After a great evening at RichMix watching, talking with, listening to a group of artists, makers, creative people, as part of the Free to Fall Trip season, my mind is on overdrive with the main questions of the evening, surrounding practice and performance and the apparent need to define and identify each.
When is something a practice, when is it a performance? This was raised during the Q&A after artist/maker Charlie Ford's installation work combining movement, himself, drawing, designing the space and creating an on-going dialogue whilst the 'audience' moved in and out of observation. Charlie talked about the want to be himself while he was creating and not feel pressured into stepping into any sort of performance mode just because of there being people watching him create his art. So what defines performance for us? Is it the presence of an audience? The offering of something by an artist for public consumption? What is the difference from watching an artist practice his art to watching a performance of it? Or is it just language?
Other artists presenting work were no more conventional in their art but all presented their work in a theatre/stage space (Charlie's was in a foyer space outside the theatre). The very framing of the stage space, the use of lighting, if only to denote the beginning and end of something we are watching tends to put that work into a performance context. Why? Isn't it our prior experiential learning that has conditioned us to see something presented this way as a performance? Something with a beginning and an end, defined largely by lights or dancers or music which occupies a space a 'safe' distance from us, enabling us to observe, from a distance, and whilst I would not suggest an audience does not interact with a work purely because of its proximity, it is, I believe, a very different experience of interaction than that of being within and closely moving around an installation. So, if we are in a theatre space, by prior knowledge of these conventions we 'expect' a performance to take place? If we are walking through a more open, public, non-seated area we do not have the same expectations? Maybe. So do we interpret Charlie's installation as a performance or as us being witness to him practicing his art? Whilst he wanted to remain at ease within his process, he acknowledged an awareness of his audience, of their presence, pleasure he drew from them moving around the space, though he was not creating the work for them as such, there was undoubtedly a level of interaction between artist and audience.
If you are being observed doing something, could that in itself be classed as a performance? Is it your awareness of others or indeed your awareness of your self in the presence of others that shifts the mode from that of practice (private) to performance (public)? Marketing of events, platforms for artist's work aside, who is defining the moment of performance?
A presentation from another artist this evening, Mari Frogner, saw us come back into the theatre after the interval, taking our seats whilst dancers were already moving (and talking) on stage. The beginning of a performance was not indicated in the way that lights/music may have done, but the placement of the dancers within the stage space, and our pre-defined knowledge of that, we assumed this was a performance. Had the dancers been amongst the audience (a thought that was raised in this particular Q&A) we would undoubtedly had a different experience. Would we still have viewed the 'dance' as a 'performance'?
I guess we come to frames of reference. If familiar with site-based work and/or audience interaction within performance contexts, then yes this would probably still have been viewed as a performance. However if our experience of performance, is situated only within stage/theatrical contexts then anything outside of that frame of reference raises questions for us. Questions then of interpretation? Of interpreting our experiences based on our own frames of reference, coloured by our own back stories, our own cultural, social, philosophical values, inherent in us, in how we perceive and interact with the world around us. So is what defines practice from performance actually us?
Room for much more discussion here...would like to hear your thoughts.