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2015

Live Art and Feminism in the UK

How do women and feminists use their bodies to make art, and why?

How do women and feminists use their bodies to make art, and why?
This exhibition, curated by Live Art Development Agency (London) in collaboration with Eleanor Roberts (Queen Mary, University of London), offers a snapshot of some of the key figures and issues of Live Art and Feminism in the UK since 1970.

Live Art and Feminism in the UK

Drawing influences from Visual Art and Theatre practices, Live Art does not conform to any form, function or mode of presentation, but is a way of artists thinking about the nature, role and experience of art and its relationships with audiences. The theme of Live Art and Feminism encompasses a range of artists and works which may be identified as feminist, or as holding feminist possibilities – interrogating gender inequalities in society, advocating for the empowerment of women, and exploring issues related to identity, gender, sex and sexuality.

Herstories of Live Art

This exhibition presents one journey through a rich and diverse history of works performed by women and feminist artists based in the UK, including early practices which contribute to the prehistories of Live Art such as the experiments in Performance Art of the mid-to-late 20th century. Though necessarily partial, the images on display here show some ways in which practical tactics, aesthetics and discussions surrounding women and feminists making Live Art in the UK are sustained but have also evolved over the last 45 years.

In this map (left), artist Helena Walsh illustrates her own journey through feminism and live art in the past and present.

Find out more about the artists and works represented in this image by clicking on this link and then selecting details.

Early Days

The history represented in this exhibition begins here with Fish Event (left/above), which was performed by Carlyle Reedy as the only solo woman artist to feature in the Come Together Festival at the Royal Court Theatre (London, 21 October – 9 November 1970), a seminal event in the development of performance art, experimental theatre, and ‘new activities’ in contemporary art. Throughout the 1970s Bobby Baker, Anne Bean, and Rose English were among the early figures who collectively built frameworks for women and feminists performing in galleries, museums, theatres, private homes, and public spaces – and whose influence extends into the present as they continue to make work which critically engages the artist’s body, both as the subject and the material of art.

In the 1980s and 1990s artists such as Marcia Farquhar, Mona Hatoum, and Hayley Newman continued to harness and address established feminist principles, such as ‘the personal is political’, whilst also testing what that might mean, or look like, in performance.

Live Art and Feminism Now

Today, a resurgence of interest in feminist issues is visible in, and informed by, the vibrant activities of women and feminists making Live Art. Their work challenges audiences and energises discussions of the body, and the contemporary politics of identity, gender, sex and sexuality. This is visible in the hilarious and furious drag of David Hoyle, the pop cultures of excess in The Famous Lauren Barri Holstein’s choreography (left/above), and in the interactive performances of Tania El Khoury which tackle conflict, migration, political climates and gendered spaces in the Arab world.

Curating Live Art and Feminism

The artists and works represented in the exhibition do not constitute anything like a complete survey; rather, the process of curation in itself has revealed a complex set of schisms and rifts between live performance, and the creation, preservation and dissemination of its documentation in the digital age. Early events – for instance of the 1970s and 1980s – may be poorly recorded, if at all, via a range of analogue media which may not translate well to the style of high quality images that we might now expect to see housed in the new breed of online cultural institutions. With the passage of time, the documentation of many early works may also be lost or buried, for instance in the case of artists who have long since ceased to make performances, or whose archives have passed into the hands of an estate following their death. Other artists choose to resist the representation of their work in contexts over which they feel they have little control, such as online spaces, or in projects where they do not receive appropriate fees for their artwork, or for their labour. For these, and other reasons, it is important to note some of the key figures in the development of feminist Live Art and its prehistories in the UK who are not featured here, such as Rose Garrard, Rose Finn-Kelcey, Sonia Boyce, Cosey Fanni Tutti, and Catherine Elwes – all of whom made feminist and feminist inflected performances from the 1970s and 1980s.

The aim of this exhibition is to offer an introduction to some of the key figures and issues of ‘Live Art and Feminism in the UK’. The works are organised into seven sections which touch on major themes and imperatives of feminist Live Art, ranging from intersectional analyses of power, through to ways in which we adorn our bodies and self-fashion our identities.

Our Bodies Are Our Own
Bodies are not all the same: each of our bodies are specific to us and should be represented and acknowledged as diverse and unique. The images in this section represent works which foreground the artists’ body in its specificity as a locus of power. For example, performance-activist collective Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A. campaign for the agency of women over their own bodies to be acknowledged, in resistance to current laws by which Irish women are forced to travel to England to obtain access to legal abortion. Through subversive humour Katherine Araniello’s public interventions challenge perceptions and misrepresentations of the disabled body. Lois Weaver (right/above) and Poppy Jackson also insist on the presence and visibility of women and their bodies in claiming space through performance.

Speaking of IMELDA (Ireland Making England the Legal Destination for Abortion)
Knickers for Choice, with Panti Bliss
London, 13 October 2014
Photo Credit: Joanne O'Brien

Artist's Website

Poppy Jackson
Television Lounge
SPILL Festival of Performance 2014, Old Ipswich Police Headquarters
Photo Credit: by Guido Mencari
Artist's Website

Image 1 of 3

Poppy Jackson
Television Lounge
SPILL Festival of Performance 2014, Old Ipswich Police Headquarters
Photo Credit: by Guido Mencari
Artist's Website

Image 2 of 3

Poppy Jackson
Television Lounge
SPILL Festival of Performance 2014, Old Ipswich Police Headquarters
Photo Credit: by Guido Mencari
Artist's Website

Image 3 of 3

Katherine Araniello
PITY
Lock-up Performance Art Fête
Bethnal Green, London, June 2013

Artist's Website

Configurations of Power
Feminism is not just about gender in isolation; it also concerns all the connected issues and configurations of power that surround our identities and everyday lives, such as race, dis/ability, age, sexuality and class. Many artists working with Live Art in the UK have made, and continue to make, feminist explorations into the complex networks of and between these related topics. Through the 1980s, Mona Hatoum (right/above) utilised the body in live performance as a sculptural material whilst interrogating configurations of power in domestic, local, and global social and political environments. Like Hatoum, Tania El Khoury has also looked at the politics of gender, intimacy, and voyeurism - invited and uninvited – while Curious scrutinise the wavering veneers of politeness and domestic perfection at the English dinner table in 'Family Hold Back' (2004). In 'Undress/Redress' (2011) Noëmi Lakmaier examines questions of control and power around her disabled body in asking a male collaborator to repeatedly undress and dress her as she remains completely passive in a durational performance for a live audience.  

Mona Hatoum
Under Siege
1982

Performance within a wood and plastic sheeting structure; sound tape and liquid clay.

© Mona Hatoum. Photo © J. McPherson Courtesy White Cube

Mona Hatoum
Look No Body!
28 March 1981

Live action with video monitor, sound tape, water hose and a stack of plastic cups
Performed at The Basement Gallery, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne
Duration: 40 minutes

© Mona Hatoum. Courtesy White Cube

Noëmi Lakmaeir
Undress/Redress
2011

Commissioned as part of Restock, Rethink, Reflect Two: on Live Art and disability
Photo Credit: Manuel Vason

Image 1 of 3

Artist's Website

Image 2 of 3

Image 3 of 3

Tania El Khoury
Fuzzy
Shunt Vaults, London, 2010

Photo Credit: Ludovic Des Cognets

Artist's Website

Tania El Khoury
Maybe If You Choreograph Me, You Will Feel Better
City Of Women Festival, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 2013
Photo Credit: Nada Zgank

Artist's Website

Curious (Leslie Hill and Helen Paris)
Family Hold Back
2004
Photo Credit: Hugo Glendinning

Artist's Website

Creating New Feminist Languages
A live body in performance enables artists to provoke new discussions around the politics of sex and gender, but also to create new languages with which to express ideas and identities. In their choreographic collaboration Project O (right/above), Jamila Johnson-Small and Alexandrina Hemsley experiment with the non-verbal languages of dance and create new ways to represent, respond to, and subvert notions of ‘otherness’ (such as racial ‘otherness’) in society as they experience them on an everyday basis. Helena Hunter and The Famous Lauren Barri Holstein also foreground movement of the body in their depictions of messy, faltering and failing femininities, whereas Silvia Ziranek’s performances of gender and everyday life foreground word play and humour.

Silvia Ziranek
BORN TO SHOP
21 March 1986

Performance commissioned by Projects UK as part of New Work Newcastle, performed at the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle.

Artist's Website

Helena Hunter
The Other Room
2010
Photo Credit: Nadja Žgank
City of Women Festival, Ljubljana
Artists Website

Helena Hunter
The Other Room
2010
Photo Credit: Nadja Žgank
City of Women Festival, Ljubljana
Artists Website

The Famous Lauren Barri Holstein
SPLAT!
Trashing Performance - Dance Theatre Journal, Vo. 24 No. 3
Photo Credit: Timothy Fluck

Artist's Website

The Famous Lauren Barri Holstein
Splat! Publicity
2013
Photo Credit: Manuel Vason

Artist's Website

Feminist Self-Fashioning
Historically and today, women’s positions in societies across the world have been led or limited by their bodies. Women and feminist artists foreground ways in which they can take control of their own bodies in a resistance to singularising notions of what ‘women’ should be. Here, bodies are foregrounded as changeable sites for self-creation and self-fashioning. Since the 1990s Marisa Carnesky, for example, has explored body modification and tattoo culture, and Oreet Ashery’s work (right/above) across a range of media performs ‘feminist cut-ups’ of multiple tempos, times, places, egos and selves. In 'Connotations', Hayley Newman generates fictional narratives and constructions of the self, knowingly played out for the camera.

Marisa Carnesky
Jewess Tattooess
2000
Photo Credit: Manuel Vason

Artist's Website

Crying Glasses
1995
On public transport in Hamburg, Berlin, Rostock, London and Guildford
Photo Credit: Christina Lamb

Over a year I wore the crying glasses while travelling on public transport in all the cities I visited. The glasses functioned using a pump system which, hidden inside my jacket allowed me to pump water up out of the glasses and produced a trickle of tears down my cheeks. The glasses were conceived as a tool to enable the representation of feelings in public spaces. Over the months of wearing the glasses they became an external mechanism which enabled the manifestation of internal and unidentifiable emotions.

Part of Connotations - Performance Images (1994-1998),1998

The following three photographs in the series Connotations - Performance Images are constructed images intended to explore the role of documentation in performance. The photographs in the series were staged and performed by myself with most of the images being taken by the photographer Casey Orr over a week in the summer of 1998. The dates, locations, photographers and contexts for the performances cited in the text panels are fictional. In all instances the action had to be performed for the photograph but did not take place within the circumstances or places outlined in the supporting text.

As a form, performance is often mediated through the documentary image, video, film, text or by word of mouth and rumour. With so few existing networks for the distribution of performances works, it is the image and its supporting text that is given precedence in publications on the subject, creating a handful of historical performances that have become notorious through their own documentation, leaving others behind that have not made the translation into the single image.


Lock Jaw Series
1997-1998
Lectures given at Chelsea College of Art, Middlesex University, Sheffield Hallam University and Dartington College of Art
Photo: Jonny Byars

Over the period of a year I was invited to give a series of lectures on my work. Before each lecture I visited a local dentist and had my mouth anaesthetised. With my mouth made immobile, I gave my feeblest apologies to the students and staff before attempting to talk on my work.

You Blew My Mind
1997
Studio Photograph
Photo Credit: Casey Orr


Subversive Pleasure
Women and feminist artists enact agency of their own bodies and identities through the subversive power of pleasure. In the UK since the early 1970s, Bobby Baker’s performance work (right/above) has exemplified a refusal either to be contained by seriousness, or to dilute the political energy of laughter. Geraldine Pilgrim’s practice often brings the unusual and the familiar together in dislocating ways, not only transforming conventional sites into strange immersive experiences, but also playing with the materials and trappings of domesticity and gendered roles. Lois Weaver, as a solo artist and also in collaboration with Peggy Shaw, has explored the pleasure and politics of sex and sexuality, whereas Stacy Makishi is the ‘master of mischief’ in her challenging and humorous journeys into the human psyche.

Bobby Baker
Pull Yourself Together
London, 2000

Part of Mental Health Action Week sponsored by the Mental Health Foundation

Image 1 of 2

Artist's Website

Bobby Baker
Pull Yourself Together
London, 2000

Part of Mental Health Action Week sponsored by the Mental Health Foundation

Image 2 of 2

Artist's Website

Stacy Makishi
Cabbage Love
Performance at ALAG (A Live Art Gala), Royal Vauxhall Tavern, London, 2 October 2014
Photo Credit: Holly Revell

Artist's Website

Geraldine Pilgrim
Star Dust
De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill on Sea
2005

Artist's Website


Anniversary Waltz
Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver
Dish Washing
1990
Photo Credit: Sheila Burnett

Artist's Website

Tammy WhyNot and Lois Weaver
What Tammy Found Out
Queen Mary University of London, 2012
Photo Credit: Christa Holka
Artist's Website

Performing Gender
We perform gender all the time in our everyday lives and in the way we present ourselves to others (as ‘women’, ‘men’, or otherwise). In being aware and questioning ways in which we rehearse, repeat and perform the presentation of our gender we can reflect on these conscious and unconscious behaviours, and also challenge that which is presented as sets of limited and limiting pre-determined categories. Lucy Hutson makes this ongoing process of gender construction and transformation visible in her recent work 'If You Want Bigger Yorkshire Puddings You Need A Bigger Tin' (right, 2013-), which presents an autobiographical journey negotiating a (never-ending) path through family and oral history, lived experience, domestic finesse, and medical dictum. Whilst David Hoyle and Rose English perform showgirls of very different sorts, they both illuminate and defy traditional and rigid conceptions of identity and gender in spectacular, daring and playful ways.

David Hoyle
City of Women Festival, Ljubljana
Slovenia, 2014

Part of Just Like a Woman, a programme of live work, curated by LADA.

Rose English
Walks on Water
1988
Photo Credit: Photo: Mike Laye

Artist's Website

Rose English
My Mathematics
1992
Photo Credit: Gavin Evans

Artist's Website

Rose English
Tantamount Esperance
1994
Photo Credit: Hugo Glendinning

Artist's Website

Continuing the Conversation
Live Art creates opportunities for people to come together in conversation and shared space. This is exemplified in Monica Ross’s final project before her death, 'Anniversary- an act of memory' (2008-13), in which Ross invited members of the public to join her in locations around the world to remember, recite and repeat the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In the works depicted here, Anne Bean has also placed dialogue at the centre of her practice in creating collaborations with women across and between borders ('MASS', 2008), as well as across time as selves of the past and present meet in conversation ('Channelling the Volcano', 2014). Our approaches to, and uses of, feminism are always changing and this is reflected in, and informed by, the diverse performance tactics of women and feminist artists, and the important ongoing discussions that they form part of. For example, beginning with a series of dialogues and collaborations with different women, Phoebe Davies’s 'Influences' resulted in nail art designs depicting people of influence or significance to individual participants. The designs are then distributed via a touring nailwrap bar, where the conversations continue. At another event, a 'Long Table on Live Art and Feminism' with Lois Weaver (16 October 2013), over a hundred people spanning three or more generations came together to discuss how Live Art and Feminism speak to us and each other, and continue to be urgently relevant in our lives and practices.

Monica Ross
Anniversary—an act of memory Act 01
British Library, London
7 December 2008
Photo Credit: Alex Delfanne

Project Website

Monica Ross
Anniversary - an act of memory,
Act 31 Freedom Picnic
Brighton Festival, 2011
Photo Credit: Bernard G Mills

Project Website

Anne Bean
MASS
2008
Kurdistan-Iraq
Photo Credit: Guelan Abdullah

Artist's Website

Anne Bean
2014
Channelling the Volcano, Matt's Gallery 2014
Photo Credit: Dafydd Jones
Original image in video background Moody and the Menstruators 1973 Berlin

Artist's Website

Long Table on Live Art and Feminism
Live Art Development Agency,
Hackney Wick, London
Lois Weaver and Participants
2013

Project Website

Phoebe Davies
Influences
2013
Photo Credit: Rowena Gordon

Artist's Website

Curated by Live Art Development Agency (LADA). Text by Eleanor Roberts.
Credits: Exhibit

This online exhibition ‘Live Art and Feminism in the UK’ is a project by Live Art Development Agency (LADA) as part of 'Restock, Rethink, Reflect Three: On Live Art and Feminism'.

Curated and Produced by Alex Eisenberg (LADA), Eleanor Roberts, Lois Keidan (LADA) and Katy Baird (LADA).

Texts by Eleanor Roberts.

Published Dec 2015

Featuring Contributions from:
Anne Bean, Bobby Baker, Carlyle Reedy, Curious (Leslie Hill and Helen Paris), David Hoyle, Geraldine Pilgrim, Hayley Newman, Helena Hunter, Helena Walsh, Katherine Araniello, Lauren Barri Holstein, Lois Weaver, Peggy Shaw, Lucy Hutson, Marcia Farquhar, Marisa Carnesky, Mona Hatoum, Monica Ross, Noëmi Lakmaeir, Oreet Ashery, Phoebe Davies, Poppy Jackson, Project O, Rose English, Silvia Ziranek, Speaking of IMELDA, Stacy Makishi and Tania El Khoury.

A huge thank you to all the artists involved and to Lois Weaver, Queen Mary University of London, Creativeworks and James Davis at Google Cultural Institute.

The Live Art Development Agency is funded as a National Portfolio Organisation by Arts Council England, London.

About ‘Restock Rethink Reflect’

This exhibition is related to the Live Art Development Agency’s Restock, Rethink, Reflect Three initiative.

Restock, Rethink, Reflect is an ongoing series of initiatives for, and about, artists who working with issues of identity politics and cultural difference in radical ways, and which aims to map and mark the impact of art to these issues, whilst supporting future generations of artists through specialised professional development, resources, events and publications.

Following the first two Restock, Rethink, Reflect projects on Race (2006-08) and Disability (2009-12), Restock, Rethink, Reflect Three (2013-15) is on Feminism – on the role of performance in feminist histories and the contribution of artists to discourses around contemporary gender politics.


"Restock, Rethink, Reflect Three has involved collaborations with UK and European partners on programming, publishing and archival projects, including a LADA curated programme, Just Like a Woman, for City of Women Festival, Slovenia in 2013, Just Live a Woman: New York Edition, Just Like a Woman: London Edition (supported by the British Council), the co-publication of re.act.feminism – a performing archive in 2014, and the Fem Fresh platform for emerging feminist practices with Queen Mary University of London.

More information about the artists featured in this exhibition and the wider theme of Live Art and Feminism in the UK can be found online and in print in the Restock Rethink Reflect Three publication, Are We There Yet?, which encapsulates a research, dialogue and mapping project led by Professor Lois Weaver of Queen Mary University of London and supported by a Creativeworks grant.

Further info on the LADA Website:
www.thisisliveart.co.uk/projects/restock-rethink-reflect-three-live-art-and-feminism-2013-2014

Contact the Live Art Development Agency:
www.thisisliveart.co.uk/contact

Credits: All media
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