Nowadays, perfomance art has become ubiquitous. But how does that work and where do artist get funding from? Let’s try to understand the way the performance art market works in the United Kingdom.

 

Performance Art In The UK

Performance art is something, that constantly staggers the minds of ordinary spectators. Centered around the idea of live-action delivery of deep ideas, it requires an open mind and readiness to participate if not physically but mentally. In fact, the most intriguing fact is that the performances are carefully planned and absolutely spontaneous at the same time.

Surely, the UK performance art scene has always been globally renowned and considered a trend-maker. The first British legends in the field were Gilbert & George, who launched their career in 1969. Most importantly, they have introduced a notion of “living sculptures”. For them, art was a way of life. Thus, they didn’t want to deprive themselves of their media image even in the everyday life. They are still in the thick of it, just look at what they have done in 2012:

Gilbert George Performance

However, the UK scene doesn’t just lie on its laurels. Nowadays, performance art is an essential part of British culture. Therefore, it is important to outline, that the main supporter of the performance art in the UK is Tate Modern, which is the main British museum of contemporary art. In 2003, they have launched a special curated programme for live-action art and then, in 2012, they have created The Tanks. These were the first spaces, dedicated solely to performances, installations and film, but still being a part of a large modern art museum.

Nowadays, this type of art has become ubiquitous. But how does that work and where do artist get funding from? Let’s try to understand the way the performance art market works in the world and particularly in the United Kingdom.

Market Infrastructure

Obviously, the whole concept of performance art seems to be about intangibility. There is never a particular “piece” of art an artist can sell. On the contrary, it’s the idea embedded into a performance. Quite often, artists struggle to bring in investors, but in the 21st century it seems that they have finally found a way to establish a firm market for what they do.

The most important aspect, that makes the work of an artist worth the money, is brand image. By building it correctly, artists can profit from it quite easily. This feeling of participation and sharing the same idea attracts people to the artist and creates strong bonds between them. In order to at least get the money spent on production back, one should provide something tangible for the admirers of a certain performer, because everybody wants a piece of an artist. For instance, you can sell the stuff used whilst performing. Just imagine someone standing on the stage and painting something abstract on canvas as part of the performance. Afterwards, this canvas can be easily sold and if the artist is already renowned, the price will account for a perfect costs return rate. Of course, there are myriad other ways. Nevertheless, true art is never about the money.

Originally, all the marketing schemes in the sphere were developed in the US, so the UK has just inherited the knowledge and implemented it in its’ own way. To better understand the intricacies of the performance art in the UK, we should look at the people who make it. Who are they, the British performance artists, who aspire to change the way we see the world through their staggering work?

Notable British Performance Artists

Tris Vonna-Michell

Tris Vonna-Michell

Tris Vonna-Michell is a British artist who currently resides in Southend, United Kingdom. His unique style consists of the mixture of narrative, installation and performance. Using old-fashioned technology and slide projection, he creates his performances in continuous search for something new. The things he does or says during his performances may seem quite quirky and surreal. However, the way he conveys the message makes spectators believe him straightaway.

His penchant for multilayered stories and intricate detours saw wide praise from art critics around the world. Most notably, he was one of the four nominees for the Turner Prize of 2014. Particularly, he was nominated for his work called Postscript (Berlin), that took place at Jan Mot, Brussels, Belgium. This particular performance is based around a prerecorded monologue, accompanied by two slide projections. There, you can see and hear various images, either connected or not. Moreover, Vonna-Michell has implemented some stories from his childhood, liaised with his family’s tenure in Berlin. But nothing is perfectly clear in Postscript (Berlin). The viewer is constantly challenged to go back and forth in time without really knowing where to look for the answers.

Furthermore, Tris Vonna-Michell handles a lot of exhibitions nowadays. Let’s take a glance at what he does. Here, you can see “Capitol Complex”, Vonna-Michell’s 2015 installation at Appleton Square, Lisbon:

Capitol Complex

Capitol Complex

Viktor Wynd

Viktor Wynd

Viktor Wynd is a multitalented artist, who concentrates upon the relation between installation and aesthetics of real life. Through his work, he aspires to find some sense of life in the world of chaos and craziness. Some of his ventures, based on various social situations, might have quite a vast scope with up to 200 performers involved.

Probably, his most famous project is The Viktor Wynd Museum Of Curiosity, Fine Art and Natural History. This is the place, where everything is mixing in a very strange way. Gloomy pictures, dodo bones, skulls and much more invite you into that little museum, based in an old building in Hackney, East London.

Wynd Curiosities

In recent years, Viktor Wynd lives in London and studies social structures as the main object of his art. Primarily, he wants to employ narrative with draughtsmanship in order to scavenge through the loads of useless things, that life gives us. His goal is to point out the important things in life. Thus, he dwells upon the themes of chaos, havoc, pathos and senselessness of our every day life. Maybe, through abandonment one can finally see what is life and why are we doing what we are doing.

Martin John Callanan

Martin John Callanan

Martin John Callanan, Fellow of the Society of Arts, is a conceptual artist, who is currently working in London and in Scotland. He is a master of visual art, who is in constant search for the individual’s place within systems. As a matter of fact, his artwork is globally acclaimed and exhibited all around the world. Recently, he has even received an extremely prestigious award, Philip Leverhulme Prize, for his outstanding contribution to visual arts.

Callanan

One of his most successful projects is called “The Fundamental Units”. Its purpose was to enlarge the lowest denomination coins to make them look extraordinarily big. In addition to that one, there is “Wars During My Lifetime”. It is a printed publication that lists all the wars, that took place during one individual’s lifetime. Consequently, it was translated into various languages and distributed around the globe.

Wars

Apart from his artistic endeavors, he is also a lecturer at the Slade School of Fine Art from 2008. He’s still on the forefront of modern performance art and extensive research in the field.

Tino Sehgal

Tino Sehgal

Tino Sehgal is a performance artist born in London in 1976. His art is centered around the idea of “constructed situations”. All of his performances are neither staged nor documented afterwards. There are reasons for that decision.

For him, the main subject is human relationships and interaction. Hence, there’s no need for any physical objects to take part in the performance. On the contrary, everything Sehgal uses is human voice, language and movement. Implementing elements of politics and dance, Tino constructs conversations between previously trained “interpreters” and the audience. Usually, he stages the majority of his pieces in museums or galleries, where the passers-by are drawn into interaction.

Contemporary

For instance, in 2005 he organized a performance called This Is So Contemporary. It saw people entering the museum and starting to cheerfully dance and sing a chanting tune “this is so contemporary, contemporary, contemporary etc.” The synergy of energetic dance and repeated tune made visitors react in a joyful way. Eventually, it even succeeded to bring people into action so they started dancing and singing with the ones, who started it all.

Sehgal

Nowadays, it is obvious that Tino Sehgal is one of the most outstanding performance artists. That is explained by the fact, that major museums and galleries in the world invite him to bring his performances there. Amongst them, there are Guggenheim Museum in New York, Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London.

David Sherry

David Sherry

David Sherry is a Northern Irish performance artist. And what he does might really freak some people out. The central theme of his work is awkwardness, that actually exists in every human being. Hence, it is important to understand its role in life and accept as something painful and special at the same time. As a matter of fact, Sherry’s way of conveying this ideas might also seem quite awkward.

Sherry

In the year 2000, David made a video called Stitching. There, we can see him literally stitching pieces of wood to his feet. While doing this, he explains all his actions step by step. It might sound strange, but that’s not the end. Some of his other works are called Avoiding eye contact for one seven-day period and Carrying a bucket of water about for a week. Guess what? These performances are exactly represented by their titles. Yes, he just does these things without any sense of deep artistic reflection. Nevertheless, this is what he wants to convey: it is about the systematicness of our every day life. Maybe, people should pay more attention to it.

Theo Adams

Theo Adams

A 27-years-old artist and director from London, Theo Adams is the founder of the Theo Adams Company. It is a collaboration between musicians, artists, singers, dancers and performers from around the world. Together, they are able to create large artistic projects, be it a film, a musical venture or a grandiose theatrical production. Adams has premiered the debut production of his company in 2008 at Tate Britain. In consequence, this mixture of theatre, dance and pop art has attracted a lot of interest from the media and from the public in general.

Theo Adams Company

Their undoubted talent in creating staggering pieces of art made them open to collaboration with some of the world’s most powerful brands. Among their joint projects, there is cooperation with Louis Vuitton, Liberty Of London and W Magazine.

The latest project they have embarked on a special ArtSchool debut presentation show that took place during London Fashion Week Mens.

Theo Adams

David Birkin

This artist, who specifies in photography, sculpture and performance, comes from a very creative family. His family includes his father, writer and director Andrew Birkin, his famous grandmother, actress judy Campbell, his aunt Jane Birkin and Jane’s daughters Charlotte Gainsbourg and Lou Doillon and his late brother, musician and poet Anno Birkin. However, this impressive backbroung doesn’t in any way undermine his own artistic talents.

David Birkin

He first started exhibiting his pieces in 2007 in London. Since then, he went on to develop his vision of the world, tackling themes of art, politics, war and personal analysis. For instance, you can see a part of his 2007 project called Confessions below. In that experiment, people were asked to tell something they’ve told anyone before in front of a camera in an absolutely isolated room. First, they opened the shutter, revealed their secret and then shut it immediately. In fact, there was actually no audio recording equipment at all. Thus, Birkin simply gathered blurred images of people, opening their hearts and the artistic effect is quite vivid in those images.

Confessions Confessions

Throughout his whole career, he has always been reflecting on what is going on in the world around us. His works are not just inspired by the malice of political games, but they are also defiant in their own right. For example, David’s work SEVERE CLEAR: Existence Or Nonexistence has even drawn the attention of the CIA. Hence, these ideas work and ring the bell with the people and maybe even with the governors behind some dubious decisions. In addition to that, you can visit David Birkin’s official website to see some of his other work.

David Hoyle

David Hoyle

David Hoyle is a true legend of the London cabaret stage. Probably, he is one of the most controversial artists on the British performance art scene. He is mainly concerned about the promotion of the LGBTQ community ideas via his eccentric performances. After having suffered a terrible childhood, marred by constant bullying regarding his homosexuality, Hoyle moved from Blackpool to London to become a part of the local gay scene. Consequently, he created his infamous character The Divine David.

Divine David

By using the Divine David character, David Hoyle lamented and mocked the British gay mainstream. Bringing everything stupid, gaudy and senseless to light, he showed that real gay community has absolutely nothing to do with the image bestowed upon them by the society and so vivaciously promoted by the media. Sometimes he would completely “drown” in his character so it affected his mental state. In the 2000s, Hoyle has suffered a nervous breakdown and so he had to really take care of his mental health. However, he is back into business and he still remains one of the most vivid LGBTQ activists in the UK.

Ursula Martinez

Ursula Martinez

Ursula Martinez aka Ursula Lea is a well-known Anglo-Spanish writer and performer. She is famous for her wide use of nudity during her performances. Her career rocketed in the 90s, when she started performing in clubs and cabarets of London, making use of her theatrical experience and knowledge of cabaret culture. Nowadays, she wishes her theatre was experimental and reflective of the sometimes foolish modern world.

Ursula Martinez

What is it to be human? Martinez poses this question with humor and she wants everyone to think about it. One of her most intriguing projects was Hanky Panky, a five minute choreographed strip-tease performance. Playing around with a handkerchief, she literally teases the audience by constantly hiding it somewhere in her clothing. Firstly, she takes something off and the hanky appears but then in a matter of seconds it’s hidden again. The trick continues until Ursula is completely naked. If you want to see what’s so tricky about this performance, just check out the video.

Currently, she is a member of the contemporary circus phenomena La Clique/La Soirée.

JoWonder

JoWonder

Joanna Woodward, or just JoWonder, is a British animator who became quite revered in the 90s, when she released her critically acclaimed animated film The Brooch Pin and the Sinful Clasp. As a result, it has garnered some impressive awards, including Granz Prize at Zagreb World Festival of Animated Film and The Direction Award for best debut animated film at British Animation Awards. Nevertheless, her accomplishments stretch much further than just the field of animation.

JoWonder is also a performance artist. She launched her career in the sphere in 2006, when she started working with the Washroom Collective. Since then, she believes that humour is one of the best means of transmitting the artistic ideas. Using this irreplaceable tool, she mingles storytelling with improvisation in desire to subsequently attract members of the audience into the performance itself. Firstly, she would give someone a cup of tea thus inviting him to play and then, everybody is involved.

JoWonder

To have a glimpse at what she does, you can watch the performance piece called JoWonder and The Psychic Tea Leaves. It lasts for 45 minutes and it is performed in the Victorian Seance tradition. The main topic of this particular piece is the existence of the supernatural.

 

Overview

As we have seen, performance art in the UK is constantly flourishing. As it’s been globally revered in the past, it is as relevant right now. Fortunately, there are young British talents, who will certainly shape the future of performance. Obviously, that’s not just about the artists, it is also about the people. Performance art plays a huge role in the development of art as a whole, because it is a perfect medium for politically sound ideas. In these troubled times, only true artists can shake the media ambience with their mind-blowing pieces of art, that will touch the people’s hearts and minds.

Most recently, most art is primordially performative. It always involves interaction, because in the age of Internet, that’s what people seek the most. There is VR, AR, Immersive technology and much much more! All that can also be implemented as tools of performance art. And that’s what the young should be heading for. This is the field of art, that is open for further development. Thus, it is obvious that the future holds a lot of interesting for us o witness. Who knows, maybe we are all a part of a huge performance?

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