Live Art / Dead Art
What is Live Art?
listen i’m gonna level with u here, i was a ‘live artist’ for a good four years and i still dabble occasionally. Maz did some bits n pieces too, or at least they sung and danced without too much skill and people generally saw that as performance art because it was a bit too tragic to be cabaret. They’d never heard of LADA until last year tho.
The invention of Live Art as a concept is pretty new. Lets arbitrarily date it from five years before the formation of the Live Art Development Agency in 1999, when it became something it could be recognised as separate from other things. It’s also pretty specific to the UK and usually means performance work, like performance art (US) or theatre (Germany) with sometimes some social practice (capitalism) thrown in with some nice research based practice too (the industrial complex of knowledge production). Grab bag/wide umbrella. Live = people in space doing things. Art = whatever.
What was Live Art supposed to be? Live Art was supposed to mean nothing. A thing that couldn't be categorised, and radical in its refusal to be categorised. Queer, odd things. Oozing stuff. Live Art was supposed to reject institutions because it was always inherently challenging their logic of needing them to make art. Live Art was supposed to be unknowable. Live Art was whatever happened between friends in a rented flat getting ready to go to the club. The four Turner Prize nominees accepting the prize together was Good Live Art. When Ezekiel took a block of clay and drew Jerusalem, and put an iron pan in front of it to lay siege to it for 390 days, that was Good Live Art.
What is Live Art? Live Art is a clique. Live Art is a cabal of evil twinks. Live Art is what happens when white ppl say they invented something.
Most live or socially engaged or whatever art should not exist - because if it was doing what it was supposed to be doing we wouldn't need to keep doing it.
But maybe it's doing exactly what it was supposed to do:
Live Art packages, anaesthetises, and aestheticizes the body, making it ready and fit for consumption.
Live Art cost nothing to make, so historically it's the most marginalised people who are drawn to making it. Actually, no. Because marginalised people are always the ones doing bits and making culture, Live Art is the framework forced onto huge wide-ranging expressions of self and identity by curators and exhibition spaces and galleries and museums in which marginalised ppl can either get on board with or get out. Queers (lots of Live Art is still tied to the cabaret and club scenes), trans ppl, people of colour, disabled people, migrant communities.
And it enforces a myth that the body is somehow the truest thing that we can experience, the seat of suffering and pleasure. Which is obviously a weird and colonial assumption. Marginalised people have always been attributed as having a mysterious bodily knowledge, and by pedestalling this mysterious intuitive body knowledge as important you can continue to not listen to anything they have to say. Live Art makes the body into an art object. Not only as a spectacle for those to pay to look at, but now in the age of the experience market the artist’s presence has become the most sought-after thing money can buy.
For Live Art to stop its decline, its torpid slide into institutional complicity, it needs to commit to working seriously towards its own irrelevancy.
What is Live Art when some of us can’t live?