Unravelling Modern & Contemporary Art

Unravelling Modern & Contemporary Art: Performance & Live Art

Whitechapel Gallery & Bishopsgate Institute, London
Wednesdays 22, 29 February, 7, 14, 21, and Thursday 29 March, 6.30-8.30pm 2012

From the lecture stand to the cabaret, the gallery to the street – performance and live art maintains a slippery relationship with the institutional structures that define the visual art world. Disrupting the conditions that shape the display and preservation of the traditional art object, performance throws up innumerable challenges for both art professionals and audiences. How does art history deal with performance art from the 1960s to today? What does it mean to be the audience of performance? How does performance exist in and draw from other realms of contemporary culture such as television, music and film? Led by artist Joshua Sofaer and guest speakers Dee Heddon, David Gale and the vacuum cleaner.

The Sessions

1. Wednesday 22nd February: Introduction: Performance in the context of Fine Art with Joshua Sofaer
Artists who use performance in their work are not necessarily Performance Artists. Many cultural productions, from fashion shows to films, use performance as an element of the work rather than as the principal form. In this opening session we will consider examples of the use of performance in fine art, ranging from single screen video works, to live performances; from works that happen in theatres, to works made on the street.

2. Wednesday 29th February: Autobiography and Performance with Dee Heddon
In this session we will consider a broad overview of the key concepts pertaining to ‘autobiography’ in the field of performance, exploring notions of ‘truth’, ‘identity’, personal history and political agency, confession, voyeurism and ethics. What is the relationship between past and present in performance, given that the performing body is tangibly present in the here and now? What is the relationship between performance and authenticity?

3. Wednesday 7th March: Performance and Popular Culture with David Gale
Performance and Popular Culture with David Gale
Where does the performance end and real life begin? Are we living in an epoch where life imitates art? Reality television, 24 hour news, internet chatrooms, immersive computer games: everyday behaviour is being contaminated by theatrical values. New realities are formed through the practice of performance and new performances are generated in everyday life. In this session we will consider examples in both high art and popular culture where these boundaries have blurred.

4. Wednesday 14th March: Activism and Performance with the vacuum cleaner
As artists seek to engage urgently with social and environmental issues and to affect change through their practice, performance becomes a critical tool for direct action. Activist artists are employing various creative legal and illegal tactics with the mission to mock, disrupt and challenge concentrations of power. In this session we will look at recent work of artists and artist collectives, and explore the efficacy of performance in contesting the status quo.

5. Wednesday 21 March: The Audience of Performance with Joshua Sofaer
Across a range of artistic disciplines, artists are dealing with audiences in innovative and creative ways, placing the audience at the heart of their work. Contemporary culture is marked by the emancipation of the spectator and the transformation of the audience from passive recipient to active participant. In this session we will consider what is at stake for audiences today when they attend a live event.

6. Thursday 29 March: Performance Documentation and the Artwork (includes visit to Gillian Wearing exhibition) with Joshua Sofaer
Live and Performance art works are by their very nature temporal. They struggle to enter into the world of exchange capital in the art market. They do not accrue value. They cannot be sold on. There are exceptions to this general rule. Increasingly artists are documenting performance and that documentation becomes the work anew. Taking the works by Gillian Wearing exhibited at Whitechapel as a starting point, we will consider documentation as performance.

Guest Lecturers

Dee Heddon is Dean of Graduate Studies and Reader in Theatre, Film & Television at the University of Glasgow.
David Gale is a playwright, theatre director, journalist and university lecturer.
The vacuum cleaner is an art and activism collective of one fashioning radical social and ecological change.