Within the wide-ranging terrain or landscape that is socially-engaged performance practice, artists Tim, Gisele, Gillian, Sarah and Dani have five distinct practices. The Interactions programme brings them together to share their interests with each other, think through issues and discuss research arising in the field of socially-engaged performance practice.

They meet again next week, and go onto hold two Mini-Symposium’s in Sept and Oct on themes arising from these discussions (book now to secure your place).

Our next few posts will draw on the thinking and ideas being raised within these Peer to Peer sessions.

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Written by Gillian Dyson

I ‘Google’ “socially engaged performance”. Several HE courses come up: an Amazon book link; research papers:

Helguera, Pablo (2011): ‘Education for Socially Engaged Art’ Accessed (2014)

Hull, Hannah. ‘The Scales of Socially-Engaged Practice: Towards a Shared Language.’ Accessed (2014)

Horwitz, Andy (2012) ‘On Social Practice and Performance’ Accessed (2014)

Reflecting on conversations I have had this week with other solo performance artists I wonder what I/ we mean/ intend by title-ing ourselves ‘socially engaged’?

I also consider that the prefixing of ‘socially engaged’ to ‘art/ performance’ etc. perhaps undervalues the intrinsic nature and rigor of the practice in the first instance. The term does not refer to the process of making the work/ performance. Instead it focuses on the relational concern.

What indeed would a live practitioner be if they were not engaged with the social dialogue – the interlocutory?

Looking back at my biography of works I can see trends in practice type: The works commissioned by arts agencies that require a level of engagement beyond the gallery or theatre, or the International Performance Festivals that ask for new work responding to site or social situation. I am aware of how these commissioning contexts pre-determine the reach and type of ‘social engagement’ that my practice might have. It leads me to consider the types of audiences/ respondents/ social communities that me and my work might have communicated with, to, for, within.

I do not think I make applied performance. Neither is my work concerned with any overt social activism. And (despite many, rejected commission applications) I am not a public artist.

We had talked about a reticence that surrounds the recognizing of artists as a community of engagement in them/ ourselves, and how Socially Engaged Practice requires something more than artistic value(s).

But I am also remembering that for me, and the solo artists I have talked to, there is a sense of loneliness, isolation or under-valued-ness to our work. Surely then, the ‘added value’ of Socially Engaged Practice is one of creating community; valuing creative impetus; sharing dialogue? Does this need to be stated?

What are the ‘communities’ to which these social engagements apply? Or is Socially Engaged Practice endeavoring to create a community?  I consider the impact for my, and others artists involved in ‘community creating’ programmes such as Asiatopia or National Review of Live Art.

Solo performance art challenges the expectations of institutionalized performance-theatre/ gallery, by presenting the artist/ body/ subject in a non-commodity, non-capital environment of physical and theoretical removal from the normative. But is this social positioning in fact (paradoxically) a result of barriers to institutional or establishment financial or philosophical support? Is it expedient to (re)define ones practice as ‘socially engaged’?

I produce my work through dialogue. I look and see, talk and listen. I explore place, things, activities.  I collect words, objects, images. I exchange actions. Involvement with other people is automatic. I cannot imagine working in a social vacuum. There is no practice without a social context.

Image credit: Leo Burtin

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