The Art of Performance #MayFestPerform

On May 30, 2015, Performing the Past had its inaugural performance at the University of Aberdeen May Festival, in the Linklater Rooms, King’s College, University of Aberdeen, organised by core members Amy Bryzgel (Lecturer in History of Art, University of Aberdeen), Adrienne Janus (Lecturer in English, UoA), and Suk-Jun Kim (Lecturer in Music, UoA). The aim of the annual May Festival is to give the general public the opportunity to get to know the research that the academics at the university are working on, and for the researchers to have the chance to engage with and share their work with the wider community. “Art of Performance” was the result of several months of collaboration among colleagues at the University of Aberdeen to produce an event that both showcased the humanities and their role in the institution. Furthermore, Amy, Adrienne and Jun wanted to create an event that would explore notions of performance, performativity, and participation, by creating events that encouraged the attendees to participate, and also by demonstrating performance and giving the audience a chance to ask questions and discuss what they experienced.

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Marta Barche performs Tanja Ostojic’s Misplaced Women?

There were three performances presented at The Art of Performance. The first was Tanja Ostojic’s delegated performance Misplaced Women?, which was performed by Amy Bryzgel, Marta Barche and Lisa Collinson, all of whom had attended Ostojic’s workshop at the University of Aberdeen on April 1, 2015, and they were also joined by Adrienne Janus. During the course of the performance another attendee of the workshop, whom the organizers didn’t know would be attending, also joined in and unpacked her bag. Next, Suk-Jun Kim and three of his students, Bea Dawkins, Mark James Dunmore and Simon Hellewell did a live-coding performance (Untitled, 2015), where they used the following four phrases as material which they then manipulated in their piece: “Where did you come from? What did you do today? What will you do today? How did you get here?” Finally, after a group discussion on the role of performance art and participatory art in Aberdeen, the audience experienced a Situationist International-inspired dérive, led by Adrienne and Marta, on the Elphinstone Lawn of the University of Aberdeen campus.

Movement was the key concept that linked all three performance: movement, migration, how we move through space, how we occupy space, how we make space our own. To begin with, audience members were asked to move through the space of the Linklater Rooms and explore on their own, unguided and undirected. They were given questions on posterboards and asked to respond to them by writing on the posters, on post-its, and on a tablecloth on a table in the room. They could also Tweet under the hashtag #MayFestPerform. And they were invited to “consume” a work of art – from the piles of candy dotting the room, after Felix Gonzales-Torres’s candy installations. Suddenly, Adrienne, Amy, Lisa Collinson and Marta Barche started performing Tanja Ostojic’s delegated performance Misplaced Women?, which involves an individual unpacking her bag in a public place, in reference to the refugees, migrants and detainees who are often forced to live out of their bags in the public space, and are denied their own private space. The piece raises questions not only about movement and migration, but also about where one’s private space ends and public space begins. At The Art of Performance, this performance of the piece took place suddenly, unannounced, while the audience members were circulating the room, answering questions and eating candy. After the bags were unpacked, the live-coding performance began, and we followed these two performance with a discussion on the role of performance art in Aberdeen.

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Asking questions and encouraging participation at The Art of Performance

In many ways, the May Festival is about performance, about researchers performing their research to the general public. We wanted to create a participatory event, one in which all the attendees could come together and create something – be it an atmosphere, a performative work, or a discussion in which ideas are exchanged and new knowledge and connections produced. After the discussion, the audience followed Adrienne and Marta out onto Elphinstone Lawn for dérive, and I collected all of the posters, post-its, tablecloth and balloons that were written on, took them home, and make a word cloud – a collaborative work that we all made together. It is this word cloud that sits as the header of our website, as it was the foundational event for our activities.

During the discussion, one attendee said that she had actually wanted to join in the Misplaced Women? performance, but wasn’t sure if she could or should, and didn’t know if she had “permission.” In many ways, Misplaced Women? itself is about permission, and the role that permission plays in one’s ability to cross borders – who has permission to go where, and why. But The Art of Performance also raised questions about permission – who gives permission to create, who feels they have permission to create, what does it mean to have permission to do something?

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The Art of Performance

About 35 people attended the Art of Performance, and all were thoroughly engaged and enthusiastic about witnessing and discussing performance, and even trying a bit of it themselves. While this initial endeavour was focused more on the performance aspect of our group, future activities will involve incorporating the remit of our group, employing performance to bring past events, figures or works of art to life through various performance media (sound, light, choreography), so that phenomena from the past emerge as presences whose fascinating and often uncanny otherness can be experienced in the present moment and made accessible to a wide array of audiences.

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The Live-Coding performers (foreground) and attendees of The Art of Performance

To view the live-tweets of the event, see #MayFestPerform on Twitter

*A version of this text was published on Amy Bryzgel’s website, performingtheeast.com.