Introducing: PROFORMA Contemporary Art Festival

Stina Puotinen, PROFORMA Contemporary Art Festival

Fun! Live sculpture! Rapid fire performance! Introducing PROFORMA: a new annual contemporary art festival heading to Manchester’s Dancehouse tomorrow night…

Those of you familiar with Bertolt Brecht’s work through the 1930-50s will know the term ‘spass’, or fun. Brechtian theatre, or epic theatre, used spass (and other techniques) to break the fourth wall. It got the audience laughing and actively thinking about what they were seeing. Audiences were reminded, constantly, that they were watching a play.

The 20 artists taking part in PROFORMA this Saturday definitely know a thing or two about spass. A one-night-only stage show at The Dancehouse on Oxford Road, with set rearrangements in full view of the audience, PROFORMA will be banging out rapid live art, experimental music, sculpture, moving image and performance in a contemporary version of epic theatre.

And it’s an epic line-up: a diverse bunch of artists from Greater Manchester including sound artist Helmut Lemke, who has previously collaborated with scientists, dancers, and even birds; Nicola Dale, who makes sculptures that take over space around her, often while she is wearing them; Stina Puotinen, whose use of googly eyes, breasts and fruit make for pop-hued installations; and musician Lee Patterson, who makes his own instruments out of amplified springs and metal.

“The methods and materials are diverse; computer-manipulated language, drag, digital film, vibrating metal”

Looking at their back catalogues, the PROFORMA artists are making work on themes of love, trash TV, morality, illusion, and gesture (something Brecht would’ve approved of). The methods and materials are just as diverse, and not what you might associate with theatre: computer-manipulated language, drag, digital film, vibrating metal, collage and found text.

Rory Mullen, PROFORMA Contemporary Art Festival

So where has PROFORMA come from? Inspired by The Dancehouse’s art deco, 1930’s interior, PROFORMA has been set up by people who have, themselves, been making and facilitating new productions for years: Lizz Brady (artist and director of Broken Grey Wires, a contemporary art organisation responding and exploring mental health), Rory Mullen (pictured above; an artist exploring performance and its relationship to the theatrical and comedic) and Chris Bailkoski (curator and director of Northern Quarter canteen, bar and music venue Soup Kitchen).

“PROFORMA has been something I have been thinking about for around 5 years”

“The idea for PROFORMA has been something I have been thinking about for around 5 years”, explains Bailkoski. “The Dancehouse is an incredible building and, importantly, has never been used for a contemporary art exhibition before. For this first PROFORMA, it’s a combination of everything falling in to place at the right time.”

“Myself and Chris are good friends”, continues Brady; “I was really excited at the concept of epic theatre, and taking art out of a conventional gallery setting. We want PROFORMA to be ambitious and impressive, and to work with incredible Manchester based artists who may not have the support they deserve.”

Nicola Dale, PROFORMA Contemporary Art Festival

It’s clear that the trio love to collaborate with other artists, and consider PROFORMA as a platform for practitioners that they respect and want to shout about. Furthermore, in working together on PROFORMA, Bailkoski and Brady tell us that the festival made them consider their own frustrations with the contemporary art world as they are currently experiencing it.

“The whole infrastructure for supporting artists needs a complete overhaul”

“I get really frustrated how artists are expected to be entrepreneurs”, says Bailkoski. “Artists are supposed to have so many entrepreneurial skills (without any formal training) that the actual making of art seems to be the last thing to be considered by funding and institutional bodies. There are few artists who are also great business people, and it’s really frustrating that they are the examples championed as to how all artists should be.

“The best artists I know happen not to care about business at all. I think the whole infrastructure for supporting artists needs a complete overhaul to enable simplified processes of support for artists regardless of their business skills or ‘assets’.”

John Powell-Jones, PROFORMA Contemporary Art Festival

It remains to be seen whether PROFORMA can grow into a regular commissioning and presentation event in Manchester, and contribute to the city’s other, different projects testing the waters of live art, performance and theatre (like hÅb). Brady, Mullen and Bailkoski are certainly aiming to make this an annual affair, and the involvement of conceptual artists and musicians is really appealing.

With such an exciting premise and punchy programme planned for Saturday night, that channels Brechtian spass for a completely new audience, we’re looking forward to seeing how (active) Manchester theatre audiences will react to this contemporary art takeover.

Laura Robertson

See PROFORMA this Saturday 28 July 2018, 7pm-midnight, at The Dancehouse, Manchester,

Get your tickets here

Look out for a catalogue documenting the festival available in Autumn – featuring texts by PROFORMA writer in residence, Tom Emery

Posted on 27/07/2018 by thedoublenegative