Assistant Professor, Performance (2011). BA, 1996, University of Wales Institute, Cardiff; MA, 1999, Central School of Speech and Drama, London. Exhibitions: Chelsea Theatre, London; Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool; Emily Harvey Gallery, NY; PSI, Zagreb; Arsenic Center, Lausanne; Kunstlerhaus Mousonturn, Frankfurt; CCCB, Barcelona; Tanzquartier Wein, Vienna; Hebbel Am Ufer, Berlin. Publications: Performance Art by Baktruppen; Beginningless Thought/Endless Seeing: The Works of Stuart Sherman. Bibliography: Documenting Live; The Performance Pack; Dramaturgy and Performance; Spill Festival of Performance'On Agency. Awards: British Arts Council International Fellowship; Live Art Development Agency Bursary; Artsadmin Associate Artist. Residencies: Watermill Center, NY; Camden Arts Center, London.
My eighteen years of professional arts practice has produced a diverse body of work encompassing performance, video and writing. Early works centred around the visual and the physical, encompassing object manipulation and personification. Later work began questioning the limitations imposed on performance by spatial, temporal and social conventions with a series of interventions in public spaces. My practice subsequently moved into realm of spoken text, generating a series of works that emphasized issues of autobiography, racial politics, and notions and definitions of obscenity. This led to the development of a series of performed lectures that explored journalistic and documentary approaches to arts practice, with a particular emphasis on the creation of alternative biographies of political figures. Most recently, my work has shifted into the area of documentary film with a series of works that aim to interrogate the mapping and ethics of performance re-enactment. My educational background in visual art relative to my subsequent contributions to the field of experimental performance has always found my work crossing borders of genre and category in a way that has been acknowledged through the advocacy and ongoing support of organizations, curators and programmers at the cutting edge of interdisciplinary practices. Many of my artistic outputs have been presented in curated contexts in Europe and America as significant examples of important and influential performance work originating from the UK. In many cases, the work was solicited for its responsiveness to burgeoning issues of contemporary debate and practice such as the application of multimedia technology in live contexts, issues of presence and absence in performance, and the documentation and archiving of experimental performance.
Autobiography and Unreliable Narration
Exploring the composition (and control) of autobiographical material was a key interest in earlier works such as Harry and Me (2004), which explored approaches to performance making that took personal, anecdotal experiences as a starting point to interrogate wider discourses of race and media. Although this and other related pieces represented direct expressions of the self (or "my story"), I have always sought to clarify that the concerns of this work pertain as much to explorations of narrative structure and composition, and the potential for unreliable accounts as deliberate strategy in performance. My interest here was in short circuiting the assumption of the "I" in first person solo monologue as inherently or necessarily truthful.
I have described my performance making process as utilizing what might be described as a journalistic approach to devising. This analogy relates to the fact that a newspaper is designed for the day it is published rather than for posterity. My approach to creating work has often attempted to design performances to function in the same way. Examples include Dispatches (2005) a residency based performance written in simultaneous response to the 2005 German elections, and works such as Colin Powell (2004–07), a performance constantly re-written in response to prevailing news events regarding the former US Secretary of State. In a sense, Powell's resignation signaled "the end" of this performance, while Dispatches only remained relevant for its two showings before the election. These were examples of self destructive, uneconomic acts of performance, where completed output could not be effectively toured outside the timescale of their topical relevance. Within this approach, the performance?s newness was what made it provisional, and ultimately disposable.
Archive and Re-enactment
The issue of autobiography and biography as a key strand of my research was revisited in later works. Thus far, subjects explored in my performances and videos had been political figures, but this aspect of my work shifted towards the artist as subject, particularly those whose work exists outside of the mainstream canon. An example of my explorations in this area has been my ongoing project (2006–2012) regarding the late US performance artist Stuart Sherman. The latter represents a key area of my practice, exploring how an "unsung" artists work (such as Sherman's) can live on, not just through written biography, but through the medium of re-enacted performance. My interest here is in rebalancing performance art discourses through the unearthing and dissemination of untold histories that lie hidden in the relatively short life of performance art documentation. Thus far, this research has consisted of several elements: 1) A series of filmed interviews with colleagues, friends and peers of Stuart Sherman edited into the form of an independently produced documentary film and online resource on his life and works. 2) Published writings/papers on Sherman exploring the formation, preservation and conservation of the archive in institutional and personal manifestations. 3) A series of solo performance pieces transcribed from video documentation and verbal testimony of Sherman's work aiming to examine the mechanics and limitations of action relative to visual and spoken records. More recently, this strand of my work has expanded to encompass explorations of Sherman's ensemble works, such as Stuart Sherman's Hamlet: A Portrait (2010–2012). In this case, the working process explored what "new" might be possible in re-visiting past works with different performers in a contemporary context.
Performance and Fiction
My current interest in the relationship between performance and fiction stems from the fact much of my recent work as an artist has been in the field of performance re-enactment, producing work that is both referential and reverential. Part of my approach to art making now is to question both these tendencies. In terms of my work as a disseminator of performance art history (both as a teacher and an artist) I am increasingly mindful of the responsibility that lies in the establishing and forming of histories of performance. In both cases, the notion of "truth" is becoming increasingly problematic for me as an artist and educator, and it is this issue that is forming new directions in my work. One may produce staged documentation depicting performances that haven?t actually happened. However, in the case of my new performances in development, my interest is in describing (textually and visually) performances that couldn't happen. Implied here is an interrogation of processes that make an audience question their sense of reality and credulity rather than pay credence to the notion that a particular art form has exclusive access to a supposed reality or truth. This discussion can be expanded further—for instance, the separation of performance art from theatre practice in terms of how they relatively deal with reality. Is there a role for suspension of disbelief (a traditionally theatrical premise) within performance art?
Disclaimer: All work represents the views of the INDIVIDUAL ARTISTS & AUTHORS who created them, and are not those of the school or museum of the Art Institute.