Thursday, 11 December 2008

Open Dialogues : New Life Berlin

Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin was a collaborative writing project that explored 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 New Life Berlin festival were: Transnational Communities, Artistic Social Responsibility and Participation and Intervention. And Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin matched the structure, themes and artistic content of the festival itself: it was curated but participatory at its core, and it involved on and offline communities in examining artistic responsibility and new modes of existing for art critics. Within this model, the purpose of the programme was four fold; 1) to provide critique on, and documentation of, the festival, 2) to examine the notion of community, 3) to explore the role of criticism in relation to participatory art and 4) to act as professional development programme for new and existing international critical writers.

The Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin blog included all the texts written by the 21 international writers on the Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin programme, three of whom experienced the festival online from across Europe and the US. Combined, their output represents 5 interviews, 3 previews, 27 reviews and 15 opinion pieces relating to the socially engaged and collaborative art work at the festival and the practice of critical writing. There were also two printed publications produced as part of Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin. The PDF’s of these publications can be emailed to you on request to 

Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin programme: 

31 May, 10.30am - 5.30pm Writers’ Workshop
2 June, 2.30pm -5.30pm Writers’ Meeting
5 June, 5pm -7pm Peer Critique
7 June, 5pm -7pm Live Review
7 June, Publication of Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin ‘issue 1’
12 June, 5pm -7pm Peer Critique
14 June, Publication of Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin ‘issue 2’
15 June, 11am - 1pm Plenary Session

7 June Open Dialogues: Live Review
The Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin Live Review was a showcase of, evaluation for and live critical response to Open Dialogues and New Life Berlin. Special guests included:
Martin Rosengaard and Sixten Kai Neilsen (Wooloo Productions)
Doreen Mende (General Public, Berlin)
Tatjana Fell and Lisa Glauer (Arttransponder, Berlin)
Anonymous Representative (30 Days in New Life Berlin)

The web archive:

The Writers:

The writers on Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin were Anga'aefonu Bain-Vete, Alfredo Cramerotti, Clare Carswell, Alexandria Clark, Mary Kate Connolly, Kathryn Fischer, Eleanor Hadley Kershaw, Christina Irrgang, 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 was facilitated by Rachel Lois Clapham and Mary Paterson, the Directors of Open Dialogues, with assistance from Christina Irrgang (Open Dialogues 
Associate, Berlin). 

All photographs courtesy Open Dialogues : New Life Berlin

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Performance Saga texts - online

Images: Peter Vittali, 'The Second Person' at Performance Saga Festival - Bone 11, Schlachthaus Theater, Friday 5th December 2008. Photograph (c) Martin Rindlisbacher

Read about last night's performances from Peter Vittali, Martha Rosler and Wagner-Feigl-Forschung.

Also, Thursday's performances from Carolee Schneeman, Gaspard Buma and Irene Laughlin & Jorge Manuel de Leon, and Wednesday's performances from Alison Knowles and Die Maulwerker.

(All We Need is) Radio Ga Ga

'Incommunicado FM'
Matt & Ross
Image courtesy the artists and Site Gallery.

Radio Ga Ga

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Performance Saga texts - online

Read about last night's performances from Carolee Schneeman, Gaspard Buma and Irene Laughlin & Jorge Manuel de Leon, and
Wednesday's performances from Alison Knowles and Die Maulwerker.

Images: 1)Alison Knowles at Performance Saga Festival - Bone 11, Schlachthaus Theater, Wednesday 3rd December 2008. Photograph (c) Martin Rindlisbacher

2)Drawing of the concert by Aliosn Knowles and Die Maulwerker, by Chris Regn.

Monday, 1 December 2008

'Upside Down', directed by Alessandra Fel, Camden People’s Theatre, Tuesday 25th November 2008

Image: Upside Down (c) Alessandra Fel

‘How did we get here?’ asks the male performer at the beginning of Upside Down, lying on the floor with a chair, as if he is sitting down but subject to an unnatural kind of gravity. ‘From the table’, replies his companion, a woman clutching a suitcase who is also prone on the ground, but looks as if she is flying. In the long pause between his question and her answer, the couple are suspended in emotional limbo, caught in static and displaced poses of the everyday. Behind them, the table also lies upturned on the floor; it does not offer much of a solution.

Thus begins a 16 minute journey into the demise of an ordinary couple, as explained through the physical tics and patterns of their daily routine. They kiss, they touch, they sleep, and their movements slip into a familiar mould. But the mould itself is slipping: what begin as tender moments of physical closeness dissolve inexorably into the strained symptoms of two strangers uneasy in shared space.

Without losing the fluidity of their cyclical routine, these two performers turn sparky flirtation into weary habit, into resentful physical reflex. When they say 'I love you' for the fourth or fifth time, the words have become meaningless and mechanical. A few minutes later, the couple are on the floor again, and the male performer asks, ‘How did we get here?’ Because of the flow of the performers’ movement, and the inevitability of the couple’s decline, the audience finds no satisfactory answer to this question, even when it arrives for a second time.

Image Upside Down (c) Alessandra Fel

Upside Down was extended for the performance at Camden People’s Theatre, as part of The ScenePool festival of theatre. In the extended part, the performers lift themselves out of the visual echo of the opening scene – the two questions ‘How did we get here’ originally stood at the beginning and end – and spin into a more personal journey for the male performer. This means that the seam is easy to spot – the moment when the symmetry of the piece is broken. But what Upside Down loses in symmetry it gains in a kind of legacy: the second part extends the fantasy lives of the individuals involved, building thematically on the dreams the couple repeat while they still function as a unit. At first the performers speak their private lives as they go through the motions of everyday- the man dreamt about his parents, he says, as he swings his briefcase and marches to work. But later they stop speaking, and their movements become more abstract; the man lifts his briefcase onto his back, as if to symbolize burden. Fantasy and reality merge as the piece progresses, and the couple's relationship becomes inscribed in their dreams as well as affected by them.

Weaving sparse and repetitive language into skilful physical theatre, Upside Down is a melancholy fairy tale with an unhappy ending. As its title suggests, it displaces gesture and space so that normal relations twist out of recognition. In doing so, it coils away from cliché, even if it is built from an old fashioned male/ female standard – the man is driven by pressure and work, the woman dreams of escape as she waits at home. But as a whole, the work is drafted in fluid choreography that defines the effects of a couple’s relationship without explaining its root cause. The result is a compelling momentum that pushes the performers from romance to break up, and defines the natural divergence of separate lives. Like all misery, this couple’s unhappiness seems prosaic, gradual, and destined to come.

Written by Mary Paterson

Upside Down is performed by Alessandra Fel and Miguel Oyarzun, with music by Robin Holloway.

Alessandra Fel

The ScenePool was at Camden People’s Theatre, Tue 25 Nov 08 - Sun 30 Nov 08

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Open Dialogues: Performance Saga, 3 – 6 December 2008

Open Dialogues: Performance Saga is a responsive writing project created for the "Performance Saga – BONE 11 Fesitval" in Bern, Switzerland, 3 - 6 December 2008.

Performance Saga - BONE 11 invites artists from different generations to respond to each other's work, and Open Dialogues: Performance Saga invites five writers to respond to these performances and associated discussions. Texts will be published in print and online, in English and German.

Read our writing online:, or look for the daily printed editions at Schlacthaus Theater.

Open Dialogues: Performance Saga is developed by Mary Paterson for Open Dialogues. Writers are: Mary Paterson (UK), Theron Schmidt (UK), Dagmar Reichert (CH), Chris Regn (CH) and Jana Ullman (CH). Translator: Almut Rembges (CH). Assisted by the graphic designer Nicole Boillat (CH)

Performance Saga Festival is curated by Katrin Grögel and Andrea Saemann, and organised in collaboration with Norbert Klassen, Peter Zumstein and Schlachthaus Theater Bern. Artists performing are: Alison Knowles (US), Irene Loughlin (CA)/Jorge Manuel de Leon (GT), Muda Mathis (CH), Die Maulwerker (DE), Sands Murray-Wassink (NL), Carolee Schneemann (US), Annie Sprinkle/Elizabeth Stephens (US), Peter Vittali (CH), Martha Rosler (US), et al.

Venue and tickets:
Schlachthaus Theater Bern, Rathausgasse 20/22, 3011 Bern, +41 31 312 96 47,

Performance Saga Festival also launches the publication of Performance Saga Interviews 06 - 08: Joan Jonas, Martha Rosler & Alison Knowles. The Performance Saga DVD Edition is a collection of interviews with 8 American and European women pioneers of performance art. The DVDs are published by edition fink - Verlag für zeitgenössische Kunst Zürich, and DVD 07: Martha Rosler includes an essay by Mary Paterson.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Vital; International Live artists of Chinese Descent

image; courtesy Chinese Arts Centre.

Chinese Arts Centre have just published Vital; International Live artists of Chinese descent. It is a collection of stories, ssays, reviews and pictures exploring Chinese live art with particular focus on the Vital International Chinese Live Art Festivals. The UK publication launch will be on 15 Feb 2009 at National Review of Live Art, Glasgow

This exciting new publication documents the two festivals through memories, interviews, essays, reviews and images which together form a comprehensive scrapbook of Chinese live art.

Contributors include artists such as Lee Wen, Becky Ip, Po Shui and Zhou Bin who ponder the issues surrounding the practise and nature of performance art. Their personal writings also look at the specific concerns of Chinese artists working in live art and scrutinise the need for the Vital festivals.

The individual artist responses are complimented by critical essays and reviews which contextualise the art practice within the wider cultural and political landscape. Reviews of the festivals come from live art writers Andrew Mitchelson and Rachel Lois Clapham. Artist and academic Lesley Sanderson and LA-based scholar Ming-Yuen Ma both look at the pertinent question of identity. Yang Zhi Chao's essay contextualises endurance performance work, Voon Pow Bartlett looks at the role of the audience while Yuen Yan examines the power and responsibility of the artists.

This mix of critical writing and personal artist responses is accompanied by stunning photography of the incredible performances of the festivals. The images capture moments from such performances as live art rebels JJ & Cai's unique take on the Monkey King legend, Marcus Young's very slow walk Pacific Avenue and He Chengyao's deeply moving hair auction performance at Vital 06.

Contributors include:

Lee Wen is an artist, political activist, festival curator and author whose work seeks to expose and question ideologies. He performed in Vital 07 and was a speaker at the Vital Bodies conference.

Zhou Bin is an artist living and working in Chengdu, China who has been working in live performance or action art since 1994. His processes often involve the using the limits of his body.

Rachel Lois Clapham was the Writing from Live Art writer who critiqued the Vital 07 performances and Vital Bodies conference.

Ming-Yuen S. Ma is a LA-based media artist, curator and theorist. For Vital, Ma presents two open letters to live artists Ma Liuming and He Chengyao.

Softcover, 205 x 205mm, 148pp
GBP 18.95
IBSN 978-0-9545440-6-5

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

In•dex•a•ble difference

Documenting Live is a Live Art Development Agency publication containing postcards, filmed interviews and DVD documentation on 13 UK artists whose live practice explores issues of identity and cultural difference. The publication also includes 2 filmed roundtable discussions on the subject of marking blackness, and an essay entitled ‘Performance Based Art and the Racialised Body’ by curator David A Bailey. Each part of this publication has a distinct role to play. The DVD artist interviews, performance documentation clips and postcards archive a selection of UK artists from the 1990s and 2000s who are engaged in making culturally diverse live art. The essay and the roundtable discussions both set out historical lineages and contextual ground of UK live art and culturally diverse arts practice. They also touch upon issues of identity politics and visibility in the contentious act of documenting difference, and the live.

Image: ‘Haroldinho’
Harold Offeh, 2003 / C-Print photograph of live Performance, Rio de Janiero, Brazil

The 13 DVD clips show extracts of the 13 featured artists’ work and frank to-camera interviews that clearly situate the artist, their bodies, and their ethnicities for the viewer. The interviews focus upon how and why the live is used in each artist’s work, and what it means to them. Malika Booker talks intriguingly, amongst other things, of her audience as lover, ‘unpredictable and different every time’. The live enables her to engage in this mutual act of love. Yara El Sherbini uses the live in order to implicate the viewer and enable her to match form and content (enacting a traditional Pub Quiz in Pub Quiz series, for instance) in her socially engaged work. Harold Offeh talks about performing his work in order to embody risk, confront the audience and turn the focus onto the public reception of his work. Each of the 13 artists articulates performance and the live not as a form, or genre, but as utility and strategy: a means to enact (not act or perform) thinking and engage audiences to very specific and different social, political and artistic ends. Combined, their work highlights the sheer malleability and breadth of live art in all its guises and highlights the diversity of styles, content and concerns within culturally specific or diverse practice.

The two roundtable discussions show just what is at stake for the two different generations of artists included in Documenting Live. From the 1990s artists’ debate we get a real sense of alienation and isolation. When they were establishing themselves in the late 1970s and 1980s, these artists felt separate from mainstream culture but also from their contemporaries, whose culturally diverse practices were not visible, networked or archived as such. Sonia Boyce talks of only being able to find tribal art and African masks in the library when she was at art college in the West Midlands. Only by happening upon exhibitions by Frieda Kahlo at the Whitechapel, Eddie Chambers and other members of the soon to be BLK Art Group in Wolverhampton City Art Gallery, did she meet like-minded people and feel able to put autobiography to use in her work. MotiRoti and David Medalla have similar tales which circle the emotional, socio-political and artistic impact of a lack of representation and documenting of difference. Given this earlier lack of infra-structure for culturally diverse artists and practice in the UK, it is a wonder that these artists managed to find their way, and each other, and that the rest is history at all.

Image: ‘A Piece of Work’
Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa, 2006 / Installation view, Camden Arts Centre, London, UK, as part of For One Night Only curated by Sonia Boyce / Photograph by Ben Roberts

In the younger artists’ discussion, there is a sense that the essential(ising) work concerning the inclusion of the racialised body in art has been done, and that these artists benefit from increased visibility and networks. But with this increased institutional brokerage of blackness comes the privilege of scepticism. These artists wrestled more with themselves, and their work, as being too over identified as culturally divergent or different. Robin Deacon talks of the pressures in being seen to make ‘black work.’ Offeh, El Sherbini and George Chakravarthi all discuss how their ethnicity is intrinsically politicised and stops other narratives being played out in the work. Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa incorporates these problematics of visibility into her work; ‘A Piece of Work’, 2006, for example, shows the artist installed behind a paper screen (with only her eyes and legs on show) in Camden Art Centre as visitors peruse surrounding paintings. Whereas, for Barby Asante, including herself in her live works such as ‘Wig Therapy’, 2001 is an acknowledgment that interacting with a black woman in British public places is still rare for a lot of people.

From these discussions it is clear just how archiving or documenting culturally diverse live art is an important but equally contentious act. Bailey touches on this contention from a theoretical stance in his essay when he says ‘visibility and positioning… of the black experience requires a critical framework that does not take for granted that it is all good.’ The critical framework Bailey is referring to is the writings of Paul Gilroy, Homi Bhabha and Pratibha Parmar, amongst others, whose postmodern thinking on the politics of difference represents a distinct shift away from confrontational modes concerning visibility and representation of Black identity. It was a shift which Stuart Hall (1992) clinched, by declaring ‘the end of the innocent notion of the essential Black subject’ Since then, these authors, and many other post colonial theorists, have done much to make the act of marking cultural difference and the representation of Blackness tantalisingly and indelibly fraught.

Image: ‘Whatever Happened to Colin Powell?’
Robin Deacon, 2006 / Photograph by Martin Clark, design by Robin Deacon

The specific act of documentation that Documenting Live completes becomes more loaded when twinned with live art and performance narratives. A year after Hall marked the ‘loss of innocence’ regarding the represention of Blackness, performance theorist Peggy Phelan voiced similar suspicion regarding visibility and the politics of the gaze. For Phelan (1993), the not seen or ‘the liminal’ was the only contingent, ethical subject position for marginalised people or the culturally different. The non-reproductive and ‘maniacally charged’ moment unique to performance, and performances’ subsequent disappearance, made the live a crucial factor in occupying this liminal state of cultural alterity. Any form of representation beyond this charged moment – whether in document, writing, photography or DVD – was, according to Phelan, borne of patriarchal, archival and commercial desires and was wounding to the ontology of performance. How then, within this combination of frameworks, to document cultural difference in live art?

Documenting Live answers this question by remaining difficult to locate, or liminal, with regards to these theoretical frameworks; it is self conscious about the problematics concerning the representation of blackness but at the same time openly performs a clear representational function. The readily accessible content of the interviews and postcards - full sized image on the front, artist’s biographies and written excerpts on the back - serve an all important promotional role for artists whose work, names and faces have hitherto remained relatively niche or missing from mainstream, commercial visual art fairs, magazines and galleries. The clear, broad chronological strokes of Bailey’s essay, grounded in practical examples, will be useful to relative newcomers to the combination of cultural difference and UK live art and performance practice. Combined, the DVD, essay and postcards can be easily assimilated into Higher Education, Libraries, Archives, Museums, used as teaching aid, visitor resource or research tool by professionals of all kinds.

This utility of Documenting Live is borne out of a practical recognition of the urgent need to complete past, present and future archaeology of culturally diverse live art practice; work that although hugely ‘productive’ remains relatively historically, institutionally, and commercially buried. The functionality is also in recognition of the plethora of specialist or academic treatises on post colonialism and performance; it is a deliberate move to filter these artists and their practice through funding, producing and teaching infrastructures on the ground level.

In this sense, Documenting Live is an important critical touchstone. It openly serves the pressing, practical and artistic needs of culturally diverse live art, but also demonstrates an acute self-awareness concerning the documenting of difference. In doing so, it renders the work accessible, ensuring that past, present and future (mis)readings of this practice might be possible, moreover indexeable, within contemporary culture.

Written by Rachel Lois Clapham

Hall, Stuart ‘New Ethnicities’. Originally published in Ten 8, ‘Black Experiences’ special issue, vol. 2, 1992. Reprinted in Stuart Hall: Critical Dialogues in Cultural Studies, edited by David Morley and Kuan-Hsing Chen, 441-449. New York: Routledge, 1996

Phelan, Peggy. 1993. ‘The ontology of performance: representation without reproduction’ in Unmarked: The Politics of performance, Routledge: London and New York.

Documenting Live is produced by the Live Art Development Agency, the Curator is David A Bailey the Project Director is Rajni Shah. Artists: Barby Asante, Ansuman Biswas, Malika Booker, Sonia Boyce, George Chakravarthi, Robin Deacon, Yara El-Sherbini, Harminder Singh Judge, Keith Khan, David Medalla, Harold Offeh, Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa, and Ali Zaidi. Available to buy online at

This text was originally written for
Culture Wars
and is reproduced here with permission.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Open Dialogues in ‘Without You it’s Nothing’ at Deptford X

Image; Spencer Tunick 2002, courtesy the artist and Deptford X.

‘Without You it’s Nothing’ at the 2008 Deptford X Festival, 11th October 2008, Creekside, London

In ‘Without You it’s Nothing’ the audience are invited to observe, participate and affect the process as participating artists strive to allocate, divide and give a cultural value to an exhibition fund of £500. Artists have all been invited to pitch for a handful of the money in order to realise an act independent of Deptford X. These moments are to be played out in the following days, creating their own subsequent events.

The panel aims to support the artists’ proposals, discuss merits of the pitches, explore parameters and award some cash. The members of the panel are in flux; they can change at any point of the day. We invite people visiting the exhibition to propose an idea, artwork or act in return for remuneration. Without You It’s Nothing does not attempt to steal the moment, but to capture the performance of the pitch and to ask if this instance is enough?

As a critical response to Without you It’s Nothing Rachel Lois, as Open Dialogues, approached the judging panel and pitched for £150 in order to develop a piece of critical writing on Without You It’s Nothing entitled Without you It’s Nothing*. The pitch performed the as yet unwritten text, outlining content, critical approach and the relationship of the writing to the other artworks in the show. An excerpt from the pitch:

“Without you It’s Nothing* is sympathetic to the latent state of the work in today’s exhibition, and aware of its own complicity in the show. Without You it’s Nothing* takes a speculative approach to what will come after today; who gets the money, if any of the work does get carried out, and by whom. The absence of work, and any attendant fictions and non-fictions, are treated equally seriously in the text.

The title Without You it’s Nothing* refers to today’s exhibition of the same name, and the artists here today, but also to its prospective readers, without whom the text would not exist as it does”

Rachel Lois initially priced the text at £150 excluding design, production and print publication. The proposal was awarded £15 on the condition that the monies would be used to pitch the text to an arts magazine or journal. The text remains unpublished.

Without You Its Nothing was presented by Collecting Live Art, curated by Laura Eldret and Paul Mart as part of the Deptford X arts festival 2008.

Ryoji Ikeda in Paris, Autumn 2008

Image: Ryoji Ikeda – data.tron
Photo: Kazuo Fukunaga (courtesy of Yamaguchi Center of Arts and Media)

There are some newly commissioned, large scale pieces by artist composer Ryoji Ikeda in Paris later this month. They look really interesting if you are in Paris for it let us know.

Ryoji Ikeda is an internationally acclaimed composer and artist who creates highly technologised installations that play with human perception. His concerts, installations and recordings integrate sound, acoustics and sublime imagery derived from pure mathematics and real-world data. Accompanied by video and graphics projected at cinematic scale in his concerts, Ikeda's compositions achieve synaesthetic effects as sound and image become almost indistinguishable, provoking an intensely physical experience.

Commissioned by the City of Paris, Ikeda's major new work spectra [paris] for Nuit Blanche, the City's annual 'white night' all-night contemporary arts festival, sees blinding white light beamed from scores of highly powered architectural lamps on the same plaza as Tour Montparnasse. Visitors' movements create a unique symphony of ultra pure sine soundwaves as they pass through the grid of white light. Nuit Blanche 2008 is directed by Herve Chandès and Ronald Chammah and presents over fifty projects in and around the stations and monuments of central Paris.

spectra [paris] precedes V≠L, Ikeda's first major solo exhibition in France, with three new works commissioned by Le Laboratoire in partnership with Festival d'Automne. Le Laboratoire is a new space dedicated to artist / scientist collaboration founded by Harvard Professor of ArtScience Innovation, David Edwards. These new works have evolved from Ikeda's close association with the Harvard mathematician and number theorist Benedict Gross.
At the Centre Pompidou in November, Ikeda performs datamatics [ver 2.0]. A full-length audiovisual concert using pure data as a source for sound and visuals, datamatics [ver 2.0] was originally co-commissioned by AV Festival 06, ZeroOne San Jose & ISEA 2006, co–produced by les Spectacles Vivants, Centre Pompidou and YCAM, and supported by Recombinant Media Labs.

"datamatics showed Ikeda at the height of his powers, building on his own unique and unmistakable artistic language." – The Wire, 2006

In December at the Grand Palais, he presents data.tron, an audiovisual installation in which every single pixel of video image is strictly calculated by mathematical principle and projected on a vast scale. data.tron was co-produced by Le Fresnoy and Forma. The installation forms a centrepiece of Dans la nuit, des Images, a group exhibition organised for the French presidency of the European Union and in celebration of the 10th anniversary of Le Fresnoy-Studio National des arts contemporains.

Ryoji Ikeda is represented by Forma.
Forma is supported by the English Arts Council.
spectra [paris] at Nuit Blanche, 4 –5 October 2008, 7 pm – 7 am
Place du 18 juin 1940, 75014 Paris

V≠L at Le Laboratoire, 11 October 2008 – 12 January 2009
Presented by Le Laboratoire in partnership with Festival d'Automne
4, rue du Bouloi, 75001 Paris

datamatics [ver.2.0] at Centre Pompidou, 21 – 22 November 2008, 8.30 pm
Co-presented by Les Spectacles Vivants-Centre Pompidou and Festival d'Automne
Place Georges Pompidou, 75004 Paris

data.tron at Grand Palais, 18 – 31 December 2008
Presented by Le Fresnoy-Studio National des arts contemporains
Avenue Winston Churchill, 75008 Paris

Performance at London’s West End Galleries: All The Best

Image; Jiri Kovanda 'XXX Pressing myself as close as I can to the wall, I make my way around the whole room; There are people in the middle of the room, watching... November 26, 1977 Hradec Kralove' 1977, B&W photograph with text on paper, courtesy the artist, gb agency, Paris and Krobath Wimmer, Vienna

Open Dialogues continues to let you know when we think something interesting pops up in the world of time based, participatory and live art. This one night programme of actions ‘All The Best’ will coincide with a group of gallery openings in West End’s Fitzrovia (Alison Jacques, Pilar Correas, etc). There is a lot of new work by some interesting artists. See you there?


Gallery one one one - 111 Great Tichfield Street - W1W 6RY London
Thursday 16 October: 6.30 - 20.00

Gallery one one one/David Roberts Art Foundation is pleased to present an evening of actions and performances by internationally renowned artists Jiri Kovanda, Dora Garcia, Benoit Maire and Nina Beier and Marie Lund. The event, organised in collaboration with the Czech Centre, London, coincides with Beier and Lund's exhibition All the Best at Gallery one one one/David Roberts Art Foundation and major other events and openings in Fitzrovia.

All the Best is an evolving project by Danish artists Nina Beier and Marie Lund. Responding to the invitation of a solo exhibition, they decided to enter into a dialogue with other artists, asking them to swap their exhibited works for their own. All The Best is a solo exhibition gradually turning into a group show featuring Johanna Billing, Aurélien Froment, Dora Garcia, Cecilie Gravesen, Jacob Dahl Jürgensen, Chosil Kil, Jiri Kovanda, Benoît Maire, Simon Dybbroe Møller, Roman Ondak, Mario Garcia Torres and graphic design group Åbäke.

'As a response to the solo exhibition of our work at Gallery one one one/David Roberts Art Foundation, we have invited artists that we feel related to, know and have shown with before to replace each of our works over the course of the exhibition. By picking up on these relations built over time with people we have previously been put in context with, we wish to operate from within the structure of the group exhibition and open up for a collective process in the forming of the show.

Adapting to the format of the exhibition put together by curator Vincent Honoré, placing the new work in the same spot, on the same plinths, nails etc, the final group show will carry the traces of the first show. All decisions will be taken locally relating to the exchange of each piece and it will be assembled from the inside without regard for the overall. This way the final group exhibition will not end up as a full curatorial rendition of the initial solo exhibition, but rather as a series of discussions. Through this rough translation we seek to take the focus to the intentions behind, not just the curation, but also each work presented.' Nina Beier and Marie Lund

Monday, 22 September 2008

The Open Dialogues Associate Blog Commissions

Image: Open Dialogues

We are pleased to announce a programme of associate commissions for the Open Dialogues blog.

The Open Dialogues Blog is where Open Dialogues post reviews, essays and interviews relating to the practice of critical writing and contemporary live art. The blog also hosts announcements on Open Dialogues’ projects as well as news items from the world of live, collaborative, body based and new media work. Providing quality editorial content on live art, the Open Dialogues blog has a growing readership which includes live art commissioning organisations, artists, writers and producers in the UK and internationally.

The Open Dialogues Associate commission is a curated programme that invites new and existing writers to publish on the Open Dialogues blog. There will be approximately 8 Associate texts a year, commissioned from the existing Open Dialogues network including UK and international writers, producers, curators and artists. These texts will be in addition to the regular live art related news, announcements and critical writing currently posted by Open Dialogues.

The Associate commissions will focus specifically on contemporary time-based, new media and live work from emerging artists or artistic scenes, that are not already documented in text. It will also feature subjects or themes not previously written into contemporary debates on live art.

The inaugural Associate commission is by the vacuum cleaner collective, co-founder of the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination and founder of the very cooperative. The vacuum cleaner will be writing about their involvement at BLACKMARKET FOR USEFUL KNOWLEDGE AND NON- KNOWLEDGE No.11: ON WASTE at Liverpool’s Bluecoat Art Centre. The text will be forthcoming on the Open Dialogues blog in January 09.

Profiling new writers and the best in live art from the UK and internationally, the Open Dialogues blog is a comprehensive online location for quality critical writing on live art.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Limoncello - 'Confessions of a Critical Writer' - 29 September

Image: Open Dialogues

'Confessions of a Critical Writer' is a talk by Rachel Lois Clapham
and Mary Paterson as part of the Limoncello Punctuation Programme 29
September 7pm.

Limoncello's punctuation programme is a series of lectures,performances and events held between gallery exhibitions. The programme offers the gallery artists and the people around them a site to try out ideas. If as JG Ballard has claimed, short stories are the loose change of the literary world, then the punctuation programme events are 'looking after the pennies', although in a non-fiscal way as they are non-commercially viable work within a commercial context.

Open Dialogues works on the premise that artists and people who write about art belong to the same social and professional networks, share the same interests and have common goals. Acknowledging this context,Open Dialogues asks how critical writing can develop as a practice today. How can writers be critical?

For this talk, Open Dialogues will discuss a research focus concerning a new model of critical writing by using personal experiences or 'confessions' as case studies.

This event is a follow-up to Mary Paterson, Rachel Lois Clapham and Rebecca May Marston’s ‘Writing Live’ programme during Performa 07, which was kindly supported by Arts Council England.

For more details see

Monday, 8 September 2008

New Writing Collective Yorkshire

Charlotte Morgan and Joanna Loveday were recently in Berlin participating in Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin at the New Life Berlin Festival. Since returning they have initiated the New Writing Collective Yorkshire in response to a lack of accessible critical writing on contemporary new media and live work in the Yorkshire region and the perceived need for improved performance writer networks in their area.


Yorkshire based regional writers for contemporary art and performance, Joanna Loveday and Charlotte Morgan, would like to invite fellow regional critical writers to join them at the first meeting of a 'new writing collective'. If you are a writer of art/theatre columns, reviews, essays or cultural commentator on performance, film, new media, installations, Live Art and contemporary exhibitions then we want to hear from you! This is the first of hopefully many meetings, where the collective can share information, offer writing support and potentially offer a space for publication.

Through opening up this new dialogue, the collective hopes to build new connections throughout the region between writers, share local knowledge of the contemporary art and performance regional programming, and become a strong collective who can encourage new writing and new networking opportunities across the regions.

First Meeting: Wednesday 10th September, Reliance Bar, Leeds 8pm

Aims of the meeting:
• Introductions - getting to know fellow writers, sharing brief biogs

• Yorkshire Focus - looking at the region, covering the geographical areas and homelands of the writers present. Sharing knowledge of current curators, venues and artistic programmes and whether they are reviewed or written about at present.

• Publications -discussion of all known regional (and if appropriate national) publications, including zines, journals, newspapers, websites and newsletters.

This will be an informal meeting over drinks, starting at 8pm in Reliance bar Leeds, and is a great opportunity to meet new people with a shared interest, talk, have fun and hopefully build something new together. For more information on how to find Reliance see their website:

For more information about the New Writing Collective Yorkshire, please email Joanna at: If you would like to add a topic to the agenda for discussion or talk to us beforehand, please do email.

We welcome all writers, curators, artists, editors and programmers to this first meeting, if you have an interest in new writing, we hope to see you there!

Friday, 5 September 2008

Critical Communities

Image, courtesy Writing Encounters, York.

Writing Encounters (York St John University 11-14 Sept) is an international symposium curated by Claire Hind and Claire MacDonald, for writing artists, researchers, curators, producers and teachers who have an interest in the encounter between art, writing and performance, as well as the way in which writing's forms are currently changing in response to new technologies and social networks. The conference line up includes artists Barbara Campbell (1001 nights) and Lone Twin, Material (Simon Morris and Nick Thurston), Maria Fusco (Director, MFA Art Writing Goldsmiths College), Open Dialogues as well as many others involved in the related fields of performance and writing. More details can be found at the conference website

At Writing Encounters Open Dialogues and New Work Network will host 'Critical Communities' a roundtable discussion for all delegates that asks; what kind of encounters do artists and writers have? What relationships do existing structures enable writers and artists to have? What is produced in these encounters? How can such critical relationships be safeguarded within artistic communities?

If you are planning to attend the Writing Encounters conference, we hope you will make a contribution to Critical Communities in person. Let us know in advance if you are attending then we can shape the event accordingly.

There is also the opportunity for you to engage in the debate before, during and after the conference via the New Work Network online forum. Whether you are an artist, writer, critic, curator or publisher ‘Critical Communities’is the place to contribute your thoughts, responses and personal experiences about your relationship to critical writing. What is at stake when critical writing takes new work as its subject and object? What do you think happens or is produced when new work artists and writers come together? How can the related act of making new work and writing about it be re-configured? Can we - artists and writers of new work - change the way we work together?

We look forward to your contributions, either online or in York- or both.

Writing Encounters Conference website

Critical Communities online forum

Open Dialogues

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Responsible Criticism

Image: Open Dialogues. Design Jeremy Betchel.

This is a letter, forthcoming in AN Magazine September 2008, in response to Lara Farrar’s article Arts Criticism in Crisis

The recent debate on arts criticism in A-N Magazine July/August 2008 by Lara Farrar brought two very different types of arts criticism clearly into view. One is a mainstream, conservative mode of printed criticism, sanctioned by editors and written by authorised purveyors of taste who comment on, but remain distinct from, culture and their reading public. Farrar cites the advocates of this traditional form of criticism as Harold Hobson, Kenneth Tynan and Brian Sewell. In contrast, Farrar says, the other mode of criticism is manifested online. It is immediate, self- published criticism, written by people both educated in art history and those who aren’t, and beamed out globally to millions of potentially unknown readers. Farrar typifies this new type of criticism as the unedited online critical writing platform: An Interface, and my own work as a blogger who, as part of Open Dialogues, writes online and in real time during biennales and festivals. Farrars’ polarising of the debate - setting Brian Sewell as the traditionalist against myself as a blogger – is a useful outline but does oversimplify what is at stake in today’s arts criticism and its perceived crisis.

Farrar’s debate focuses on the impact of blogging and new media upon traditional arts criticism, and cites it as symptomatic of the current state of crisis in arts criticism. But new media- as Farrar knows - is not the underlying cause of criticisms’ troubles. The internet medium merely crystallises the crisis. It manifests the difference in responsibility, subject position and relationship to reader between emerging forms of criticism, or critical writing, and the traditional. In turn the internet brings to light the latent ideologies that are at work within both modes.

The practice of art criticism grew on Enlightment ideals, including the Kantian notion that the critic’s definitive and elevated subjectivity claims assent for all his/ her readers, and a belief in immanent meaning, universal reason and public consensus. In this model, which Jurgen Habarmas has described as the ‘bourgeois public sphere’, the critic is a kind of specialised everyman: he delivers meaning to people just like himself.

Blogging puts pressure on this enlightenment mode. It embodies a threat to such a bourgeois public sphere, and reveals it to be a closed, hierarchical space in which certain people endowed with extra ordinary critical senses write for the benefit of the un-educated masses; in practise these extraordinary senses are learnt and conditioned, and the masses stay homogenised and un-educated only in relation to the critic’s self-defined prowess.

In contrast, Blogging is mass communication based upon distinctly individuated critical reception, similar to the models of TV and Radio. It destroys the possibility of a reified public sphere. The variety of divergent content that the blogosphere allows disturbs the eighteenth century notion of a reasoned public consensus of opinion.With blogs, people can now shape their own critical encounter with art or at least choose how and by whom they wish to be ‘educated’. Moreover, they can publicly answer back within this online encounter instead of being rendered passive receptors or mere consumers of received logic.

As Farrar cites, Brian Sewell, Dr Ronan McDonald of University of Reading and the critic David Lee of The Jackdaw bemoan the uniformity and commodification of culture that ensues from the blogosphere’s eschewal of reified art ‘experts’ and the critics’ lack of authority over public opinion. But what they are really mourning is the loss of Enlightenment ideals that say that meaning can only be defined by specialists who bestow the benefits of their education on their peers.

In fact, the methodology of contemporary critical writing, which acknowledges the power of the individual, is not completely at odds with the discursive aims of traditional criticism like Sewell’s, which assumes that (educated) individuals will share an opinion. Nor is blogging a non-hierarchical, non critical pool of different but equal subjectivities. Hierarchy of voice remains online. But the autonomy and authority of the critic, and the attendant ethics of that particular subject position, is something a contemporary critical writer wrestles with in text, rather than cloaks in the myth of critical distance and transcendent meaning. Contemporary critical writing is an attempt to move away from criticism, beyond the knowing cynicism of critique, towards the critical; a more self aware and responsible mode in which meaning is indebted to the performative, and the writer and the writing are equally at stake as the subjects under discussion.

This focus on agency, contingency and the heightened sense of responsibility – towards subject, writer, writing and reader – results in a grey area compared to the judicial verdicts passed down to us by traditional, mainstream arts critics. But negotiating the safe passage of criticality in between the thorny aspects of authority, judgement and logocentrism is both the danger and the joy of contemporary critical writing.

Rachel Lois Clapham

Monday, 28 July 2008

Dinner with America

This article originally appeared on and is reproduced with permission.

‘Dinner with America’ by Rajni Shah, Pinter Building, Queen Mary University, London; March 29th 2008.

Image: Rajni Shah (c) Manuel Vason

Come and have dinner with America. Over the course of Rajni Shah’s durational performance, you are invited to witness American icons and ideals slip into one another, to hear Americans define their own patriotism, and to feast on the literal and intellectual fruits of this labour. Here, America is a bride in a shimmering white veil, a blonde 50s starlet, and a glamour model in Wonder Woman boots. America is the Statue of Liberty, Amazing Grace and Red, White and Blue. America is a series of symbols, a soundtrack of anonymous voices and a supporting cast of silent figures dressed in white.

Appearing as different types of all-American-gal (bride, starlet, model), and singing the chorus to ‘Amazing Grace’ Shah represents an idea of America. At times, the idea stands for liberties and freedoms – Shah repeatedly holds one arm above her head, like the Statue of Liberty. At others, this America is a land of exclusions and divisions. Recorded interviews with Americans play overhead, and one voice begins by staking her position as a ‘privileged white woman’, aware that her country holds different experiences for different groups of people. Each speaker’s reality collides with the American dream, which is rolled over Shah’s body in a repeated repertoire of gestures and moves. And Shah’s body also shows the strain: she gets tired; her voice wavers; her limbs begin to shake. Being America, it seems, is a difficult job.

It’s usually easiest to define things by what they are not, and these strains and exceptions are testament to an America beyond its own ideal. But it’s also the American dream that gives these doubts meaning. Silhouetted against the accessories of American patriotism (which comes with a flag, a constitution and an advertising industry), the shape of real life is defined by these ideals at the same time as it contests them. Melting between different symbols and their effects, in fact, Dinner with America does not hold each element of its America up for inspection, but suggests the ways that disparate parts congeal over time. Most noticeably, Shah traces a line from the mythological power of American ‘freedom’ – a story told so often that it seems like it’s true – to the consumer power that drives American society. As a beautiful woman with flowing blonde hair and shiny red lips, she stands for that elusive something that we all want to own – a role she acknowledges with a series of alluring poses lifted from every ad campaign you’ve ever seen. Moving between Statue of Liberty and Glamour Girl, Shah’s Miss America joins the dots between an individual’s right to freedom and an individualistic drive to consume. They are two manifestations of the same American liberty, and each idea provides the template for the other, just as, on the template of Shah’s body, each gesture dissolves inexorably into the next.

The fuel for both this individualism-for-liberty and individualism-for-consumption is neither liberty, nor capitalism – nor even a shabby looking American dream. Instead, it’s desire. Dinner with America vibrates with the anticipation of things to change, things to improve. Two women in white sweep and resweep boundaries of earth around the audience’s feet, with quiet industry but no clear logic; and Shah sheds her layers of costume at the sliding pace of the inevitable. It is this desire for change that feeds the myths of freedom and consumption – we desire more, we desire better. And it’s the desire for change that means today’s shortcomings can be overlooked. American life waits on the actors of tomorrow, and Shah’s female icons distil the American dream. Like a beautiful woman, America is a wonderful idea; it stays that way because it is always out of reach.

The momentum of change is also what turns the needs of the individual into something like a shared experience. When Shah has left the stage, the audience moves close together to watch a film projected onto a pile of earth. It is an intimate moment, and the flickering black and white film plays out like an old silent movie. As well as footage of preparations for the show, the film shows women passing earth to one another, gestures repeated by Shah and her helpers in real time as the film plays. These images are interspersed with prompts for what’s happening next – ‘The Feast is coming!’ Altogether, the film ushers the audience into a shared past (the nostalgia of the movie’s style, details of the labour that has brought us together), and it leads us into a shared future (the upcoming meal). What comes before melts into what is yet to come, so that the here and now has to take us there. This is how national identity is born. And this is how a community of America rises from the detritus of its symbols, however tarnished by testimonies (oral and physical) of real material conditions.

Dinner with America effects a poignant reconciliation between ideal and reality, by conscripting the audience into the promise of a shared future. But who is this America for, and who is recruited into the American project? By the time the film is shown, we have seen Shah stripped naked. She has removed her glamorous clothes, taken off her wig and peeled off the mask that turned her brown skin white. She has also been subject to the unforgiving scrutiny of light that is all red, then light that is all white, then light that is all blue – exposed as an impostor beneath the metaphoric gaze of the American flag. The performance I saw, moreover, was to a British audience in a London university; and Rajni Shah is British herself. It’s tempting to say that it’s American cultural imperialism that makes us all so interested in a country far away and from which we are excluded. But it is also the extraordinary effectiveness of America’s cultural message. Built on desire, the idea of America must always project the dreams of the people at hand – even if they step out of costume with a shaven head and dark skin. The American dream is only a dream of America – it is etched by the people who see it, and it belongs to anyone that looks.

And yet the real collective moment in Dinner with America comes with the feast itself. Here, food and thoughts are served up in equal measure – you’re encouraged to take a topic for discussion at the same time as a piece of fruit. But Shah’s model of communal feasting is very different to the cultural production of America we have all just witnessed. Up to now, ‘America’ has been a chimera of unfulfilled desire, which means it doesn’t have to define its goals. In contrast, Shah’s feast invites the audience to sate its desire – for food and for conversation – and marks the end of a shared event. If Shah’s America uses the rhetoric of the individual to dangle a united future just out of reach, Shah’s feast uses the rhetoric of a community to harvest different reactions to a past (the performance) that we all know: it turns the ideology of America inside out. Is this a new model for the land of dreams? It’s hard to tell, because one similarity remains – just like the idea of America, the content of the feast is up to you.

Mary Paterson

Original article
Rajni Shah

If you want to reproduce this article please contact and

Monday, 21 July 2008

One or Two Things: Part Two

Claire Fontaine: Get Lost, South London Gallery, Saturday 28 June 7-9 pm

Get Lost, Claire Fontaine, courtesy the artist, Air de Paris & Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris

The main gallery of the SLG is blacked out. Two monitors on opposite sides of the space flash intermittently with stills of tanned and glamorous fashion models with 1980’s hairdo’s - women on one screen and men on another. The two screens emit a dull flickering light by which the audience sees to move around. In the darkness, performers Douglas Park and Diletta Mansella are in no way distinguishable from anyone else. They are dressed casually in dark clothing and move slowly in amongst the audience. As they move they repeat the phrase “I did love you once” into handheld microphones. The sounds of these amplified declarations of one-time love mingle closely with the voices of the visitors, who are scattered around the space chatting freely. There is no apparent pattern as to who these two are engaged with or why. At times, they make seemingly sincere and lingering eye contact with the assembled strangers, clearly addressing their ‘I did love you once’, to individual visitors. At other times, they can be spotted in the darkness, standing in an empty corner at the far side of the gallery pledging their ‘I did love you once’ to a blank wall. Meanwhile, outside in the foyer, the video ‘Where are We’ (2004) screens Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson’s infamous ‘honeymoon’ home-movie that leaked onto the internet in 1998. The video’s visuals are blacked out, leaving only a blank screen with graphic subtitles and audio. With this, visitors are left to imagine what is clearly Lee and Anderson filming their own drug fuelled, porn style, nuptials in a moving car.

This is Get Lost by Claire Fontaine. The work is an examination of contemporary desire and liberal love within the context of capitalism; as such it is an exercise in intimacy feigned and at once rejected. The Shakespearean phrase ‘I did love you once’ is itself a complex rumination on love taken from Hamlet Act 3, Scene 1, who then later in the same act seemingly revokes his declaration of love with ‘I loved you not’. But the real clue to the complex negation the work manifests is in its title: Get Lost simultaneously pulls its audience in only to push them away. The immersive environment, direct interactions and love utterings are engaging. But the monotony of the repeated phrase serves to distort meaning, leaving a hollow and insincere aftertaste. The empty gaze of the polished and perfectly re-touched fashion models on the monitor screens, further reinforce that Get Lost is a surface interaction on display. Add to this the apparent arbitrariness of Park and Mansella’s interactions - they could equally love you or the wall- and we are left in no doubt as to the intended in/sincerity of Get Lost. In short, what is created is a false intimacy, closeness or love made into public spectacle and amplified out to a paying crowd.

Looking through the lens of capitalism, spectacle and fashion, Claire Fontaine defines contemporary liberal love as commercialised, moreover contrary, fickle and empty. However, the work in Get Lost maintains a tantalisingly ambiguous position towards this shallowness. In presenting what is essentially a non-screening of Anderson and Lee’s sexual exploits ‘Where we Are’ leaves space for an alternate narrative to emerge; one that is not a banal critique of Western love in the form of a carnal, plastic Pammy and rock star Tommy Lee. The question that arises from between the blank screen and the subtitles is, bourgeois idealism, hepatitis infection, divorce and abuse allegations aside, who can say that Pammy and Tommy Lee’s is not a genuinely contemporary model of true love? Folding such critical questions back into the material of the work – both in the performance and the video - is how Get Lost teeters on the brink of critique.

In the same way love in Get Lost is performed as both simulated and real, so too Claire Fontaine herself can be seen to be a contradiction. Despite being described as singular and female in literature, Claire Fontaine is not a woman, nor is she a person; she is a Paris based collective founded in 2004 who describes herself as ‘a readymade artist born out of the standardisation of identities produced by contemporary capitalism’ . Claire Fontaine then, is a brand - an artistic pseudonym; she is the sum of an unknown number of anonymous parts whose collective anonymity is an attempt to embody the crisis of the singular - including singular artistic genius - and to critique sovereignty, production and commercialism in the art world.

Claire’s overt sloganeering on capitalism might be off-putting and heavy handed, thus leading to Get Lost being considered as banal agit-prop, but underneath the work itself manages to maintain its moral ambiguity and light touch. Conversely, Claire’s strategy of collective anonymity, instead of serving as an embodiment of anti-capitalistic endeavour, actually increases the possibility of artistic production, participation and networks. The ongoing commodification of these artistic and cultural elements affords Claire the opportunity to capitalise on the same art world commercialism she purportedly rallies against. Claire’s artist biography testifies to her success; it includes a string of shows in private, commercial galleries. Clearly, Claire Fontaine does not feel the need to be a poor artist struggling in her garret. This complicity with capitalism, when added with the subtle complexities of Get Lost as a piece of work, makes the artist’s bald political rhetoric read as all too knowing - and as such, empty, cynical and deviant on an entirely different level.

It is this inherent contradiction, the push and pull between sincerity and rhetoric, and the interesting grey area in between - that is at the heart of Get Lost. The work is contrived and a prick tease; it attracts and repels simultaneously, its intentions are equally in/sincere and not. Nevertheless, the underlying point is that genuineness and authenticity are of no consequence in this liberal model of love, since they can never be distinguished from simulation, appropriation or mere performance, nor should they be. The fun is in the flirtation and the chase, and to embrace Get Lost without reservation is to be gloriously cuckolded.

Rachel Lois Clapham

Please only reproduce this text with permission from the author and Open Dialogues,

One or Two Things: Part One

Gail Pickering, 'Mad Masters', South London Gallery. 26 June 2008, 7 pm

Gail Pickering, 'Mad Masters', 2008, performance view, South London Gallery

The vast exhibition space of the South London Gallery was filled, for Gail Pickering’s ‘Mad Masters’, with large plywood structures draped in coloured material. Between and out of these strange shapes, young female dancers moved with a kind of exaggerated clumsiness, in distorted versions of military routines – like a march or a salute. They were accompanied by an energetic percussion, played on a range of instruments including cow bells and a violin bow, by the musician David Aylward; they were also accompanied by a young American woman who sat on top of the tallest plywood structure, and read a story.

I can’t tell you what the story was about, because the performance itself was so overwhelming that ‘Mad Masters’ seemed both greater than the sum of its parts, and weaker than them. It was an exhilarating explosion of sensory effects, in other words, that nevertheless rendered each effect impossible to understand.

This is partly because each element in Mad Masters had been abstracted from the world. The material draped over plywood, for example, suggested the structures were flag poles, or sailing ships, or ceremonial buildings; in the end, they were none of these things. Sufficiently formless to become simply forms, the structures were just physical obstacles in the dancers’ way. Likewise, the music was like nothing I have heard before – a syncopated disharmony that was both compelling and unrhythmic. The dancers moved in irregular patterns that were impossible to pin down, and even the narrative was incomprehensible. The narrator sat far away from the other performers and spoke in a monotonous, US drawl. In the context of this reduced and distorted reality, her words floated above the action, and remained untethered to what was happening below.

Gail Pickering, 'Mad Masters', 2008, performance view, South London Gallery

And yet, amid this confusion there was a strong sense of purpose. In keeping with its title, the constituent elements of ‘Mad Masters’ seemed to comply with a logic that was both external to the performance itself, and impossible to ascertain from watching it. The wooden structures were complex and looked like they were difficult to build, even if their function was unknown. The dancers, moving with severe precision and blank faces, looked like puppets controlled by hands we could not see

In Pickering’s current solo show at Gasworks (12 June - 27 July 2008), two video pieces also explore the implications of a common – and perhaps arbitrary – purpose. In‘Hungary! And Other Economies’ (2006) a group of porn stars is transported around rural France, dressed in geometric costumes and reading passages from a play about the Marquis de Sade. It is never clear whether or not the actors’ flirtations with each other are for show, which of their words are their own, or indeed why they have been instructed with this strange accumulation of tasks in the first place. Similarly, at the start of ‘Dissident Sunset’ (2007) a gathering of would-be revolutionaries searches for a movement to follow. ‘Like something to put on a T-Shirt?’, one of them suggests.

It is humour like this that gives the audience access to Pickering’s bewildering circus of effects. In ‘Dissident Sunset’ one-liners make the audience smile, in ‘Hungary!’ the actors’ laughter shatters the brittle incongruity of the tasks they perform, and in ‘Mad Masters’ the sheer exuberance of the percussion rippled through the audience as we stood in single file against the walls. The result is a kind of communal ‘punctum’ (to use Roland Barthes’ term), which pricks the bubble of individual allegiance, and joins the audience and the performers in a moment of cathartic unity.

The title for ‘Mad Masters’ in fact comes from an ethnographic documentary by the filmmaker Jean Rouch, who made ‘Les Maitres Fous’ in 1954. His film shows a Ghanaian ritual that was designed to exorcise the violence of colonialism, and Pickering’s piece was a restaging of this film. In other words, Pickering re-presented Rouch’s representation of a Ghanaian rite, which represents European invasion. This makes ‘Mad Masters’ a representation of performance itself, and of the echoes of performance performed ad infinitum. In this light, it’s not surprising that the purpose of the work was so distorted that it seemed arbitrary – purpose had become performance itself.

Energetically combined, the confusing and abstracted forms in ‘Mad Masters’ suggest that performance is more than a social ritual; it is a social need. The piece is one link in a chain of events, not concerned with the masters at the start of that chain but with the waves of influence that they set off. In this piece, as in other works by Pickering, the performers seem locked into a gesture of representation. They are compelled to perform, and exist only inside these layers of performance. Do they submit to this regime voluntarily, or is it the only way to survive? And is the audience really being drawn in through moments of cathartic release, or are we already involved? Perhaps those moments are our reward for compliance.

At the end of ‘Mad Masters’, nobody knew if the performance was over –the audience waited in silence to see if something else would go on. Normally when that happens it’s because the artwork lacks impact, but in this case it suggested the opposite. In the aftermath of this theatrical display, everything could have been part of the performance; everything, in other words, was twisted out of line with reality, as if performance was the only reality left. Personally, I was drawn into this half-sinister world. Like the revolutionaries in ‘Dissident Sunset’, we all need something to follow.

Mary Paterson

Please only reproduce this text with permission from the author and Open Dialogues,

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Live Art Almanac

The Live Art Almanac is a collection of 'found' writing about and around Live Art, recently published by the Live Art Development Agency.

In early 2006 an open call announced:

What articles have you read, what emails did you receive or forward to a friend, what blogs have you visited, what texts crossed your path? Did they engage you, amuse you, or make you rethink Live Art? If it caught your eye and had something interessting to say, then we want to know about it.

Over a hundred articles, reviews and interviews were submitted from sources that ranged from mainstream newspaper articles to text messages, and from these recommendations the Live Art Almanac was compiled.

Joanna Loveday, a Yorkshire based performance writer who participated in Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin, has written a comprehensive review of the Almanac. You can read Joanna’s review in its original location, on the Institute of Ideas online platform for debate and critical writing,

Live Art Almanac contributors: Tim Atack, Madeleine Bunting, Barbara Campbell, Simon Casson, Brian Catling, Rachel Lois Clapham, Helen Cole, Stephen Duncombe, Tim Etchells, Ed Caesar, David Gale, Lyn Gardner, Guillermo Gomez-Pena, Daniel Gosling, Leslie Hill, John Jordan, Nick Kimberley, Adam E Mendelsohn, Alex Needham, Sally O'Reilly, Mary Paterson, Will Pollard, Chris Riding, Nick Ridout, Ian Saville, Theron Schmidt, Rebecca Schneider, Rajni Shah, Mark Wilshire and John Wyver.

The Live Art Almanac is available to by at £5.00 (ex p&p) from Unbound, the Live Art Development Agency online store, or to read in the Live Art Development Agency Study Room -

Monday, 9 June 2008

The Open Dialogues Live Review was held on Saturday 7th June.

Open Dialogues: Live Review. 7th June 2008
Choriner Str, 85/ Berlin Mitte. Photo: Christina Irrgang
l - r: Doreen Mende, Martin Rosengaard, Rachel Lois Clapham, Mary Paterson

The Live Review came slap bang in the middle of Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin, which is a two-week writing programme taking place as part of the New Life Berlin festival of participatory art. Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin brings together 20 international writers to write about the festival on the project’s blog (, in self-generated, fast turnaround printed publications (‘Issue One’ was published on 7th June), and through a series of workshops, discussions and debates. For the past week, the writers have been swarming across the city - meeting artists, getting involved, becoming participants in artistic projects, and publishing their thoughts.

The Live Review was a public event and an attempt to discuss, evaluate and showcase the Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin model, and to ask some difficult questions about how critical writing works in relation to participatory art.

Guest speakers included Cartographer 1, from ‘30 Days of New Life Berlin’, a project that sets out to map the cultural life of Berlin; Tatjana Fell and Lisa Glauer from Arttransponder, a Berlin- based non-profit collaboration that supports artistic production that reflects on its broader context; Doreen Mende, speaking as one of the co-founders of General Public, a Berlin-based network of artists and arts professionals that organises irregular cultural events; and Martin Rosengaard and Sixten Kai Neilsen, who spoke on behalf of Wooloo Productions, the organisation behind New Life Berlin itself.

There was some heated debate about the definition of terms – What is a critic? What is an artist? What is the point of definition at all? – and questions about the power of the written word, the ethics of using national languages, and the role of criticism in relation to the practice and production of art.

There will be more room for my reflections later. But first., Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin writers will be airing their views on our New Life Berlin blog:

Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin programme
31st May, 10.30am – 5.30pm Writers’ Workshop
2nd June, 2.30pm – 5.30pm Writers’ Meeting
5th June, 5pm – 7pm Peer Critique
7th June, 5pm – 7pm Live Review
12th June, 5pm – 7pm Peer Critique
15th June, 11am - 1pm Plenary Session


Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin - First Report

Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin workshop, Berlin, 31 May 2008. Photo (c) Viviana Druga. Courtesy Wooloo Productions

New Life Berlin is a festival of participatory art taking place in Berlin from 1st – 15th June 2008, curated by Wooloo Productions.

Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin is a writing programme that aims to meet the challenges of writing about art that is live, participatory and transformative.

Over the course of the New Life Berlin festival, Open Dialogues has created a community of writers to develop a new model for critical writing, in relation to the festival’s three themes:
  • Transnational Communities
  • Artistic Social Responsibility
  • Participation and Intervention
We are pleased to report that 18 writers have joined Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin in Berlin, and three writers are joining us as 'distance participants' from abroad. The writers come from the UK, Europe, America and Australia, and the writers list in full is: Anga'aefonu Bain-Vete, Alfredo Cramerotti, Clare Carswell, Alexandria Clark, Mary Kate Connolly, Kathryn Fischer, Eleanor Hadley Kershaw, Christina Irrgang, 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.

You can read our writing on the project blog: If you're in Berlin, look out for our printed publication - Issue 1 is out on 7th June.

Open Dialogues: Live Review

Open Dialogues is holding a Live Review, also on 7th June. The event will be a showcase of, evaluation for and live critical response to Open Dialogues and New Life Berlin. Guests include:
We are also expecting lively debate from the Open Dialogues writers and New Life Berlin artists.

Venue: Choriner Strasse 85, 10119 Berlin
Time: 17h - 19h (followed by drinks)
Date: Saturday 7th June 2008