This week Arnolfini presents the third installment of its irregular live and performance art festival 4 Days on Thursday 12 - Sunday 15 September.
Through events, installation, text and discussion 4 Days: Curtain Call presents a series of ‘meeting points’ between artist/performer and audience/spectator across a mixed terrain of spaces and formats. Have a look at our past January and April editions here and here.
For each edition of 4 Days we’ve considered art as a shared experience, where meaning is made when an audience is present. The importance of the audience in the arts has a long history, none more so than in the practice of theatre making so for this edition – ‘Curtain Call’ - we thought we’d focus on the relationship between theatre and visual arts.
Today there are many artists from all kinds of disciplinary backgrounds interested in and influenced by theatricality and in 4 Days: Curtain Call alongside cross-disciplinary practitioners such as Serena Korda, Barry Sykes and Ant Hampton you’ll find Jesse Ash, Edwin Burdis, Heather & Ivan Morison and Cally Spooner whose approaches are rooted in the visual arts. The marked increase of the use of theatre making technique across the cultural sector has been quite obvious in recent years. Certainly from a contemporary arts view at present we are seeing a ‘theatrical turn’ in the same way that we experienced a ‘educational turn’ in previous decades. Scratch the surface and there are many examples of the contexts of visual arts and theatre crossing paths in artworks and arts programming everywhere you look. It’s now commonplace for instance or artists who make objects and paintings to also include performance as a key component of their practice. Artists who make film and video are also designing their own performance works with a view to filming the results that are staged in theatres. As more and more artists take up performic attributes what’s fascinating is how the intellect and concept driven worlds of performance art (traditionally anti-theatrical) and performance (critically informed, reference based, often ‘meta’ style theatre) is blending with the emotional, story telling, character driven worlds of traditional theatre, such that the alchemy has put theatre, drama and straight forward theatricality across artforms firmly back in the mix. And this means that the role of the audience - who in theatre are encouraged to actively engage with narratives and the staged encounter – are central in such developments.
Development in this area isn’t simply on an actor to spectator basis either, objects too are now postulated to have the ability to convey narratives to the viewer imbued with their maker’s (the artist’s) ideas. Arnolfini’s recent exhibition Version Control and event Things That Talk brought these concepts to the fore earlier in the year. And the theatre strands of Version Control have continued with current exhibition The Protagonists by Yorgos Sapountzis whose performance closes this edition of 4 Days on Sunday 15. With gallery goers as well as theatre visitors then as ‘audience’ I think we can also begin to think of curators – as mediators – as having a role akin to that of the dramaturg in theatre, aiding to set up the audience and narrative relationship. This 'dramaturgical' turn in visual culture, the idea of curating in the performing arts and the concept of the stage are all explored in Arnolfini’s Curating Performance intensive that runs parallel to 4 Days: Curtain Call.
For some the shift towards all things theatrical in the UK is down to programming and the recent zeal of museums, festivals and large scale cultural events to promote programmes brimming with performed situations.
But artists too have been instrumental in the shift, game-changing over time in their own practices and communities. Live artists, since presenting certain works in the black box environment of the theatre whilst also welcoming theatre-makers into their midst have been key in fostering new works that appeal to theatre and performance enthusiasts alike. Since the 1970s Arnolfini has presented performance of this ilk in its black box Auditorium as alongside concerts and dance whilst mixing ideas between all three as well as with moving image. The result is a long-standing history with theatricality at the organisation. Scriptwriter Glen Neath and live artist Ant Hampton’s ROMCOM or THE DISTANCE THAT LOVE CAN BE MAINTAINED BETWEEN ANY TWO DIVERGING POINTS is a great example of this legacy featuring numerous elements of the above. For each performance at 4 Days: Curtain Call pairs of performers will act out a script in front of the audience having never before seen or heard the words. Making each presentation of ROMCOM (at 3pm, 5pm and 7pm on Sunday 15 September) entirely unique for all concerned. We’re grateful to the guest performers we’ve invited for taking up this challenge so do come along and support them. What will be fascinating during 4 Days: Curtain call will be to see each presentation of ROMCOM afresh with different actors each time and the alternatives that come about therein.
By the way we really want you to experience more than just one performance at 4 Days: Curtain Call, so for £12 you can buy a festival pass which entitles you to see up to six ticketed performances. Please call Arnolfini’s box office to get one of these on +44 (0)117 917 2300. This is also the first edition of 4 Days that has used the Auditorium which is located on the ground floor, and to match this all performances all take place between the ground floor gallery (Gallery 1) – a white space – and the black box of the Auditorium (the theatre).
Both in response to artist work and in keeping with the sector developments 4 Days has always presented performance across spaces throughout the Arnolfini building. Live encounters between artists and visitors in the foyer, the ‘project space’ or just ‘outside’ is a trend in keeping with the ‘zeal’ I mentioned above - the punctuation of the stage across our modern landscape. These happenings and the experiences therein are re-wiring relations between performer and spectator, artist and viewer, audience and actor in the context of the public domain. And many artists such as Cally Spooner are presenting their ideas against this fluid backdrop of the public programme. Spooner’s recent performance at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam was inspired by the musical but in reality was more like scattered pieces of an action painting incorporating performers instead of paint. Ultimately Cally plans to distil much of her recent nomadic works into a film – and she will be talking about this on Friday 13 September with curator Vivian Ziherl, from the Dutch based feminist centric programme and research hub If I Can’t Dance I Don’t Want To Be Part Of Your Revolution. We’ll also be distributing a reader produced by the artist throughout the festival.
In 4 Days: Curtain Call you’ll find much that both re-wires performer, space and audience relations as well as crossing the contexts of theatre and visual art informed by the genres of the play, the musical, the opera and the puppet show. Edwin Burdis’ performing mural The Fruit Machine, originally presented at Wysing Arts Centre is both a libretto and a painting and tells the story of humankind’s relationship with the once abundant ‘fruits’ of planet Earth. Also in in the ground floor gallery space will be an ever changing series of performances from Barry Sykes whose ‘It must be told.’ is an anthropological dig turned meditation on a long-running West End ghost play. Those of you familiar with Barry’s work will have an idea of what’s in store as inventive humour meets investigative rigour. We’ll be live streaming one of Barry’s performances too via This Is Tomorrow on Saturday 14th September at 3pm. We’ll also be streaming the UK debut of Jesse Ash’s Avoidance Avoidance (A Project of Transparency) on Saturday 14 at 5pm – a high-concept work which changes performers each time it’s made whether in Paris or Sao Paulo. Jesse’s practice has focused recently on the avoidance of many in public office to tell the truth and what impact this is having on notions of trust. Avoidance Avoidance is a play that conflates his thinking in these areas whilst also enhancing his body of work into one which has its own complex relationship with audiences. Do not miss this very special work of performance that for me is on the cusp of the ‘theatrical’ turn I mentioned earlier.
Puppetry also features writ-large in this edition of 4 Days thanks to Serena Korda’s 15ft high dinosaur, the central character in her current series Aping the Beast an ongoing story that began at Camden Arts Centre earlier in the year before taking on the confines of The Grundy in Blackpool. All performances in the series involve the boggarts, little people (school children) in fleshy masks and in this case will also see the musical talents of British avant pop artist Alexander Tucker and like-minded partner Daniel O'Sullivan combine as Grumbling Fur to soundtrack the proceeding live. If you can’t make it to this performance I’m pleased to say that it will also be streamed live on Thursday 12 September at 7.30pm. We also have Heather & Ivan Morison’s dark tale Empire of Dirt, an imagined biographical play of the puppeteer Cynan Davies told by Cynan and two puppets under his control whilst sat atop a rickety umpires’ chair. I recently saw this work at Eastside Projects’ Puppet Show (curated by Tom Bloor and Céline Condorelli) and was spellbound.
Lastly if you’re willing to donate an hour of your time toward something creative during the festival, then we will give you a copy of Forest Fringe’s Paper Stages absolutely free in return – this book from the artist-run programming hub is brimming with instruction and ideas as to how to conduct and stage your own performances in the future. This edition of Paper Stages includes new commissions selected by organisations such as Fierce Festival and we have asked Shaun C Badham and Jenna Watt to input on this occasion. Come along to 4 Days: Curtain Call to see what Shaun and Jenna contributed to the publication and then also come and see them perform in ROMCOM on Sunday 15 September at 3pm. Contriving things further in terms of links the other ROMCOM performers we’ve asked two excellent performance duos from the South West region to take part. Search Party and Zierle & Carter are both male/female couples who make work together having recently taken part at events organised by our friends at Showroom Projects and In Between Time.
As we ready ourselves for a busy Performance, Music and Film season at Arnolfini it’s great that 4 Days: Curtain Call continues the importance we place on a local and international mix. I really hope you can come along in person to 4 Days: Curtain Call and experience examples of the ‘theatrical’ turn first hand or alternatively watch via This is Tomorrow live streams of the following: