Archives for posts with tag: Theatre

From Mini-Symposium #2, Leeds 8.10.14 at Yorkshire Dance

Brief notes taken during Tim’s presentation:

  • Gift, generosity, exchange – common threads in solo practice
  • Microfestival ‘Giving into Gift’ – 2011/2012/2013
  • Reacting to personal interests – socially, politically
  • 2011 – About feeding into each other’s development process
  • Credits and debts – stories told / gathered
  • Symposium – electronic piracy, volunteering
  • ‘Horses Teeth’ – making work for other artist
  • Anonymous bone marrow donor, and Tim’s relationship with them
  • Sparking conversation
  • The ‘ends justify the means’
  • Craftsmanship – the joy of doing something well, not for £/prestige/reputation – challenging capitalism
  • Craftsmanship gets neglected.
  • An awareness of how our work (artists) affects societal change – thinking about how we work

From Mini-Symposium #2, Leeds 8.10.14 at Yorkshire Dance

Brief notes taken during Dani’s presentation:

  • Knowledge as understood through doing.
  • Skateboarding – asking why is this ‘not meant for me’?
  • Skateboarding as play
  • Playfulness in urban space
  • Connection of gender and built environment
  • Work = performative and productive
  • Alternative representations of ‘woman’
  • Association of play with childhood – as adults we still play
  • Play that doesn’t look skilled – not spectacle / not to be consumed
  • Asking how do I present myself as gendered?
  • Use of grey dress – ‘ghosting’ of an archetype
  • Replicating the turning of the wheel
  • How strictly controlled public spaces are – how easy it is to be radical there

Written by Dani Abulhawa

Quarantine’s The Reading Room – performed in the stunning Wolfson Reading Room at Manchester’s Central Library on 14th Nov 2014 – was a delightful event and a performance that connected on different levels with the site and the people in attendance.

If you’ve never been to the Wolfson Reading room I really recommend it. It’s in the core of the circular library building, and the enormously high ceiling has a glass dome in the centre with golden lettering surrounding it that reads, ‘Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom; and with all thy getting; get understanding’.

The room has a particularly interesting acoustic quality. It seems to amplify and deepen tiny sounds, sending them scattering across the space, such that miniscule movements become like the sound of thunder on the other side of the room.

In the room are 28 large desks, each with a central strip of lamps that produces a focused, strong beam ideal for reading by. A performer was sat at each of these desks, with several sheets of plain paper and a schedule of the events that would happen throughout the performance. Audience members were invited to sit at any of the desks and could move desks at any time.


As people swarmed into the room at the beginning of the performance there was a period in which people were deciding where to sit and scoping out the different performers. A map of the space had been provided, which detailed who was sat at each desk and a text that they would be reading. Slowly, this chaos settled down, as people committed, for now, to a particular performer and desk.

The first part of the piece involved the performers trying to memorise all the books they had read and to write down what they could remember on sheets of paper, which were littered across their table for audience to read. It was enjoyable to glimpse into the literary history of the performers and to see what they thought about books that I had also read.

The next part of the performance involved the performers asking questions of the audience members who had sat down with them. It was fascinating to hear other people’s answers to these questions: ‘do you ever read to someone else?’ ‘Have you ever thrown a book across a room?’  ‘Where do you read?’ ‘What was the first book you ever read?’ ‘Do you ever read out loud?’

The last two parts of the performance involved the performer reading a text that was important to them, and finally the performers read the same text, in unison, whilst they remained at their own desk.

I liked the way that the performance responded to this unusual space – each performer at a glowing desk appeared like a little galaxy and we were invited to orbit and settle. I wasn’t much in the mood to be static (am I ever?) so I found myself orbiting a lot, and looking in on these galaxies. Some of only two people, heads together, deep in conversation that I didn’t want to interrupt; some groups of eight or more, chipping in to a conversation about a book or an experience of reading.

I loved the way the performance created spaces for discussion between strangers, and spaces for thinking about your own experiences of reading. I also liked the way the performance responded to the idea of a ‘reading’ room; Incorporating the activities of reading quietly, reading out loud, and of reading into people’s comments and thoughts.

The performance seemed to suggest that our bodies are vessels containing all the books we have ever read, and that we are filled with experiences and knowledge. The Reading Room was a moment of telling tales to each other, conveying anecdotes and the passing on of bodies of wisdom.

Image credit: Kate Daley

Table Discussion Notes: Interactions, Leeds. 8th October 2014 (collated discussion and thinking from all the participants in dialogue with and written up by Dani Abulhawa)

The table I was on was tasked with constructing a landscape of socially engaged performance practice. We drew pictures of our city, added people and buildings, a canal system, and we looked beyond at the outskirts, the rural areas, and the margins.

The first group tackling the landscape task set out a twin-city consisting of artist-driven projects on one side, and policy-led or institutionally driven projects on the other. There was a sense of tension between these two approaches, but a canal system was added to represent the strands of personal politics that connect and divide these two cities.


The second group talked about how the weather affects this city, and drew lines representing wind and rain hitting the city. The weather tended to symbolise wider political decisions that impact upon the landscape of socially engaged performance practice, particularly the ‘natural disasters’ of funding cuts. One participant talked about ‘weathering the storm’ of financial changes, but also acknowledged that a lack of funding and inclement weather can trigger interesting approaches to the creation of performance work.

We discussed the rural outskirts of the city – both in terms of a metaphorical rural or Edgelands, and the actual rural provision for socially-engaged performance practice. Many of the participants felt the same kind of tensions existed between artists and policy makers as those seen in urban areas, but on a smaller scale.

The issue of rural provision raised a point about craft in relation to art. Craft-based projects were seen as a way to make community art accessible. Later on in the discussion several people talked about the need to provide a way in for people, to the world of performance and art, and how recognisable and comfortable cultural and artistic forms can be a good way to bring people into a process they are unsure about. The issue of needing doorways in to socially engaged performance practice was expressed a few times; the need for a hook that appeals to a particular person or group of people.

Within the city, traditional theatre buildings and performance spaces were often deemed to be unsuitable, having too many associations with a world apart from that of the community who is being engaged with. Several participants expressed a need for ‘new spaces’, ‘open spaces’ and ‘found spaces’ that do not come with a history of performance practice.

Crossroads and roundabouts were added to the city, to illustrate how an artist navigates their own practice through the landscape, changing routes and approaches in relation to other people and outside influences.

A few participants added bombs or mines – suggesting that the landscape was fraught with problems, such as cultural clashes, issues of commodification, ethical concerns, and problems around questions of skill and value.

Also at the outskirts of this city were artists who don’t consider their work to be socially engaged, and community-led practices and subcultures not generally regarded as ‘art’, such as festivals, mumming, cheese-rolling, amateur dramatics, graffiti cultures, activism, pop-ups and small-scale gigs, etc.  All of which were recognised as socially engaged forms of practice in their own right. Therefore, there was a tension around the defining and commodification of socially engaged practices, both in terms of how this de-values some groups and organisations, and places pressure for outcomes and impact on others.


Image credit: Sarah Spanton

Following on from On Participation. Part I – written by Tim Jeeves, following the Interactions Peer-to-Peer session #2, held at Theatre in the Mill, Bradford.

On Participation. Part II – Problematics and tactics

Dave Beech, of the art collective Freee, draws attention to the problematics of participation, in particular the principle, prevalent in some quarters, for the artist to renounce their authorial status in the name of equality. As he notes, there are pleasures to be found in asymmetrical relationships such as the ‘relationship between host and guest, [… where] there are pleasures in being the host and pleasures in being a guest. Equality cannot be forced onto these intersubjective relations without killing off the care and the pleasures of caring and being cared for.’

Even aside from the bland equality such relinquishing might encourage, there are also questions to be asked around how possible it might be anyway: the movements of cultural capital are complex, and have a tendency to remain within particular groupings. Denying authorship in one area will often mean that is re-asserted, perhaps more subtly, in another.

Beech also highlights the neutralizing affects of inclusion. Making a parallel with the way that the European Union has assimilated its old cold war enemies into principles of neo-liberalism, Beech notes that art institutions – with their policies of engagement and relationship development with excluded communities – similarly pacify cultural dissent and conflict.

Dissent and the outsider are an essential component of a functioning democracy, as much so as giving voice to the disempowered, or agency to the dispossessed. To integrate a voice is to quieten it, and to encourage participation too strongly risks homogenization and recasting the participants in the mould of those who initiated the project.

None of which is to be taken as an argument against participation per se, there is much to be in favour of it; but neither should it be seen as inherently positive, even in instances where flagrant exploitation might be avoided. Rather participation should be seen a tactic, one among many; a formal container that holds ideas, aesthetics and political ideology. It may influence how such content manifests, just as using any medium influences the way that an artwork is encountered, and these influences are not neutral.

References: Beech, D., 2011. Art and Participation. dbfreee, [blog] 13 March. Available at:

Beech, D., 2008. Include me out!. Art Monthly, 42(6), p.1-4. Available at:

To book online—

Follow us on Twitter @UKinteractions (you can join by scrolling to the bottom of this page).

Written by Tim Jeeves, following the Interactions Peer-to-Peer session #2, held at Theatre in the Mill, Bradford.

On Participation. Part I – Influences

Recent years have seen what Clare Bishop identifies as a ‘social turn’ in art practice. Very present in socially-engaged work, this tendency towards participation can also be seen in more aesthetically / entertainment focussed immersive theatre work as well as gallery-based contemporary art. As Bishop suggests, such work ‘rehumanizes – or at least de-alienates – a society rendered numb and fragmented by the repressive instrumentality of capitalism’. By positioning the participatory elements of these works against the sense of disillusionment and lack of engagement that is to be found in mainstream politics, they are often understood as emancipatory and politically vibrant. Alongside this politicised understanding of such work, it is also perhaps worth noting the possible influence of online environments that, in recent years, have seen a normalisation of the participatory voice as a means of generating content, alongside more traditional top-down distribution.

The combination of these factors has lent participatory practice a powerful force and presence in recent years, meaning that – at times – any problematics with the form can be overlooked.

As Bishop suggests, some analysis would appear to suggest that ‘There can be no failed, unsuccessful, unresolved, or boring works of collaborative art because all are equally essential to the task of strengthening the social bond [forgetting that] it is also crucial to discuss, analyze, and compare such work critically as art.’ As Bishop argues, a number of other considerations remain essential.

References: Bishop, Claire. 2006. ‘The Social Turn: Collaboration and its Discontents’. Artforum 44:6. pp.178-183.

To be followed shortly by On Participation: Part II.

To book online—

Follow us on Twitter @UKinteractions (you can join by scrolling to the bottom of this page).

Howell, Anthony (1999) The Analysis of Performance Art: A Guide to its Theory and Practice. Amsterdam, Netherlands Harwood Academic Publishers.

  • I have returned to this book to remind myself of some of the key themes and issues of performance such as notions space, time, chaos, stillness, etc. Whilst Howell does not address ‘social engagement’ itself, I feel that this late 1990’s publication is ‘of it’s time’, and reflects concerns of site, audience and intention. This is also a good book for anyone not sure what ’performance’ is in this context, and needing a bit of background reading.

Kuppers, Petra & Robertson, Gwen. (Ed.) (2007) The Community Performance Reader.

  • A useful teaching resource, covering a range of ‘community’ practices. A pedagogic book – reader for students of performance. Good examples/ case studies.

Shaughnessy, Nicola. (2012) Applying Performance: Live Art, Socially Engaged Theatre and Affective Practice. Basingstoke. Palgrave Macmillan.

  • I’m haven’t read all of this – just dipped in and out of section on ‘place and placing’. The introduction is useful: ‘applied’, joining, connecting, political or pedagogic motivation. It also provides a simple unpacking of terms such as performance, devising, site, etc. The chapter on Practices gives a useful frame for notions of ‘authenticity’, and mediation.

Johnston, Sandra. (2014) Beyond Reasonable Doubt: An Investigation of Doubt, Risk and Testimony Through Performance Art Process in Relation to Systems of Legal Justice. European Studies in Culture and Policy. Vol. 13. Ed: Craith, M. N, & Kockel, U. Zurich & Münster. Lit Verlag.

  • Johnston’s work is firmly located as visual performance art, and yet she writes here about the affect of and context for performance as a process of social engagement, particularly when located in personal, public and political trauma.

Kester, Grant. (2013) Conversation Pieces: Community and Communication in Modern Art.  Berkeley California. University of California Press.

  • Some key art theories, applied to a collection of global examples of arts practice. I used it in discussion on gender, taste and the relationship of class and gender to notions of and the aesthetics of the avant-garde.