Survey by Qualaroo

The Genesis of 4 Days

Curator Jamie Eastman outlines 4 Days, a new quarterly programme of performance.

The catch-all term ‘Performance’ is rather elastic and broad in its usage in the artworld these days. It doesn’t help when the dictionary definition of the word refers as much to how qualitively something functions and matters of accomplishment in general as it does to the worlds of live and performance art, theatre, music, dance, opera, poetry, expanded cinema, moving image and so on – aka the performing arts.

For me, I relate the term to the breadth of activities that make up the live constituency and as Curator of Performance here at Arnolfini hope to author an identifiable position for the institution within this constituency, rather than pre-occupy myself with what the term performance should or shouldn’t refer to. Recently the programme team here have offered audiences the chance to encounter ‘performers’ and ‘live artworks’ of contemporary relevance in weekend events such as Extreme Rituals and Visionary Kingdom and the Comings and Goings series and, in doing so, we’re just starting out on this journey to establish Arnolfini’s position, being artist-led and audience focused as we do so.

When I first starting thinking about the ways that live and performance art as well as theatre, music, dance and moving image could inhabit Arnolfini’s programme I very quickly began to think about the role of the visitor and the potential that performance holds as an experience for them. The live encounter between persons and what each of them takes away following that encounter is for me, quite distinct from an encounter with an object. And I hope to explore this with the programme here at Arnolfini. I also intend for Arnolfini to present performance ‘now’ as opposed to performance ‘past’ and in doing so consider the distinct qualities of performance on an emotional level, being different to an encounter with say a painting or a sculpture (of the non-living variety) in the contemporary spectrum.

The production of art is often down to the enquiry artists make of the world around them (material, emotional, political etc.) and its reception as an experience regularly engages us in this same enquiry. Of course there are the aesthetic and material properties of art to experience as well, but in a live encounter between people in real time, the immediacy and directness of the experience is worth exploring a little. For me as a curator, those artists that choose to communicate their ideas via performative actions do so because they want to absorb/draw the spectator more actively into this process of exchange, so much of the live programme here at Arnolfini will go into this notion of choice in more detail – the rationale by which artists elect to use performance to communicate their ideas, and the resulting experience of this for audiences and artists following.

To look at some of these areas more intently, I’ve conceived a quarterly platform called ‘4 Days’. Each edition of 4 Days will run for four consecutive days, and present a range of live encounters, many of which will be participatory. Not ‘participatory’ in an off-putting way, but (I hope) quite the reverse, with an easy ‘it’s for anyone and everyone’ type offer. The provocation from the artists presenting works in 4 Days will remain in keeping with Arnolfini’s mission to present experimental practise, but not such as to prevent genuine engagement for any visitor to Arnolfini regardless of interest group or background with the ideas on offer.

A loose theme for the first edition of 4 Days on January 17-20 is ‘coming together’ – whether as a group of spectators to experience performance, or as a stranger meeting another stranger (re: spectator meeting performer) in the process of an artwork. For persons to meet, explore and potentially share in an ‘act’ or ‘action’ together via artistic processes is fundamental to the 4 Days platform, exchanging ideas founded in key performance tropes such as theatre, music, movement or poetry as well as disciplines like science, sport, language and text and actions such as public speaking or singing and dancing.

So 4 Days is a platform that explores the spectator’s response and reaction to being ‘offered’ this opportunity of exchange and how it feels for them to do so. And its about what an artist might be aiming for when opting to activate a space with performance and ‘liveness’. The platform also wonders what the catalytic forces might be, that propel a spectator to participate directly in an idea proposed by an artist – and ‘get closer’ to the action (or even ‘be’ the action). It’s going to be pretty expansive, with different live activities taking place throughout Arnolfini beginning on Thursday 17th January at 6.30pm with Heather Phillipson (UK) and Nils Bech (NO) and concluding on Sunday 20th January at 5.30pm with Sarah Vanhee (BEL).

Heather Phillipson – ‘PRESSURIZATION’ (Image courtesy of the artist)

For some artists, their use of performance is very strategic, for others it’s simply because (as with a gifted musician) the drive to compose new work inevitably leads to a live moment. Some will develop or propose a persona in the performance (as with acting), others will remain close in feel to their everyday selves. The performance programme at Arnolfini won’t be overly concerned with how artist’s present themselves but will focus on the exchange of ideas through performative actions. With participation ever popular now in live presentation, as Allan Kaprow might have envisaged, it’s crucial that Arnolfini considers the function of the contemporary art centre in such trends. One of these functions is to bring some meaning for audiences into the artistic process and I hope that visitors will enjoy making some meaning from 4 Days.

The next post on this blog, will look at some of the live works scheduled to take place and be performed during the January edition of 4 Days programme and also look at what’s in store up ahead in Arnolfini’s programme from a ‘performative’ point of view.

In the meantime, there’s still time for you to take a key role in Emma Smith’s live proposition ‘∆E=W’ (Change in Energy = The Work) which is part of January’s 4 Days. If you would like to volunteer to take part in a workshop with Emma on Saturday 15th December and then again during 4 Days on Saturday January 19th then you will find details of how to do so here. Previous iterations of ‘∆E=W’ (Change in Energy = The Work) have taken place at Tate Modern and it will be quite exciting to see how things develop with the piece here. As its title suggests, Emma – whose work as an artist often proposes socially engaged activities between people – is very interested in the energy (cosmic, sub-atomic or otherwise) that people can create when grouping together in a space en masse. Volunteering at this stage will see you take a key role in encouraging this togetherness and demonstrating the energetic potential of working together. Visit here for more information or email

Emma Smith ‘∆E=W’ other image (Credit Hydar Dewatchi 2011)

As is often the case in the work of socially engaged artists, artworks like ‘∆E=W’ cannot truly exist/conclude without the spectator taking an active role in its potential meaning, so even if you can’t commit to volunteering at this stage, then come along to 4 Days on the 17, 18, 19 and 20 Jan 2013 to see if you fancy getting involved. For my part, I hope to meet you then (if not before).

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