Agency: A Partial History of Live Art

October 31, 2020
Agency: A Partial History of Live Art

Notoriously difficult to define as a genre, Live Art is commonlypositioned as a challenge to received artistic, social andpolitical categories: not theatre, not dance, not visual art… andoften wilfully anti-mainstream and anti-establishment. But as ithas become an increasingly prevalent category in internationalfestivals, major art galleries, diverse publications and highereducation streams, it is time for a reassessment.This collection of essays, conversations, provocations andarchival images takes the twentieth anniversary of the founding ofone of the sector's most committed champions, the Live ArtDevelopment Agency (LADA) in London, as an opportunity to considernot only what Live Art has been against, but also what it has beenfor. Rather than defining the practices in oppositional terms –what they might be seeking to critique, reject or disrupt – thiscollection reframes these practices in terms of the relations andcommitments they might be used to model or advocate. What kinds ofcare and recovery do they enable? What do they connect as well asreject? What do they make possible as they test the impossible?What ideas of success do they stand for as they risk failure? Inthis way, the central theme of the collection, and to which allcontributors were invited to respond, is the idea of agency: thecapacity for new kinds of thoughts, actions and energies as enactedby individual artists and groups. It seems appropriate that thisquestion would be considered in relation to the history of oneparticular ‘agency’: LADA itself.These questions are explored in a unique conversational format,bringing together a diverse range of emerging and establishedpractitioners, curators and leading figures in the field, eachpaired with another practitioner for a live conversation that hasbeen sensitively edited for the page. Curated within a structure offive overlapping themes – Bodies, Spaces, Institutions, Communitiesand Actions – this format produces unexpected insights and accountsof the development of the field. Each theme also contains twoprovocative essays by leading scholars, thinkers and makers,exploring the conceptual frames in more detail. The result is acollection that is as heterogeneous, ambitious, contradictory andinspiring as the field of Live Art itself.