How do women and feminists use their bodies to make art, and why?
Live Art and Feminism in the UK
Drawing influences from Visual Art and Theatre practices, Live Art does not conform to any form, function or mode of presentation, but is a way of artists thinking about the nature, role and experience of art and its relationships with audiences. The theme of Live Art and Feminism encompasses a range of artists and works which may be identified as feminist, or as holding feminist possibilities – interrogating gender inequalities in society, advocating for the empowerment of women, and exploring issues related to identity, gender, sex and sexuality.
Herstories of Live Art
This exhibition presents one journey through a rich and diverse history of works performed by women and feminist artists based in the UK, including early practices which contribute to the prehistories of Live Art such as the experiments in Performance Art of the mid-to-late 20th century. Though necessarily partial, the images on display here show some ways in which practical tactics, aesthetics and discussions surrounding women and feminists making Live Art in the UK are sustained but have also evolved over the last 45 years.
In this map (left), artist Helena Walsh illustrates her own journey through feminism and live art in the past and present.
Find out more about the artists and works represented in this image by clicking on this link and then selecting details.
The history represented in this exhibition begins here with Fish Event (left/above), which was performed by Carlyle Reedy as the only solo woman artist to feature in the Come Together Festival at the Royal Court Theatre (London, 21 October – 9 November 1970), a seminal event in the development of performance art, experimental theatre, and ‘new activities’ in contemporary art. Throughout the 1970s Bobby Baker, Anne Bean, and Rose English were among the early figures who collectively built frameworks for women and feminists performing in galleries, museums, theatres, private homes, and public spaces – and whose influence extends into the present as they continue to make work which critically engages the artist’s body, both as the subject and the material of art.
In the 1980s and 1990s artists such as Marcia Farquhar, Mona Hatoum, and Hayley Newman continued to harness and address established feminist principles, such as ‘the personal is political’, whilst also testing what that might mean, or look like, in performance.
Live Art and Feminism Now
Today, a resurgence of interest in feminist issues is visible in, and informed by, the vibrant activities of women and feminists making Live Art. Their work challenges audiences and energises discussions of the body, and the contemporary politics of identity, gender, sex and sexuality. This is visible in the hilarious and furious drag of David Hoyle, the pop cultures of excess in The Famous Lauren Barri Holstein’s choreography (left/above), and in the interactive performances of Tania El Khoury which tackle conflict, migration, political climates and gendered spaces in the Arab world.
Curating Live Art and Feminism
The artists and works represented in the exhibition do not constitute anything like a complete survey; rather, the process of curation in itself has revealed a complex set of schisms and rifts between live performance, and the creation, preservation and dissemination of its documentation in the digital age. Early events – for instance of the 1970s and 1980s – may be poorly recorded, if at all, via a range of analogue media which may not translate well to the style of high quality images that we might now expect to see housed in the new breed of online cultural institutions. With the passage of time, the documentation of many early works may also be lost or buried, for instance in the case of artists who have long since ceased to make performances, or whose archives have passed into the hands of an estate following their death. Other artists choose to resist the representation of their work in contexts over which they feel they have little control, such as online spaces, or in projects where they do not receive appropriate fees for their artwork, or for their labour. For these, and other reasons, it is important to note some of the key figures in the development of feminist Live Art and its prehistories in the UK who are not featured here, such as Rose Garrard, Rose Finn-Kelcey, Sonia Boyce, Cosey Fanni Tutti, and Catherine Elwes – all of whom made feminist and feminist inflected performances from the 1970s and 1980s.
The aim of this exhibition is to offer an introduction to some of the key figures and issues of ‘Live Art and Feminism in the UK’. The works are organised into seven sections which touch on major themes and imperatives of feminist Live Art, ranging from intersectional analyses of power, through to ways in which we adorn our bodies and self-fashion our identities.
On public transport in Hamburg, Berlin, Rostock, London and Guildford
Photo Credit: Christina Lamb
Over a year I wore the crying glasses while travelling on public transport in all the cities I visited. The glasses functioned using a pump system which, hidden inside my jacket allowed me to pump water up out of the glasses and produced a trickle of tears down my cheeks. The glasses were conceived as a tool to enable the representation of feelings in public spaces. Over the months of wearing the glasses they became an external mechanism which enabled the manifestation of internal and unidentifiable emotions.
Part of Connotations - Performance Images (1994-1998),1998
The following three photographs in the series Connotations - Performance Images are constructed images intended to explore the role of documentation in performance. The photographs in the series were staged and performed by myself with most of the images being taken by the photographer Casey Orr over a week in the summer of 1998. The dates, locations, photographers and contexts for the performances cited in the text panels are fictional. In all instances the action had to be performed for the photograph but did not take place within the circumstances or places outlined in the supporting text.
As a form, performance is often mediated through the documentary image, video, film, text or by word of mouth and rumour. With so few existing networks for the distribution of performances works, it is the image and its supporting text that is given precedence in publications on the subject, creating a handful of historical performances that have become notorious through their own documentation, leaving others behind that have not made the translation into the single image.
Lock Jaw Series
Lectures given at Chelsea College of Art, Middlesex University, Sheffield Hallam University and Dartington College of Art
Photo: Jonny Byars
Over the period of a year I was invited to give a series of lectures on my work. Before each lecture I visited a local dentist and had my mouth anaesthetised. With my mouth made immobile, I gave my feeblest apologies to the students and staff before attempting to talk on my work.
This online exhibition ‘Live Art and Feminism in the UK’ is a project by Live Art Development Agency (LADA) as part of 'Restock, Rethink, Reflect Three: On Live Art and Feminism'.
Curated and Produced by Alex Eisenberg (LADA), Eleanor Roberts, Lois Keidan (LADA) and Katy Baird (LADA).
Texts by Eleanor Roberts.
Published Dec 2015
Featuring Contributions from:
Anne Bean, Bobby Baker, Carlyle Reedy, Curious (Leslie Hill and Helen Paris), David Hoyle, Geraldine Pilgrim, Hayley Newman, Helena Hunter, Helena Walsh, Katherine Araniello, Lauren Barri Holstein, Lois Weaver, Peggy Shaw, Lucy Hutson, Marcia Farquhar, Marisa Carnesky, Mona Hatoum, Monica Ross, Noëmi Lakmaeir, Oreet Ashery, Phoebe Davies, Poppy Jackson, Project O, Rose English, Silvia Ziranek, Speaking of IMELDA, Stacy Makishi and Tania El Khoury.
A huge thank you to all the artists involved and to Lois Weaver, Queen Mary University of London, Creativeworks and James Davis at Google Cultural Institute.
The Live Art Development Agency is funded as a National Portfolio Organisation by Arts Council England, London.
About ‘Restock Rethink Reflect’
This exhibition is related to the Live Art Development Agency’s Restock, Rethink, Reflect Three initiative.
Restock, Rethink, Reflect is an ongoing series of initiatives for, and about, artists who working with issues of identity politics and cultural difference in radical ways, and which aims to map and mark the impact of art to these issues, whilst supporting future generations of artists through specialised professional development, resources, events and publications.
Following the first two Restock, Rethink, Reflect projects on Race (2006-08) and Disability (2009-12), Restock, Rethink, Reflect Three (2013-15) is on Feminism – on the role of performance in feminist histories and the contribution of artists to discourses around contemporary gender politics.
"Restock, Rethink, Reflect Three has involved collaborations with UK and European partners on programming, publishing and archival projects, including a LADA curated programme, Just Like a Woman, for City of Women Festival, Slovenia in 2013, Just Live a Woman: New York Edition, Just Like a Woman: London Edition (supported by the British Council), the co-publication of re.act.feminism – a performing archive in 2014, and the Fem Fresh platform for emerging feminist practices with Queen Mary University of London.
More information about the artists featured in this exhibition and the wider theme of Live Art and Feminism in the UK can be found online and in print in the Restock Rethink Reflect Three publication, Are We There Yet?, which encapsulates a research, dialogue and mapping project led by Professor Lois Weaver of Queen Mary University of London and supported by a Creativeworks grant.
Further info on the LADA Website:
Contact the Live Art Development Agency: