Nurturing Risk Forum: The business of risk

Marie-Anne Mancio at the Nurturing Risk forum

What is the relationship between risk and artistic practice? For some, the notion of risk is necessarily embedded in the process of making work; for others it is relative. Within the context of Inbetween Time, festival director Helen Cole has embraced risk as a means of moving practices forward. The notion of Breathing Space is literally that: a pause in the working life of an artist allowing them to explore, to share it with an audience, to change work, and even allow it to fail.

Nurturing Risk was important then as the festival’s opening forum, pairing 12 panelists—artists, curators, project managers and coordinators. Ironically, Daniel Belasco Rogers was stranded in Berlin with a broken ankle sustained during a workshop, so Cole delivered his written response complete with performance directions. Speakers were “asked to consider how their relationship took risks, how it nurtured, and also how it nurtured risk.”

One of the dominant themes to emerge early on was trust. Mark Timmer of Gasthuis (Netherlands) still finds it amusing that David Weber-Krebs flooded a wooden floor when he was entrusted with the gallery keys; Sydney dance-artist Martin del Amo spoke of his panic after accepting a commission to create a 40-minute piece. Gregg Whelan of Lone Twin expanded on the space between a proposal and the resultant work. He gave as an example Lone Twin’s ambitious idea for a narrative-based piece that would occasionally break into song, an idea that Thomas Frank (Sophiensaele, Berlin) liked well enough to program. When Whelan realised Lone Twin didn’t actually have the musical skills required, they created something altogether different (a work about Morris Dancing). When asked how this mutual trust was attained, Frank and Whelan looked almost perplexed. “Over a series of lunches,” they replied. I was reminded of Adam Phillips’ notion that “a couple is a conspiracy in search of a crime.”

This type of collaboration (or collusion) reflects Fiona Winning’s (Director of Sydney’s Performance Space) opinion that artists are very good at constructing temporary communities. She spoke eloquently about Time_Place_Space, a laboratory in its 5th year that enables new collaborations between artists, expanding their networks and practices. For Winning, it is exciting when artists arrive with one set of ideas only to replace them with others arising from connections made with their peers. Equally, speakers were honest enough to flag up some of the difficulties around blueprints for nurturing risk. Nina Wyllie (founder-member of The Special Guests) described participating in eXpo Mentors 2003. Even as artists straight out of academia and with “little to lose”, they experienced “a sense of submitting”, of fitting into a model. Sophie Cameron (New Work Network), who facilitated that scheme, spoke of the risk of losing control—how there was always the possibility that the mentor-artist combination would fail—and the necessity of managing expectations. Robert Pacitti (Pacitti Company) highlighted the importance of funding to keep these developmental spaces open, praising the Live Art Development Agency’s bursary scheme (now in its final year). He also reminded us of the dangers of complacency. Such schemes need to be championed.

All the speakers were engaging and the pairings well chosen with an emphasis on practice over theory. Daniel Brine ably summed up the proceedings, though the ensuing question and answer session never really ignited. This felt like a lost opportunity. Perhaps everyone was playing it too safe.

Nurturing Risk Forum, coordinator Ruth Holdsworth; Chemistry Lecture Theatre, University of Bristol, Feb 1

RealTime issue #72 April-May 2006 pg.

© Marie-Anne Mancio; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 February 2006