The National Review of Live Art

Article by Jasper Hamill | 15 Feb 2006
Examine the body, its excretions, malfunctions, colour or form, and you examine society itself. Written on the body are grand narratives of gender, difference and desire: the very essence of human history is indelibly etched upon each of us. Live Art, with its preoccupation with the abject - that which induces aversion - sex, death and socially-constructed taboo, by engaging the body directly and using it as the raw material for artistic expression, is uniquely placed to query these issues. Europe's longest running festival of Live Art is, in its twenty-sixth year, moving to the cavernous spaces of the Tramway and is an unmissable chance to witness the finest performers from across the world in one weekend. The pluralistic, hugely diverse body of work on offer, skipping from the ridiculous to work of unsettling intensity, will unflinchingly scrutinise life in all its grimy, blood-flecked intensity whilst exposing to the cold air those social or sexual repressions sublimated within society.

Moving from its original home in the Arches due to increased demand, The National Review of Live Art will, according to artistic director Nikki Millican, continue to "evolve, provoke and enthuse" its inquisitive audiences. Performers in the past have rendered soap from their own fat, encouraged visitors to disrobe for an asexual, one-to-one encounter, cut grids into their own flesh or staged a two-hour long recreation of the last supper, after which the exhausted guests were treated to red-wine they were led to believe was menstrual blood.

Initiated by Dada and Fluxus artists, culminating in the combative work of feminists like Caroline Schneeman - who for her work Interior Scroll extracted a scroll from her vagina, its words smeared with menstrual blood - Live Art's unabashed corporeality is unparalleled as a forum for social critique. Ron Athey, an HIV positive artist who I last saw tentatively easing a huge pyramid up his arse, is to appear this year. His previous work 'The Solar Anus' and his collaborations with the group 'Premature Ejaculation' saw him hassled by right-wing groups, who eventually lobbied successfully for the closing of the American Endowment for the Arts out of their disgust at seeing torrents of HIV infected blood on stage.

Other highlights, which look to be less sanguinary than previous years, include a personal encounter with Jordan McKenzie, who will encourage the viewer to lay their hand on his chest before blowing a bag with his breath, covering it in charcoal and bursting it loudly on the wall; Eva Meyer-Keller brutalising a bunch of cherries; an interactive waterfall made from hundreds of strands of light and the opportunity to command a tiny squadron of remotely-controlled, manoeuvrable brains. A festival that will be occasionally absurd, often unequivocally vulgar but irresistibly compulsive, The National Review of Live Art will be a cavalcade of freaks, exhibitionists and unhinged social-commentary which will prove to be utterly compelling.
The Tramway, Feb 8-12. £10/£8 Pounds Per day plus entry to the club afterwards.