Nurturing Risk Forum: Testing the safety net

Tim Atack

The opening forum at the Inbetween Time Festival of Live Art and Intrigue is a discussion centring upon the concept of ‘risk’ within live art, with special attention paid to the curator/artist axis. Six sets of producers and artists speak about their experiences of operating together, and how ‘strategies of risk’—rightly identified as a difficult, almost oxymoronic concept—have been nurtured between them, around and within the work. As Nina Wyllie (The Special Guests) flags up early on, any discussion of risk is almost always accompanied by its “somewhat less sexy counterpart, safety.” Certainly the pattern of discussion today is similar no matter where we turn (including dissections of work based in Australia, the UK, Germany and the Netherlands) in that the producers will often talk about the support structures in place around artists, and then the artists take the ball and run, describing how these ‘safety nets’ allow them to bundle all over the place performing acrobatic feats of the imagination and generally engaging in lovely risky stuff (including, in the instance of David Weber-Krebs, flooding part of his host’s venue).

Ironically enough, one of the forum participants is present in written form only, Dan Belasco Rogers having done himself a disservice in the ankle department, resulting in immobility and a cancelled flight from Berlin. (The last IBT festival saw Rogers presenting a seminar on cuts, bruises and injuries he sustained in various international locations over the years—shown in the very same lecture theatre we’re sitting in today—in which, memorably, he asked the city of Bristol “not to hurt” him. In the end it was Berlin that ‘got’ him.) On top of this, dramaturg Thomas Frank of Sophiensaele in Berlin is late because of clogged-up air traffic above Brussels, and at one point in proceedings the fire alarm goes off and we’re forced to evacuate the building. Obviously in real life risk nurtures itself, and this is a point raised within open discussion at the tail end of the forum when artist Paul Hurley ruminates on the fact that risk is present in every art form, and not simply a prerogative of live art. It’s subsequently made clear by many of the participants that they aren’t laying claims to the unique ability of the discipline to engender risk-taking, simply that the often extremely open, trusting relationships between curators and artists are vital to the development of curve-ball concepts and risky creative processes.

In this respect, Thomas Frank’s working practice with UK performers Lone Twin is a wonderful example of commissioners and artists adapting new models in the light of increasing international collaboration. As a company without a ‘rehearsal’ ethic as such, and where the work is sometimes presented simply as documentation, Lone Twin have found a regular foil in Frank, who explains that as a dramaturg under the German model he would normally expect to sit in on preparations and generally have more immediate creative input into an artist’s practice. Gregg Whelan then paints the picture of vague conversations and occasional lunches that characterise Lone Twin’s recent experiences with Frank, and uses this to illustrate how, for this company, the ability to take risk is founded upon ‘belief’: the belief of their collaborators in Lone Twin’s work; the belief of producers like Frank, who will sometimes find themselves sitting in front of a final work completely different from anything previously discussed; and last but not least, the belief of audiences in their endeavours, an audience who are—as Rogers points out—risking a great deal by investing in work where the generic parameters are nebulous and outcomes frequently uncertain

1 February 2006