Writer On the Verge

On the verge

What is at play in the mind of the live art critic? C James Fagan explores the realities of reporting on the genre…

I’ve been going to and writing about performance and live art events for some time now. It’s probably a review of a show that led me here.

Over the last day or two I’ve been attending the On the Verge festival, four days of performances with a bias towards the theatrical, spread across Liverpool. During this time I’ve been thinking about the vagaries of writing about and even just plain showing up to such events.

Even before you do show up, there can be issues; as with many artistic genres there’s not a definitive description of what live art is, though Wikipedia has a crack at it. Even its history is one of various terms, from Happenings in the 1960s, to Action and Body Art in the ‘70s, and includes a number of methodologies calling on different artistic disciplines.

“Live art amplifies, and sometime relies on, a sense of the ephemeral”

Ultimately I tend to go along with the idea that live art concentrates on a bodily experience, whether the experience is that of the artist or the viewer. This leads to a genre which amplifies, and sometime relies on, a sense of the ephemeral.

As a critic should I be making judgements regarding the quality of artistic product, do I concentrate on a sense of physicality, take pains to record every action unfolding before me? Should you note your own physical as somehow central to the experience? Or should I simply record my reactions, and through the notation of these reactions, hope that a form of interpretation emerges?

I recently had such an experience where a mixture of lighting and confined space made me attach ideas of ghostliness and delicacy to a performance which may not have been the artist’s intent.

There’s something in that concept of recording my reactions that sounds right; which means that when I write about a performance I’m writing about my perception of that performance – this perception is not necessarily a critical one.

Your own view on a piece can radically change due to a single brief moment. One such moment happened during Bryony Kimming’s Sex Idiot; after a period of raucous burlesque  there came an occurrence which, for me, switched it to a piece about the loss of trust, heartbreak and the hedgehog’s dilemma.

I also wonder about how much of the surrounding experience influences the experience of the work I’m going to see – especially when visiting events that feature multiple artists across multiple spaces; the worry is that the frustration of on-going mooching could affect how you feel about the next performance.

“Could my need to write about these events be a willingness to share this secret?”

These periods can be equally exciting, providing time to reflect, collecting the mass of emotions, references to other cultural creations, into a (hopefully) coherent thought. It’s not unlike being given a little secret, a little gift which takes you slightly beyond the norm; could my need to write about these events be a willingness to share this secret?

The feeling I just described is itself a transitory happenstance of experience, ephemeral moments of which live art is full, actions taking place in the corner of the eye, instants that have resonance but not longevity.

In essence then, is writing about live art an attempt to solidify instants that attract the imagination, and is this necessary?  Is it not unlike standing in front of a dramatic sunset and shouting PRETTY!

Maybe what is necessary when making a decision about writing about live art, and possibly art in general, is the attempt to convey those ephemeral experiences that create a shadow of your singular experience at that point in time. In doing so you’ll incorporate all the awkwardness, fear, absurdity, beauty that informs this genre.

All of the above has applied to my experiences during the hours I’ve spent at On The Verge, where I found myself following a performer dressed as a pigeon; been the subject of curious glances as I watch someone select biscuits in Tesco’s; seen some wonderful ladder-based slapstick and nearly been struck in the face (accidentally), all for standing too close to the path of a dancer – there’s that hedgehog’s dilemma again.

All of which relates to my experience of attending live art events. All of the waiting, stilted conversations, tedium, the frustration and all of the excitement, all of the engagement, thoughtfulness and fun, that comes when you decide to show up at a ‘performance’.

Though, you may have had to have been there.

C James Fagan

Image courtesy On the Verge

Posted on 21/10/2013 by thedoublenegative