Overview: The risk of curating

Marie-Anne Mancio

It was risky. Risky for us, risky for them… Five days at Inbetween Time proved that this is one festival where artists and audience are prepared to meet one another half-way. Alongside completed works, I participated in experiments, witnessed works-in-progress, and accepted that artists have permission to fail. Helen Cole articulated her concept in the Nurturing Risk forum that opened the event. She talked of creating a context in which artists could share their work with audiences to see how they might progress or transform it. This is certainly an admirable curatorial approach and for the most part the risk paid off as audiences seemed delighted with the festival’s offerings. The few works that suffered were those shown without contextualisation and interpreted as representative of an artist’s output when in fact they were often radical departures.

Miguel Pereira, considered a serious choreographer in his native Portugal, gave us a camp pastiche where he allowed 10 participants from his Inbetween Time residency to orchestrate his pop star persona’s deaths. Top 10 (Bristol) divided viewers (I loved it). At least Pereira was on hand to discuss the work informally in the Spaghetti Club bus or the Arnolfini Bar. This wasn’t the case with Yara El-Sherbini. She couldn’t attend Inbetween Time and Avoiding dark Ali’s video documentation of the artist as a stand-up comedian was exhibited without the benefit of further illumination. Placing other El-Sherbini works alongside this one might have given a better sense of her practice. In contrast, the lecture format served Gob Squad well. Me, The Monster laid bare the process of their current residency for Inbetween Time, documenting their enquiries into fear by interviewing people in a local shopping mall. Their footage of the re-filming (shot by shot) of the opening scenes of the horror flick Halloween, gave us a tantalising taste of things to come. Similarly, Paul Granjon (in The Heart and The Chip), using the lecture-demonstration format, gave a comprehensive overview of the development of his ideas which added a human touch to his sex robots.

Official Spaces

Some artistic risks would have gone unnoticed by audiences unless they were part of the festival grapevine that revealed, for instance, that Uninvited Guests decided to cut all text from their durational installation Aftermath at the last minute. This piece was placed in the climate-controlled Gallery 5—not usually utilised for the festival. The heat added to the discomfort of viewing wounds and fake blood and it felt almost subversive to replace the precious paintings usually shown here with this kind of mark-making. This subtle exploitation of space was typical of Inbetween Time. In the Dark Studio, images from Monika Tichacek’s stunning video The Shadowers glowed like jewels in the blackness: and we focused on every frame of John Gillies’ extraordinary Divide. ( I do think these works deserved screening times because interruptions caused by viewers entering and leaving were irritating.) Even Deborah Pollard’s Shapes of Sleep, conceived for a white room, was imbued with a new theatricality by being placed in the Dark Studio.

The theatre was where most of us started our day with the 11am Lecturama. This was a clever way of easing viewers into events, though I wonder if AC Dickson: eBay Powerseller—a great show—suffered from some arguably British early-morning reserve. I think it might have worked even better after one of the alcohol-fuelled evening launch events.

Alternative spaces

Alex Bradley’s In [a certain] SILENCE (made in collaboration with product designer Lee McCormack) looked like a pod from science fiction and its siting next to the elevator seemed to imply it too might fly upward. Even the bookshop was utilised when performer Eve Dent hid various parts of her body, then her whole self, on the shelves. And when Duckie was cancelled, festival-goers transformed the bar into an impromptu party venue. Parked just outside the Arnolfini, The Spaghetti Club’s bus was an ingenious inclusion, offering a ‘chill-out’ zone where alcohol was served, fingernails were painted and muffins toasted. This converted London double-decker bus became the alternative meeting point, with its own timetabled events. The use of The Cube (an artist-run venue in another part of Bristol) was another great idea, ensuring that links were maintained between the institution and smaller artist-led initiatives. Its theatre space had the slightly shabby quality of an amateur dramatics hall and suited Miguel Pereira perfectly. Bristol University’s Wickham Theatre was also well-served by David Weber-Krebs Beckettian This Performance. The walk/ taxi ride there (uphill) added to the sense of anticipation which Weber-Krebs so expertly frustrated.

Odd Boxes

The use of thematic in Inbetween Time (This Secret Location, Twisted Showbiz, Lecturama, Breathing Space and We Live Here) felt superimposed. The notion that these categories were “easily navigable” for those who hadn’t seen Live Art (performances and digital installations) before is also questionable because focusing on one strand could give a skewed picture of the nature of the work.

Breathing Space involves an ongoing programme of curatorial exchange between Arnolfini and Australia’s Performance Space in a mix of established Australian works and British ones in development. We Live Here showed artists local to Bristol. Amongst them, This Much I Know [Part Two] saw The Special Guests attempting for the first time a durational performance of such length—6 hours. This was conceived by Helen Cole suggesting that her curatorial input is as much about facilitating artistic development as programming it.

This Secret Location looked at work in a specific medium (digital), yet This Secret Location (Live) was about smaller live work. Lecturama comprised demonstrations using the lecture format and Twisted Showbiz claimed to feature artists who deconstruct “theatre.” Tim Etchells/Forced Entertainment short film Starfucker sat uneasily in the latter category. Whilst the Forced Entertainment collective enact a dismantling of theatre, this work clearly deconstructs film! I also wondered about Starfucker’s placement in the wider scope of the festival. It was produced in 2001 and without knowing the context in which it was made (was this its premiere, a transitional period for Etchells or the collective in any way?) it seems oddly out of place here. I was glad to see it and admit that it’s difficult to conceive of a Live Art festival that doesn’t include Forced Entertainment, but suspect it was a cheaper option than programming something new by the company. Equally, Lone Twin were reviving their first work, On Everest (which could as easily have been placed in the Lecturama strand), and it was not clear why. Was it part of their artistic practice, a stock-taking of sorts, to facilitate their moving forward?

The uneasy conceptual relationship between strands does not reflect the coherence of the festival’s content overall. Common to the work was a play with form and a joy in hybridity. There were some curious parallels: both Martin del Amo (Under Attack) and Miguel Pereira stripping themselves down to the flesh as if wanting to be rid of the clothes and roles that constrain them; I was reviewing performances as part of the RealTime writing workshop team, but FrenchMottershead (Reviewing Inbetween Time) were writing about us all as audiences. In Inbetween Time the audience really did matter. Whether our physical presence was required to complete the work (as in Lynette Wallworth’s Still:Waiting2, where sitting down altered the digital image) or we were psychologically toyed with, we became part of the art, not merely viewers.

Taking Risks with Audiences

In the opening forum, the question of how to curate a taste for risky work amongst audiences was touched upon and I believe Cole really addressed this in her curation. Her use of residencies has ensured that the local or potential audience is involved in the work’s conception. Gob Squad admitted they weren’t sure how to proceed and asked us for comments. Paul Granjon finished his lecture by offering us wine and an invitation to ride his robots. AC Dickson invited us to bid on his eBay offer of a night out with him in Bristol.

Interactivity felt like a key element of the festival. From seeing a visualisation of your heart beat in George Poonkhin Khut’s Cardiomorphologies to filling in a questionnaire that determines whether you are an alien, a werewolf, a vampire, a ghost or Frankenstein’s monster in Gob Squad’s Me, The Monster, to having your kiss sculpted with dental casting material by Charlie Murphy, you were engaged and sometimes implicated in the action. The programme was cleverly organised so that there was sufficient in between time for audiences too, time to absorb what we saw. This was aided by the decision to offer a RealTime writing workshop, producing daily reviews which were distributed to festival-goers, giving them the opportunity to reflect on what they had seen or to read about what they had missed.

Works that addressed lone viewers were also included, emphasising the intensity of the physiological and psychological experience. Paul Hurley’s Swallow invited you for champagne and oysters; Caroline Wright’s Conversations with Friends gave you a set of walking directions before engaging you in a personal exchange. These tiny private moments seemed magnified in the context of a busy festival and allowed individuals to disengage temporarily from the audience as collective.

This is the third festival Helen Cole has curated. I wonder what we will do in between time as we anticipate the next.

6 February 2006