, we will keep you updated and informed via the blog. If you're in Berlin, then come and meet us at our LIVE REVIEW at the New Life Berlin shop on 7th June. And keep an eye out for Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin printed flash publications, being distributed across the city.

The writers on Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin are Anga'aefonu Bain-Vete, Alfredo Cramerotti, Clare Carswell, Alexandria Clark, Mary Kate Connolly, Kathryn Fischer, Eleanor Hadley Kershaw, Joanna Loveday, Cheree Mack, Matthew MacKisack, Carali McCall, Charlotte Morgan, Christin Niehoff, Ann Rapstoff, Valerie Palmer, Carrie Paterson, Kara Rooney, Heiko Schmid, Claire Louise Staunton and Eliza Tan. More details about the writers can be found on the CV section of

Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin is facilitated by Rachel Lois Clapham and Mary Paterson, the directors of Open Dialogues, with assistance from Christina Irrgang (Open Dialogues Associate, Berlin)

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Blogging : An Ideal Recipe

I originally wrote ‘Blogging: An Ideal Recipe’ as a guide for writers on the Performa Biennial ‘Writing Live’ critical writing programme in October 2007 ( It has since been used as source material by journalists Jane Watt and Lara Farrar in articles relating to arts criticism and new media/web technologies such as blogging. I edit and re-post the text here as the debate about new media and criticism (happily) shows no signs of abating and I want to inform this debate from the perspective of someone who blogs part of their professional practice.

Web based technologies are changing the face of arts criticism and the role of the writer in relation to art. Website, laptops and wireless technology means the art writer is more mobile and can carry the tools of their trade with them wherever they go. This increase in writer, writing and publishing mobility, combined with an increased awareness of the value of critical writing, is leading to writers being invited and paid to blog about art as and when it happens, wherever it happens. This complicity of the writer -whether physical, institutional or critical – with the art world has real implications for the agency and position of critical writing and its writers.

Sites such as myspace, blogspot, AN Interface, AN Artists talking and New Work Network are all web based points of interest to read un-spun, fast, critical reactions to contemporary art written by the people who are passionate about a broad range of art work in some of the farthest reaches of the globe. That said, this accessibility doesn’t mean that any and everyone’s opinions should be read as equal; there is no doubt there is a lot of uninformed, bad writing on blogs. Moreover, the so called democratising effect of the web is itself something to be questioned (i.e who controls what we see on the web and who has access?). So it seems that whether you are online or not there is no escaping hierarchy. However, there are many things that you can do as a critical writer to help your blog achieve the writing standards that might one day help blogs outweigh the opinions of the established broadsheet critics in print.

Blogging : An Ideal Recipe

Why blog?
Much of todays' critical writing has devolved away from a removed position of judgement to a more embodied critique. This is (very basically) critical writing in which the author (and reader) are necessarily situated in the personal; their body, their opinions/subjectivity and this position is considered theoretically relevant and critical. In addition, people nowadays often put as much stock in what their neighbours think of a piece of art as they do in what a professional thinks. Both these factors explain why and how blogging is such a vital, popular and growing phenomenon; its form, design and purpose are all often without spin and are personal i.e. a blogger, whatever they blog about, is telling you what they think.

Your blogging voice

Bloggers need to stay true to the blogger ethos of ‘say it like it is’ and giving their opinion freely whilst maintaining levels of professionalism and being mindful of any important relationships such as funder, artist or friend. The personal touch doesn’t mean a blog is not of professional standards or interest to academics, artists or commissioning organisations. Many individuals and organisations have a vested interest in blogging and many blogs are professional, both in financial terms and content. A growing number of professionals and organisations take blogging very seriously as a genre and pay bloggers to report on much more than just the facts.

Addressing the reader

Due to the blog’s informal origins, blog readers won’t necessarily be expecting large amounts of dense, specifically academic or theoretical language or text in a blog. This kind of content certainly does appear on specialist blogs, and will certainly be beneficial to many, but be mindful that a blog has a potentially wide and varied readership. You will need to be mindful that art historical terms or art content may well be unfamiliar, unusual or difficult to many. Therefore, specific themes, histories, context, content or language in the work will need to be carefully introduced, clearly referenced and explained for the benefit of the reader.

A Well Behaved Blog

There is no point writing if you only have bad things to say about the work. You also need to bear in mind the weight of your words in relation to the artist and art work or subject under discussion; often your words will carry gravitas that is beyond the reach of the artist, or art work. Your blog posts will also play a part in an archive that will inform artists, future historians. Be mindful of this act of archiving and generous (to the artist, to the work, to your reader) also constructive and balanced in your opinion. If you are compelled to be negative about an aspect of the work, remember to show your thinking on the page to contextualise your opinion. A good tip to gage whether or not you think you are being balanced regarding your negative opinion is to ask yourself ‘Would I feel happy as author of this writing if I met the artist or curator for dinner?’ If the answer is no, it’s perhaps time to put more into the text to explain yourself. Thanks to artist Joshua Sofaer for that tip, which has saved me numerous upset stomachs...

You will distinguish your blog from the majority of vicious, bad or ‘nasty’ blogs (i.e. blogs that are full of typos, unstructured, ill-thought-out or overly negative and viscous) by being generous to your reader, the art work and your own writing. Doing thorough copy editing, ensuring the facts (proper images with image credits and copyright details, names, dates and times) are all included and cross referenced will also help your writing to be read as serious and professional. Also, remember your writing is inextricably linked to your subject, and people may well want to read more about the artists’ work after reading your text, so remember to include any relevant links in your blog post.

Happy Blogging!

Rachel Lois Clapham

Frieze Writer's Prize 2008 £2000 and an article in Frieze Magazine

For those of you who are budding writers, last years' Art Writing Prize winner was Mia Jankowicz whose winning entry was a review of a Sophie Calle exhibition. I have the text in question if anybody is curious to read it, and so find out a bit more about how to win this £2000!!

frieze magazine writer's prize is an annual award to discover and promote new art critics. The award will be judged in 2008 by Tate Triennial curator Nicolas Bourriaud, frieze co-editor Jennifer Higgie and Guardian critic Adrian Searle.

Entry details:
Entrants must submit one 700 word review of a recent contemporary art exhibition.

Entries must be submitted in English, but it may be a translation (this must be acknowledged).

Entrants must be over 18 years old.

To qualify, entrants may only previously have had a maximum of three pieces of writing published in any national or regional newspaper or magazine.

The winning entrant will be commissioned to write a review for the October issue of frieze and be awarded 2000 GBP.

Two further awards of 500 GBP will be made for outstanding entries.

Closing date is: 23rd June 2008

Entries should be emailed as a word attachment to

The judges' decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into regarding individual entries.