Bethany Wells, 25 January 2015

A wide ranging discussion that, on reflection, fell into three sections:

I: The inherent politics of temporary events

Connotations of pop-up. ‘Pop-up’ as a strategy has been co-opted by retail, brands,

marketing to such an extent that it can feel tired/cynical.

There is a need for communities to have ownership over place and space, and not

have art done ‘to’ them. But there is also value in art being a disruption, how to retain

the rebellious, radical feel of festivals.

By necessity, artists have always been nomadic, made work where it is affordable; this

has an urgency to it. To what extent are all artists implicit in the front-line of urban


Are there any forms of performance / communal assembly that are able to resist, by

their structure/design, commercial take-up. Nick suggested genuine silliness may be

immune to co-option by commercial interests/marketing. Play can be disruptive; do

forms of play have an in-built political, or a communal element to them?

Difference between a pure spectacle , and work which asks more of the audience, e.g.

requires some kind of agency on the part of the audience to complete the experience .

People know when they are being sold something. They can read it a mile off. The

need to trust in your own intention as an artist; the energy you bring to the public

space; ‘if you hold out your hand they will take it’. As long as the audience remains

central to your work. Be clear about what you want them to experience. The idea of

showmanship. Street performance is very aware of the relationship ‘in the moment’

with the audience; adapts to local context or changing conditions. Agile as a quality.

What is the driving force for the pop-up e.g is it driven by the artist, needing a space to

work, or is it driven by the space/audience - looking at a space and responding to the

needs/opportunities there?

There is a difference between making work with and making for specific places or

communities. Do we have a responsibility to stay, to engage with a community beyond

or past the lifetime of the event? For some this was important, for others, more

interested in the long tradition of the artist as outsider; turn up, bring something that

would never have been ‘home-grown’ by that community. That is refreshing too; not

everything has to be made with or by the community.

Is your work about solving problems you see or asking the questions that you feel

need asking?

Discussion about the value of the temporary event leaving not only a positive memory

in space, but also a gap/vaccum. Reference to Alfredo Jaar's counter-hegemonic

interventions: he realised there was no gallery in the area he was working in, built one,

out of paper, before burning it down after the exhibition: ‘he did not want to impose on

the community an institution they had never fought for’. He has a ‘pedagogical strategy

of never imposing his own vision but instead bringing people to articulate their own


Are we talking about Politics with a capital P? Is it a Political event that is popping up

or is it more about the inherent politics in setting up temporary events? Is performance

in the UK today political enough?

Example of protests turning into sites of creativity . Pop-up performance can be

aligned to political movements, e.g. activist, transition.

II: The edges of site-based performance

Looking at why we take work outside the theatre building: to escape the supposed

passivity of the institution, to bring more edges and contexts into the work. It's not only

a question of what the work is, but the precise placement of it. e.g. the same piece in

different locations takes on different meanings .

The idea of taking away the fixed frame to view work and how that reshapes the work.

Being aware of the ‘Vector’ of engagement with place you want to employ: do you

want to ‘insert’, ‘place’ work, ‘reach’ an audience, shake up, make a point, grow/collect

a work, engage/include?

What relationship does the performance have with the space:

- using the space as a host, not trying to have a long term impact but raising

awareness of its use

- insert something very different, a counter-energy to the everyday

- light-touch; e.g. just the memory of the event will remain

- leave something permanent

Be careful that we are creating spaces, not taking spaces away .

Access points to your event: the difference between how something is read as an

invited/ticketed audience, vs an accidental audience.

Difficulty of having a clear message to many different audiences. What is read as

satire to an invited audience, can be seen as insulting to an accidental audience, who

haven't come to the work through the performance ‘frame’.

Looking at what happens at the edges of events, e.g. processional, public

pieces/installations; if someone is curious or tags along, how are they assimilated,

brought into the event? . Can we build permeability into the

DNA/structure/guidelines/policy and communicate to hosts/ushers of an event.

Example of phones being used as access point into a piece. Only those who come

through that induction are ‘in on it’. The performance is invisible to all others.

Do you consciously decide not to explain the event? To emphasise the

other-ness/bizarre-ness of the intervention.

Secrecy, exclusivity; how to maintain the feeling of specialness of an event, without

being exclusive to an informal audience. Example of Secret Cinema meeting points,

with a dress code, ID cards. For those in the know it feels special. No permeability to

accidental audience .

Activist groups are good at leafleting, flyering, rights and responsibilities of if you join

their group. Could we think of ways of explaining the event differently to invited and

accidental audiences. Or design it so that even if they don't have the same experience

as a ticketed audience, the experience isn't negative.

Concept of ‘audienceship’: managing the agency of an audience. Discussing the

audience experience as key to the structural design of the work.

There will always be rogue elements to site-based work. Some work has a ‘heavy

roller’ attitude to public space, e.g. setting up specific conditions to control the space,

while others do not attempt to ‘flatten’ out the conditions and accept what they find as

the site.

Discussion of public art; how sometimes it is only discussed in terms of what it brings

economically to an area, rather than its value as art.

III: The changing purpose of art

Provocation of Chantal Mouffe: ‘Agonistics’:

'According to some thinkers, the commodification of culture is such that there is no

space anymore for artists to play a critical role' - can art still play a critical role?

The job of art has changed.

The need to be clear sighted as to the aim of your work.

Art has moved from being representational …now to the idea of ‘flocking’ - but where

next: How does performance get actively involved with the changing democratic


Capitalism / ‘immersive’ strategies are encroaching on everyday life e.g. pop up retail

parks, temporary marketing events, guerrilla strategies for corporate products,

sponsorship = the performative nature of contemporary culture. What does this ask of

performance. Where does performance go in response? The inherently embodied

nature of politics today.

Looking at what the political form your work takes, before adding political content. Q:

to look further into: What do we mean about the ‘political form’?

What new forms of assembly, gathering, performance/watching can we design? What

are our aims: . BW: I'm interested in spaces or experiences that are both seductive

and critical at the same time.

Ways of being in space, in public. Including performance that is invisible, using the

rules of a space - hosted by a space, not looking to change it.

Using quasi-public space as a site. Don't necessarily have to transform a space or

engage with its users/residents to use it in your work. Looked at the ideas in

Adventure 1, revealing to the audience the qualities/rules of corporate space . Using

phones as a prop, to enable certain kinds of behaviour .

Question also about the value of un-mediated space, e.g. is it refreshing to have to

leave your phone at the door. What atmosphere does that result in?


Who was here:

I didn't take everyone's name down, but here are the ones I did. Please add your

name if you'd like:

Michelle Walker @michelleyascapi @HatFair

Jonathan Petherbridge @jpeth

Nick Cassenbaum @nickcassenbaum

Bethany Wells @preparedtobe

Tassos Stevens @tassosstevens

Rosalie White @rosaliewhite8

Billy Barrett @billybarrett123


and others!


Links + Further research:

BOOK/IDEAS: Agonistics, Chantal Mouffe

TALK: 7th Feb, event in Leeds: Scenographic City Mehmet Ergen - theatre-maker, Arcola

PROJECT: The Roof is on Fire

FESTIVAL: Inside Out Dorset Festival: Extraordinary events in extraordinary places

PROJECT: Warmth Mobile Sauna


Audience, Site-specific, Invitation, Community, site-specific, audienceship, SPACE,

installation, street performance, showmanship, space, community, festival,

engagement, spectacle, technology, urgency, invitation, gentrification, nomadic,

Technology, agency, ownership, Politics, audience, radical, Engagement, politics,

public, temporary, Festival, place, intervention