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January 25 2012

Liverpool's DaDaFest wins prestigious prize

The international disability and deaf arts festival has scooped the Lever Prize

The DaDaFest in Liverpool has won this year's prestigious £10,000 Lever Prize, just over a year after I wrote about fears over the festival's future funding due to Arts Council cuts.

The UK's largest disability and deaf arts festival, which attracts international artists was chosen by senior representatives of the 30 largest companies in the north west to receive the prize.

In 2011, DaDaFest celebrated its 10th anniversary, having begun in 2001 as a community arts event. Over the last decade, it has attracted 100,000 visitors.

When it started, there were a handful of performers; last year the number of artists has swelled to 313, with a total of 1,200 participants and visitor numbers expected to reach at least 11,000.

The festival's aims are simple – to inspire and celebrate talent and excellence in disability and deaf arts. The performances took part in mainstream venues – Liverpool's theatres, art spaces and galleries, so the festival was accessible to all audiences.

At the time, festival's artistic director, Garry Robson, explained its ethos. He said: "DaDaFest is here to present the work of deaf and disabled artists, whose work is on a par with mainstream artists.

"Disabled and deaf people are not simply passive consumers of a tragic destiny but active participants in all areas of life, with a unique and valuable cultural perspective that we plan to share during the festival."

In 2011, there was an international feel to the festival with performances from north and south America, Europe and Australia, as well as the UK. American writer and director Christine Bruno is performing Screw You Jimmy Choo, a play "about a woman obsessed with men she can't have and shoes she can't wear."

Ugandan hip-hop artist Rockin Ronnie, who is involved with Krip Hop Nation, a collective of musicians based in Berkeley, California, wrote and performed a festival theme song.

The festival's CEO, Ruth Gould, said that research undertaken to evaluate the festival shows that 75% of participants have gone on to get employment in the creative arts sector.

"At DaDaFest we know that the arts give us a voice; give us a hope in a world where we feel excluded, forgotten and ignored," she says.

Previous winners of the Lever Prize, named in honour of 19th soap magnate and philanthropist William Lever, include Liverpool Biennial, Tate Liverpool and Manchester International Festival.

Each year the prize is judged by the North West Business Leadership Team (NWBLT) in partnership with Arts & Business North.

Arts groups, buildings, events, festivals, libraries and archives are all eligible and in addition to the £10,000 cash prize the award opens the door to collaboration with the region's top businesses. Last year's winner of the Lever Prize was the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester.

Gould said: "We're delighted the NWBLT have acknowledged the unique work DaDaFest does in representing disability and deaf culture in the north west and internationally.

"The award and resulting creative collaborations with NWBLT members will allow us to present an even more relevant and enticing festival later this year."

Geoffrey Piper, chief executive of NWBLT said: "DaDa's success in landing the 2012 Lever Prize is a truly outstanding achievement having seen off an extremely impressive range of the north west's other well-known arts organisations to win this major accolade."

This year's DaDaFest takes place from July 13 to September 2. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

July 13 2011

'Real life in all its forms'

Adrian Searle has some unnerving confrontations with work by artists including Marina Abramović, Simon Fujiwara and Laura Lima
Warning: Nudity and adult content

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July 11 2011

Room with no view

A manga character comes to life – and Marina Abramović drops dead. Adrian Searle is tricked and intrigued by two Manchester shows

"Hello. Nice to see you. My name is Annlee." Annlee began life as a manga avatar acquired by the artists Philippe Parreno and Pierre Huyghe in 1999 from the Japanese creative agency that created her. She first appeared in a project called No Ghost Just a Shell, which included posters, animations and sculptures. Annlee was then passed to other artists,  and now she's come alive in a work by Tino Sehgal, who will be filling Tate Modern's Turbine Hall for his Unilever Commission during next year's Olympics.

Annlee is now really real, a real girl in the exhibition 11 Rooms at Manchester Art Gallery. Each room features a different artist, and a new and surprising encounter. Sehgal never allows his work to be photographed or filmed. You have to be there. Annlee behaves as if she's not quite sure about being human; she's never met living people before and she's got lots of questions. She fixes us with her inquisitive stare. What's the difference, she asks, between a sign and melancholia?

There's no good answer to that. In white room after white room you plunge in, 11 times, not knowing what you'll find there. More real presences, performances and theatre. A naked woman is checking herself in a small hand-mirror, examining herself, inch by inch. Elbow, crotch, back of the knee. I have seen Joan Jonas's 1970 Mirror Check before, and once watched it sitting beside Jonas herself, both of us watching someone else being her, another body being a body. In another room the ceiling has been lowered and you have to crawl to see what's in there: nothing but a lamp, and in the far distance another woman clothed, making small occasional gestures, or doing nothing at all. The first time I went, it was clear that the woman had cerebral palsy. Laura Lima's performers are less living sculptures than distant presences far across the room, oblivious to our attention.

A young man stands and faces the corner. This is Veterans of the Wars of Northern Ireland, Afghanistan and Iraq Facing the Corner, by Spanish artist Santiago Sierra. The second time I saw it, an old soldier with a stick was standing there. What do these men see when they face the blank white wall? Where do their minds go? Is this work to shame or honour? Perhaps both. It is a performance of great dignity and ambiguity. In all these rooms, the question is the same: What's the place of those we encounter? What's ours?

You walk in and you don't know what you'll find. A man in a bed, snoozing amid satin sheets. He starts to read from a big bound book about the lives of Saint Simon. His name's Simon, too, and the artist who devised all this is Simon Fujiwara. Someone alone in bed is likely to get up to all sorts, even with an audience clustered round. He tweaks his nipple, and slides his hand under the sheets, all the while giving an increasingly irate commentary. You don't know where to put yourself, whether to stay or leave. Another man comes, undresses and hovers by the bed. As he gets in, the other one gets out, in a quick-change flurry of bed linen and a flash of underwear.

In Allora and Calzadilla's Revolving Door, a troupe of dancers stamp and turn, performing a sort of mechanical march reminiscent of the Tiller Girls, if they had got their marching orders from Leni Riefenstahl. In Xu Zhen's In the Blink of an Eye a living figure is frozen in an impossible mid-fall. It's like a scene from The Matrix. How is this impossible pose achieved? It's a trick, but a good one.

John Baldessari wanted to display a corpse in a climate-controlled vitrine, presented to the audience feet-first, like Mantegna's dead Christ. Apart from all the redacted email correspondence pinned to the wall, detailing the artist's attempts to borrow a body, Baldessari's room is empty. Currently, he's looking for someone willing to give permission for their body to be displayed when they're gone.

Dogs, bones and dead artists

Art without an object, or without the body of the artist or the spectator somewhere in the midst, is unthinkable. No human subject, no art. And art without the sense of life's transience is unthinkable, or so trivial we might as well ignore it. Marina Abramović once perched naked on a bicycle seat halfway up a wall, arms outstretched, legs apart, in a 1997 performance called Luminosity. Here it is again, with someone else taking the artist's place, pinned to the wall like a butterfly, transfixed in blinding light.

Three dead Marinas lie on their biers at the beginning of Robert Wilson's The Life and Death of Abramović, premiered last weekend at the Lowry. Big red bones litter the floor (in reference to a gruelling performance the Serbian artist undertook at the Venice Biennale in 1997 at the height of the Balkan wars). Live dogs pad about, scavenging the stage. Playing both herself and the monstrous mother who tormented her (both her parents kept loaded pistols under their pillows), Abramović plays herself in life, and to her imagined death.

But this is a Robert Wilson production, a series of astonishing, breathtaking and complex tableaux held together by the brilliant performance of Willem Dafoe, who recounts her story like a crazed chorus. He's shock-haired Peter, a sardonic Berlin cabaret spieler. He also sings the word "electricity" just like Captain Beefheart, just one of many leftfield references in Wilson's production.

In one of the best scenes, alone on stage with Marina, Dafoe is a paranoia-inducing shrink. Would you want your shrink to look like Jack Nicholson's Joker? But everything leads back to Abramović's mother, a perverse figure who actually wants to kill those she is supposed to protect. This looming shadow also made Abramović the artist she became. The drama is played out again and again, even though the kinds of confrontations Abramović's art has explored since the 1970s are rendered so obliquely that the artist's actual achievements, which are considerable, are in danger of being buried in biopic histrionics. Dafoe keeps Wilson's excess in check.

Antony Hegarty is a less convincing presence. His best songs ask Marina why she cuts herself, why pain nourishes her. But the real point of Antony here is that he takes the place of a protective mother, the one Abramović never had.

References to earlier performance art abound, though it's all too easy to miss Wilson's sly contextualisations. And despite her living presence, Abramović's art gets somehow buried by her life, however inventively retold.

Wilson's works are huge, baggy affairs. They even seem a mite old-fashioned, but not to worry, they'll look new again later. Wilson's genius is for the future. As it is, Wilson's images have been haunting me for days. In one heartstopping tableau, Abramović, dressed as a soldier in Tito's army and seated on a wooden horse, her back ramrod-straight, is the model of dehumanised discipline her mother always wanted. Wilson's excessive, generous art is a great complement to the pared-down confrontations of 11 Rooms. The images keep coming back.

• 11 Rooms is at Manchester Art Gallery until Sunday. The Life and Death of Marina Abramović is at The Lowry, Manchester, tomorrow until Saturday. Details: 0161-876 2198. Both events are part of Manchester international festival: © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

July 04 2011

Manchester international festival: A return to Sarajevo

Atmospheric and deeply affecting, 1395 Days Without Red is two versions of a film that recreates the daily lives of people caught up in the siege of Sarajevo

Search the internet for images of the 1992–6 siege of Sarajevo, and you will find endless shots of bodies and wrecked buildings; of soldiers, politicians and peace envoys; of the citizens of the Bosnian capital sprinting across streets and crossroads, hoping to avoid the indiscriminate Serbian snipers. The populace were advised not to wear bright colours, especially yellow or red, in order to avoid becoming targets.

Among these graphic and frequently horrible images is that of an elegantly dressed young woman, strolling with great dignity and style against a backdrop of sandbags, ignoring a soldier as she passes. She might have stepped out of Fellini's La Dolce Vita, rather than living under a siege almost medieval in its brutality. Sarajevo's population were starved, mortared, shot at and murdered on a daily basis, in conditions unseen since the second world war. Here she comes, head up, almost regal in her calm.

Older now, but just as self-possessed, the same woman pauses at a corner where her fellow citizens gather, plucking up the courage to run. A compelling presence, she has lost none of her poise. Meliha Vareshanovic is just one of the many ordinary Sarajevans taking part in a film collaboration between Albanian artist Anri Sala and Šejla Kamerić, an artist and film-maker born in Sarajevo in 1976. Kamerić lived through the siege in her late teens, while Sala (born in 1974) grew up under Albanian communism, once making a film about his mother's enthusiastic support for the Enver Hoxha regime.

The two artists recreate daily life in Sarajevo between 5 April 1992 and 29 February 1996. Their work shuttles between the streets, with their constant threat of death or maiming, and a rehearsal, by the Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra, of the first movement of Tchaikovsky's 6th Symphony, the Pathétique, conducted by American composer Ari Benjamin Meyers. The musicians play in their overcoats, as they did during the siege, in a Tito-era building used by the populace at the time as a sort of indoor street.

Now showing at the Whitworth art gallery in Manchester, and produced by Artangel, 1395 Days Without Red is premiered alongside a number of previous Artangel film projects, including films and installations made over the last decade or so by Francis Alÿs, Atom Egoyan and Catherine Yass. Kamerić and Sala's collaboration was intended as a single film, but a disagreement led to each artist editing the footage they had shot independently, eventually making two almost hour-long films with the same title, the same settings and action, the same cast of Saravejans, all of them old enough to have experienced the siege for themselves. There are the same musicians and conductor, and the same Spanish actor, Maribel Verdú (best known for her role in Pan's Labyrinth), as a young, terrified woman who musters up courage by humming a theme from the Tchaikovsky symphony as she crosses the city. The piece hasn't much plot, but it doesn't need one. It's all atmosphere and place, the invocation of fear and spirit, relived moments, loss and hope. Both films are a kind of return, a doubling of memory and presence.

The complications really begin by showing the two films back to back. This is problematic, for the viewer as well as the artists. Watching the two films one after the other is more than a game of spot-the-difference, or a Groundhog Day experience, even though the similarities between both films are almost endless: identical chattering magpies and crows, symphony rehearsals, plucked strings, and bassoon; the same man walking along a railway line, flinching and ducking at the report of a sniper's rifle, another pausing to light his cigarette. There is that unmissable and spirited Sarajevan woman again, middle-aged now, walking to Tchaikovsky's metronomic, slowly pulsing beat, walking the walk she first made in fear and stoicism a decade and a half ago.

In Sala's film you hear a rifle's reports; in Kamerić's you don't. Kamerić lingers on a bullet-pocked wall; Sala doesn't. The soundscape in Kamerić's version is more baroque, the rustle of leaves and panicked beat of running feet a bigger aural experience. In Sala's version, the sound of the city is more compressed, the aural space both more dramatically full and empty. The camera angles and pace are somehow different, the storyboarding and scene order altered by each director. You keep thinking your own memory is at fault.

There's that patch of melted snow on the grass again, that plane tree, that high shot of the big crossroads, that long view down a deadly boulevard, with a makeshift barrier in the distance, obstructing the sightlines of the snipers in the distant hills. Kamerić's film feels more subjective; Sala's somehow keeps the emotional tempo down. Both versions are extremely affecting, and both have their humour: the fear of the populace transmuted into absurd relay races at the crossroads, rubbernecking in the shadow of buildings, the same feelings of solitary, hopeless exposure, the shuffled herding at street corners. The two films become a stereoscopic view of the same thing. Or is it the same thing?

Sala and Kamerić never planned to work this way, but their disagreement, the flaw in the collaboration and the falling out – over whatever it was – has led to something new and unexpected. Like them, we each find a way of working through the material.

Which is what Samuel Beckett's Krapp does, too, listening to his former, earlier self talking on an old reel-to-reel tape recorder, in Steenbeckett, Atom Egoyan's version of a section of Beckett's play. It stars John Hurt, who played the part in a memorable stage version and for Channel 4. We spy Krapp through miles of film, festooned on spindles and endlessly criss-crossing a room, eventually running through an old Steenbeck film-editing desk. We see Krapp dimly on the desk's little screen, beyond the whirring celluloid, the image becoming scratched and worn out before our eyes, just like Krapp himself. I enjoyed watching Hurt play Krapp at the Ambassador's theatre in London some years ago, and then again in Egoyan's installation a little later. Seeing it a decade on in Manchester, I'm less convinced that it draws more out of Beckett than Beckett gives Egoyan: what you really get tangled up in is Hurt's performance, Beckett's words.

Memory isn't an old scratched movie or a decaying magnetic tape. In reliving things, they are made new again. We have changed. But, in their way, all the Artangel projects here – Alÿs's Seven Walks, with its perigrinations and circulating walks through cities, and an urban fox wandering a gallery at night; Yass's High Wire, with tightrope walker Didier Pasquette setting out, faltering and retreating on a wire strung between two Glasgow high rises; and Tony Oursler's Influence Machine, with its ghostly faces and disembodied voices from the past glimmering and moaning among the trees in Whitworth park, all find echoes and concordances in Kamerić and Sala's two films. Or rather, we find them. 1395 Days is a single film doubled, a walk taken a second time, a symphony re-interpreted, a second siege, lives lived twice.

• Šejla Kamerić and Anri Sala: 1395 Days Without Red/Projections: Works from the Artangel collection is at the Whitworth art gallery, Manchester, until 17 July. Details: 0161-275 7450. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

July 01 2011

Manchester international festival is go

The Guardian is at the Manchester international festival, kicked off by Björk last night. Did you see her? Are you going? Please send us your pictures, tweets and comments

Last night, the third Manchester international festival started in spectacular style with a performance by Björk. It was the live debut of her new project Biophilia, which as well as an album – out in September – also incorporates a series of apps and an education project. Special instruments had been made for the show, including a musical Tesla coil, a cross between a gamelan and a celeste and four giant pendulums with strings attached which were plucked as they swung. There was even a voiceover by David Attenborough. Dave Simpson reviews the show here.

Today sees two other exciting works get their live debuts. At 4pm, red-hot interactive theatre company Punchdrunk launch The Crash of the Elysium, a collaboration with the BBC's Doctor Who team, which my colleague Mark Brown will be sampling and writing about later – with child in tow, since adults aren't allowed in without one. Lyn Gardner wrote about the show a couple of weeks ago.

Then the Palace theatre will see the opening of Damon Albarn's second opera Doctor Dee, about the Elizabethan mystic and alleged alchemist. Albarn himself will be performing; it's directed by Rufus Norris. John Harris interviewed him about the piece last week, and we'll be reviewing it tonight.

Elsewhere, there's a special performance by violinist Alina Ibragimova with visuals by the Quay Brothers, while Sinead O'Connor plays at the festival's hub, the Pavillion theatre in Albert Square. Next week sees the premier of – among other things – Victoria Wood's new play with music, That Day We Sang, which she talks about in Film&Music today.

Of course, we want you to get involved in our coverage too. If you'd like to tweet your thoughts for us (they'll appear on our Mif home page), tweet @guardianculture using the tag #mif11. Our Mif Flickr group is live - please post your pictures here. Also, please leave a comment below if you've seen anything at Mif you liked (or hated), or if you're looking forward to anything.

In the meantime, plenty of people have been tweeting about last night. @jonnohopkins writes "Another reason Bjork was amazing. Strictly no photography! Bliss" and he's right, it was enhanced by the lack of people holding up their phones to record it. He also mentions that Johnny Depp was apparently there. Team Guardian didn't see him, but we did bump into Antony Hegarty at the gig, and Willem Dafoe at the Mif opening party later on. Both are currently working on The Life and Death of Marina Abromović, an opera starring and about the performance art legend, which opens here a week tomorrow.

More tweets: "Bjork is wearing what can only be described as a Carlos Valderama fright wig..." says @dawski, referring to the singer's giant ginger afro.

Meanwhile, Damon Albarn has dented @emmagoswell's northern pride. "Nice plug for #MIF but Albarn just refered to Manchester as a town. On national Tv. Twice! Southern fool." She'll be bringing Oasis into it next. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

May 28 2011

Manchester International Festival 2011: Marina Abramovic

The queen of performance art Marina Abramovic is to appear in a staging of her life … and death

Marina Abramović is not known for shying away from the limelight. Grande dame of performance art, darling of the fashion world, and close friends with the likes of Björk, David Blaine and Antony Hegarty, her latest project is a theatrical mega-production about her own life. It sounds like the ultimate statement of hubris from an artist with a keen sense of her own legend, although what comes as a surprise is that Abramović has handed over the reins to somebody else. In the story of her own life, Abramović is to be merely a bit-player. "In my work I have complete control," she says, down the line from her home in New York, "but about my life, I don't want to. For me, the most interesting thing about this whole project is just letting go."

Directed by theatre maverick Robert Wilson, with Hegarty singing live on stage and Willem Dafoe narrating the action, The Life And Death Of Marina Abramović looks set to be one of the highlights of MIF 2011. Its grandiose title seems to elevate Abramović to the status of a Messiah figure, although her disciples within the art world would argue that such elevation is justified. For more than 40 years, Abramović has pushed herself through superhuman feats of will and endurance in the name of art. Suffocating herself, slicing her stomach with razor blades, drugging herself with various prescription medicines and, notoriously, having an audience member hold a loaded gun to her head, are among the early performances that confirmed her place in art history.

Last year, she staged The Artist Is Present, the most successful show of her career. For three months, she sat in a chair at New York's Museum of Modern Art, silently absorbing the gaze of whoever took the chair opposite. Almost a million people came to see her, including Lady Gaga and a man who vomited behind her back. Perhaps he couldn't deal with the potent mix of self-sacrifice and self-aggrandisement that spikes her work.

Abramović has been called a sadomasochist, but she claims it's all so others can draw strength from her example. "It's not about a personal journey," she says. "I believe the artist has an obligation to society. I stage these situations with unpleasant things in front of the audience so they can reflect on me their own fears and anxieties. I'm like the mirror and the experience is mutual." Abramović first conceived the idea of a play about her life more then 20 years ago, following her break up with her long-term collaborator and lover Ulay (Uwe Laysiepen) in 1988, immortalised in their final performance together. Starting at opposite ends of the Great Wall Of China, the pair walked until they met in the middle and there said goodbye. "I had a lot of emotional pain," she recalls. "The idea was born to stage the pain, but how can I play my life and have a distance from it at the same time? I turned to theatre, which I had always hated – nothing is real, people play characters. But I needed that context."

Abramović has always carefully stage-managed how her performances are documented in films and photographs. Although she may come across as supremely self-confident, she claims she's plagued by self-doubt. "I could not even walk on the street [when I was young] because if people were behind me I felt I would just fall down. I would just have to stop and pretend I was looking in a shop window."

It's these early behind-the-scenes dramas that audiences will be privy to at MIF. Rather than recreate her familiar performances, Wilson has chosen to focus on the intimate stuff for his staged version of Abramović's biography. Her formative years are certainly rich in material. Abramović was born in 1946 in former Yugoslavia, to a domineering, war hero mother who became director of the Museum Of The Revolution And Art in Belgrade. She apparently imposed a strict 10pm curfew on Abramović, who lived at home until she was 29.

Wilson also includes the childhood stunt that Abramović has billed as her first ever performance. "I was 12 and obsessed by Bridget Bardot's nose," she says, recounting when she stuffed her pockets with Bardot pics and threw herself face-first off her parents' bed, with the hope of breaking her own nose. "Instead I missed the edge of the bed, cut myself really badly and all the Bridget Bardot photos fell out of my pocket. My mother came in and slapped my face."

While 12 different performers, including "one man of very small size, with a moustache" are due to play her in The Life And Death … with the aid of latex masks, Abramović herself has been cast in the most daunting role of all: as her own mother. Compared to that, she says, watching the staging of her own funeral will be relatively easy. "The funeral you can decide," she says blithely. "Death you can't."

Marina and her diamonds
Abramović 's collaborators speak

Antony Hegarty Singer/Composer
"The biggest lesson I've learned from working with ­Marina is that the artist must never get depressed. Depression is the enemy of the artist. Being with ­Marina is a joy. She is an absolute scream. She has fascinating ideas and lives her life vividly."

Amanda Coogan performance artist
"I've learned two tremendous lessons over the years working with Marina: there is no tomorrow; and never snooze on the job, you'll be caught. I performed in an installation of Marina's in 1999. One day, a member of the ­audience, an elderly lady, put her hand in the bath of dry chamomile heads I was lying in, touched my breast and exclaimed, 'Oh, she's real!' Marina took me by the hand, and in her glorious Serbian accent, said, 'Baby, never sleep on the job – the public are like dogs, they'll sniff you out.'"

William Basinski ­composer
"I was a bit terrified to meet Marina. I thought she might be this brutal, imperious kind of diva, but much to my relief, she turned out to be the most delightful, warm and hilarious person I have met in ages. You cannot take your eyes off her on stage, even if she is just sitting still – and she can sit in difficult poses for ages." © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Manchester International Festival 2011: 11 Rooms

Group show 11 Rooms brings together some of the most exciting names in contemporary art under one roof


Rio-based artist who brings a gonzo wit to her work with the human body. Highlights include attaching a drugged woman to a gallery wall by means of crochet.

Greatest hit 2008's Fuga – half art installation, half aviary.

Do say Explores the gap between the everyday and the absurd.

Don't say I can see a dropped stitch.


Young Japanese/British artist who's caused ripples with works such as The Museum Of Incest and an erotic novel about his parents.

Greatest hit His Cartier Prize commission, The Frozen City, turned sites at last year's Frieze Art Fair into an archaeological dig, unearthing an ancient and murderously decadent civilisation dedicated to art.

Do say Unlocks architecture's psychosexual potential.

Don't say Does my Museum Of Incest ticket also get me into Bestiality World?


Canny Slovakian artist who stretches the definition of art. A previous work was a line of people eternally queuing for what looked like the most popular exhibition ever.

Greatest hit Growing a garden inside the Slovakian pavilion at the 2009 Venice Biennale, effectively turning the art space inside out.

Do say He turns our expectations of art back on ourselves, leaving us with existential questions.

Don't say Does that mean Alan Titchmarsh is an artist too?


This duo filter social critique through absurd hybrids of music, sculpture and performance.

Greatest hit Stop, Repair, Prepare, in which a pianist tries to play Ode To Joy from a hole sawn through the middle of the piano.

Do say Pushes art's political potential to the outer limits.

Don't say Les Dawson did it first.


Daddy of the West Coast scene, he put the fun into conceptual art. In 1970, he burned all his early paintings, turned the ash into cookies and sealed them in an urn.

Greatest hit Self-explanatory 72/73 photo series The Artist Hitting Various Things With A Golf Club.

Do say Rigorous conceptualism with a sense of humour.

Don't say Can I have a cookie?


Ex-dancer and artist charged with filling Tate's Turbine Hall during the 2012 Olympics. Sehgal's works veer from the barely noticeable – a museum ticket collector whispering in your ear – to the unmissable – gallery invigilators who perform impromptu professional stripteases.

Greatest hit At the Guggenheim, his gallery guides were kids who ascended in age as visitors moved from empty floor to empty floor.

Do say In an overcrowded world, he prefers situations to things.

Don't say Who stole the paintings?


Her seminal performances use masks, mirrors and video to explore self-image. She was a key member of New York's 1970s art scene.

Greatest hit The videos where she plays her alter-ego, Organic Honey, an "electronic erotic seductress".

Do say Jonas addresses our physical and psychological abstraction.

Don't say Is the honey Fairtrade?


A Mexican provocateur with a political purpose, Sierra's shocking work includes sculptures made from human excrement by impoverished labourers in India.

Greatest hit 245 Cubic Meters involved hooking car exhaust pipes up to a German synagogue. Visitors were sent round in gas masks. It was closed after a public outcry.

Do say Confronts us with the exploitation capitalism conceals.

Don't say I'm lovin' it © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

February 03 2010

Why we really should demolish the National Theatre | Andy Field

The National Theatre in London is a wonderful, vital means of gathering people together. But the building is an anachronism

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to give a talk on what the future of
the arts might be
. I suggested that one of the things I'd like to see would be the National Theatre going bankrupt and being squatted by people who don't have any idea what they're doing.

I've changed my mind. It's a fine thing that we have a National Theatre. It is a means of gathering people together – of communally exploring and articulating what it means for all of us to exist together. Like the United Nations or Milton Keynes, it's one of those ideas so naively hopeful and optimistic it makes you wish things had turned out as planned.

But here, too, is the problem. The National as an organisation is a wonderful, vital idea. The national theatre as a building is an anachronism: a brutal(ist) articulation of one narrow and archaic vision of theatre that, if not obsolete, is certainly one-dimensional.

Let's start with its location. The most exciting performance work in England is made for festivals such as Manchester's International festival, Mayfest in Bristol or Fierce in Birmingham, or
at regional spaces such as the Royal and Derngate or the Drum in Plymouth. Or it's created by companies such as Artangel, Artichoke,
Paines Plough and Headlong who roam across the country. In Scotland and Wales, their new National Theatres are agile, light on their feet and generously expansive in their scope. In England, we are chained to a million tonnes of concrete.

And what about that building? There are those bourgeois grazing-areas
of the lobby, designed for highbrow people-watching. Then there is the strict division between public product and the private process of supporting and creating theatre. Incredible work goes on at the NT Studio, but you'd never know about it. More people should do, and be invited to contribute. Most importantly, there are those three theatres, beautiful cathedrals to performance but prohibitive of so much that is exciting in theatre across the country. The National can, of course, support Shunt and sell tickets for BAC and Punchdrunk's The Masque of the Red Death, but while those auditoriums remain, like three well-lit albatrosses round its neck, they will continue to be its priority, to the detriment of so many companies and artists deserving of being a part of it.

In Sunday school, I was always taught that a church is not the building but the community that inhabits it, and I think the same should be true of a theatre. At the moment, though, the community around the National Theatre is created by the building, not the other way around. Which is not to say that there shouldn't be a building: more and more, I feel that a sense of home, of locatedness, is important. As is the opportunity for artists and audiences to feel as though they can explore, inhabit and take ownership of a space. But all of this should come out of need, not necessity.

I love the National Theatre as an organisation. I love much of what it does, and the effort that it puts into encouraging a passion for and interest in theatre. And I don't want it to go bankrupt. But perhaps I'd like it to be homeless for a little while – to borrow spaces up and down the country, to make do, to adapt, to create something new. And, in doing so, perhaps discover what kind of home is right for it, rather than all of us having to conform to the proscriptions of that prison on the South Bank. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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