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A Partial History of Live Art

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Notoriously difficult to define as a genre, Live Art is commonly positioned as a challenge to received artistic, social and political categories: not theatre, not dance, not visual art... and often wilfully anti-mainstream and anti-establishment. But as it has become an increasingly prevalent category in international festivals, major art galleries, diverse publications and higher education streams, it is time for a reassessment.

This collection of essays, conversations, provocations and archival images takes the twentieth anniversary of the founding of one of the sector’s most committed champions, the Live Art Development Agency (LADA) in London, as an opportunity to consider not only what Live Art has been against, but also what it has been for. Rather than defining the practices in oppositional terms – what they might be seeking to critique, reject or disrupt – this collection reframes these practices in terms of the relations and commitments they might be used to model or advocate.  What kinds of care and recovery do they enable?  What do they connect as well as reject?  What do they make possible as they test the impossible?  What ideas of success do they stand for as they risk failure?  In this way, the central theme of the collection, and to which all contributors were invited to respond, is the idea of agency: the capacity for new kinds of thoughts, actions and energies as enacted by individual artists and groups. It seems appropriate that this question would be considered in relation to the history of one particular ‘agency’: LADA itself.

These questions are explored in a unique conversational format, bringing together a diverse range of emerging and established practitioners, curators and leading figures in the field, each paired with another practitioner for a live conversation that has been sensitively edited for the page. Curated within a structure of five overlapping themes – Bodies, Spaces, Institutions, Communities and Actions – this format produces unexpected insights and accounts of the development of the field. Each theme also contains two provocative essays by leading scholars, thinkers and makers, exploring the conceptual frames in more detail. The result is a collection that is as heterogeneous, ambitious, contradictory and inspiring as the field of Live Art itself.

Contributors: Aaron Williamson, Adrian Heathfield, Alan Read, Alastair MacLennan, Alexandrina Hemsley, Amelia Jones, Andrew Mottershead, Andy Field, Anne Bean, Barby Asante, Bryan Biggs, Cassils, Catherine Wood, David A. Bailey, Dominic Johnson, Gary Anderson, George Chakravarthi, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Hayley Newman, Heike Roms, Helen Paris, James Leadbitter, Jamila Johnson-Small, Jane Trowell, Jen Harvie, Johanna Tuukkanen, John Jordan, John McGrath, Jordan McKenzie, Joshua Sofaer, Katherine Araniello, Kira O'Reilly, Lena Šimić, Leslie Hill, Lois Keidan, Lois Weaver, Manuel Vason, Martin O'Brien, Mary Paterson, Rajni Shah, Rebecca French, Richard Dedomenici, Ron Athey, RoseLee Goldberg, Selina Thompson, Simon Casson and Tim Etchells.

Co-published with Live Art Development Agency. 

Winner of the 2021 TaPRA Edited Collection Prize

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