Dancing Precarity: An Open Letter A Spam A Resistance

I just got this and it’s excellent!!

“Dear community & beyond,
This is,
A spam A letter A resistance A performance,
In dancing & despair & destitution,
To whom it regards, in solidarity.
Don’t be wary, I am not a fraudulent spam.
No money, no cheques, no hacking of bodily software.
Here is an Open Letter as video letter attached.

I appreciate your listening.
Thanks in advance.
From Anonymous Artist in London”


Creative Visions 09: The Art Party – FILM SCREENING | home

I’m now working  part-time for a network for the Creative and Digital Industries in my area called Creative Calderdale. Here’s a copy of the first article I wrote for the website about an event we’re organizing in February. I’ll post summat about the rest of my recent shenanigans when I get a mo. For now, peruse this at your pleasure…

Creative Visions 09: Art Party – FILM SCREENING

Creative Calderdale is delighted to announce a screening of the unique and provocative Art Party at 6pm on Thursday February 4th at The Elsie Whiteley Centre. The film is the latest in a series of cutting-edge collaborations between artist Bob and Roberta Smith, and filmmaker Tim Newton. Part documentary, part punk-road movie and part political fantasy, Art Party charts the journey to the 2013 Art Party Conference, where Bob and Roberta Smith and other speakers championed the importance of art, its place in the education system, and in society in general. The screening, made possible courtesy of HOME Artist Film, will also be followed by a panel discussion led by regional arts and education professionals. Book your ticket for Creative Visions 09: Art Party here.

Presumably, Bob and Roberta Smith’s dual-personality moniker is inspired by his sister – who happens to be a psychiatric nurse who goes by the name of Roberta. This choice of name implicitly suggests a creativity which is inseparable from more overtly pragmatic social issues, and indicates the boundary breaking nature of Smith’s work. Smith clearly has a preoccupation with using art as a tool to create positive social change, and is also interested in notions of amateurism and failure.

Smith is primarily known for his ‘slogan art’, a practice which involves the daubing of a few choice words in brightly coloured lettering on banners or discarded boards of wood. These slogans are usually humorous, irreverent, politically-charged musings which often support his activist campaigns, such as the 2002 amnesty on bad art at Pierogi Gallery, New York. This approach has ensured that Smith is an artist who is respected, but perhaps not wholly accepted by the mainstream ‘high art’ world, and we might safely imagine that this is a position Bob and Roberta would approve of!

Nevertheless, Smith has exhibited worldwide and has also been the curator of several public art projects, such as Art U Need and Peace Camp. Back in 2011 Bob and Roberta made waves with Letter to Michael Gove, the oversized painted-word response to the former Education Secretary’s proposed eradication of art from the British school syllabus. This was the work from which the 2013 Art Party Conference evolved.

Held in Scarborough and supported by The Art Fund (the national charity for art), The Art Party offered an opportunity for a diverse range of artists and organisations to discuss and celebrate the importance of art. The National Society for Education in Art & Design launched their alternative curriculum at the conference, and a range of film screenings, interviews, debates, discussions and workshops were held. In true Bob and Roberta style, this was accompanied by banners, readings, performances, artworks, calls for action, and a touch of humour and mischief. As night fell the ‘party’ was put into Art Party by an array of live bands and DJ sets.

Throughout both preparations and conference, filmmaker Tim Newton was on hand to capture the various ‘happenings’. The resultant film contains an unusual blend of performance, interviews and imagined scenes; it is a genre-bending creation portraying a slightly surreal journey to and through the Art Party Conference. We’re looking forward to a very inspiring screening, alongside a lively and enlightening discussion about the place of art in both education and wider society, right here in the heart of lovely Calderdale!

black square of solidarity

black square solidarity

I’m having a little funeral in my bedroom tonight. In mourning and saturated with the world’s suffering, I thought I’d better take some moonlit, middle of the night moments to reflect, digest and process.

For Syria, Afghanistan, Paris, Beirut, South Sudan, Palestine, and all those in between which are too many to mention. For refugees and the violence of borders, including those many unnamed who are still drowning daily, or currently existing in miserable conditions on the Greek Islands and elsewhere. Or for those who have sewn shut their mouths and gone on hunger strike, in protest over being corralled at the Macedonian border. And let’s not forget the men, women, and yes, also kids, pepper-sprayed by the CRS recently at a peaceful protest over conditions and repeated police violence in ‘the Jungle’ in Calais. For all those who have been beaten or otherwise mistreated as they attempt to reach safety.

For displaced, disadvantaged, disaffected and dispossessed folks of all varieties everywhere, who are often almost invisible; whether they live down the road alone experiencing their own personal apocalypse, or on the other side of the world, like the indigenous First Nations peoples in Australia, Canada and elsewhere (whose ongoing struggles have often been effectively eclipsed from both the history books and contemporary coverage – see here and here for more).

Horrific as all this is, my mourning is not solely reserved for violent conflicts and the human implications of terrible governmental policy, but also for all ideological, class-based, race-based, gender-based, mind-body based, whatever-based borders – there are, again, too many to mention. So instead I’ll say, for insidious borders and separation of all kinds, which is the root of all violence. For the lack of love, from the tiniest insult to the most grandiose, worldwide, monumental fuck ups.

For forest fires in Indonesia as the price of palm oil. For the half of the world’s wildlife lost in the last 40 years. For oncoming eco-apocalypse. For David Cameron’s soul, and all the others, who probably aren’t even aware of how soiled their souls are, because we each tend to live in our own private universe of fortified personal borders, to greater or lesser extent. For the soul of our culture and the future of our children, and for all the Earth’s creatures. For this madhatter’s teaparty at the end of the world, which, as Stephen Jenkinson says “sometimes feels like dancing” (if dancing is possible or probable for you), “but it’s terminal alright”.

Here’s a black square of funereal solidarity with all of that vastness. Solidarity with sadness and sorrow. No flag-waving antics, just an expression of deep sadness, frustration, confusion and anger.

I read this thing, and the guy Parker Palmer wrote:

“I know many people whose own wounds — held in a broken-open heart — have made them “wounded healers.” Instead of growing bitter and brittle and passing their pain on to others, they’ve said, “this is where the pain stops and the love begins.” Not in spite of their suffering but because of it they’re better able to offer active forms of compassion to others who suffer…”.

It’s an old tale which might sound cliche, and it’s probably much more difficult to put into practice if you’ve experienced really vicious wounds, such as the deaths of several family members and living through the reality of war. However, as PP puts it;

“In a world that can be as heedless and heartless as ours, kindness must grow from deep roots if it is to be strong and sustainable. As the Poet (Naomi Shihab Nye) says, “before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, / you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.”

Sorrow, like love, knows no bounds and no borders. Resilience to trauma is not a hardening of the heart, but a broken-open heart, and the healing of the world relies on our willingness to open ourselves to that brokenness, and to love it better through our learning and change-making. If we allow ourselves to feel beyond our personal borders, there is no way that we can avoid that black square of solidarity with suffering.

My weeping for the world tonight was followed by reading this article about breaking the cycle of violence. It’s written from more of a spiritual perspective, rather than political, which is probably more my own default setting. It made me aware that I’m now trying to break down the border between those two ways of seeing the world, in an attempt to disallow myself the potential of escapism from either! Multi-angles, varying perspectives. We all have our tendencies and blinkers, and those blind spots are where the miscommunication occurs. That very miscommunication is borne of borders and separation – it’s our great challenge when striving for community, and it’s how a million miniature violences are made. 

The article also brought back the memory of a quote from another article I read a few years back. This quote resonated with me due to it’s paradoxical and difficult simplicity, so I stuck it on the front of one of my notebooks, for the inevitable days when I’d forget.

The article was about a Palestinian father and an Israeli father, whose daughters had both been killed, and who later met at a meeting of ‘Combatants for Peace’ (an organisation through which former fighters unite in the search for peace, similar to this one which has sprung up in the US.) One of them was quoted as saying,

“In the end there will be a peace agreement, that is absolutely clear. it will happen at the moment when the price of not having peace exceeds the price of having peace.”

This statement is not only about acceptance, as it might sound to some (although  anyway, there is really no ‘only’ about acceptance). Instead, I hear action coarsing through this statement’s veins. It is exactly why we must now disrupt the peaceful sleep of ‘our’ politicians, and yet even more importantly, it suggests each personally moving towards a painful place – because we can’t move collectively towards peace without also disrupting our own personal peace.

 As we know, plenty of humanimals are already lacking that peace, but for those of us who aren’t living in war zones or are relatively unaccustomed to struggle, we might need to expand our personal borders a tad in order to see this madhatter’s teaparty as it really is. 

It will mean increasing resilience to go beyond our own comfort zone. It will mean educating ourselves on the specifics of situations which certain parties would prefer to hide from us, and it will ultimately mean taking action. It will mean a super noisy and disruptive gatecrashing of the filthy festival of capitalist interests currently dominating world events and wrecking the ecosystem, and it will mean working hard to not let a search for personal peace skew our perceptions.

Basically, I’ve come full circle back to the point that I always end up at, which is the understanding that “I am you, you are me, and the world is us”, just like Krishna-nonguru-murti always said. Life as relationship; a dynamic entanglement between self – environment – other. Living this truth is somewhat more problematic than just writing it or speaking it, however.

Peace for all begins with moving towards difficult truths, person by person. There really is no freedom until we are all free, and this is why the phrase ‘your liberation is bound up with mine‘ is taking on a new urgency for me. It’s also why frustration, sadness and anger is disrupting my peace tonight, and why I’m ranting and chanting and carrying on, on facearse and wordpress at 2 am. Perhaps this is not the most productive soapbox, but sod it… I’m trying, in my own way. Moving forwards towards further wholeness, integration, and all that jazz.

Which brings me nicely to the crux of the matter. What I’m wondering is, given current events, is there any chance we can all maybe speed things up a bit?! As in, BLOODY GET ON WITH IT, this moving towards the tipping point at which the price of not having peace exceeds the price of having peace? Pleeease?!

Gahhh. I’m tired of bad news – of staring this vast abyss of sadness and sorrow down in all it’s monstrosity – but I’ve lost some of my ability to look away, and I hope you do too, because there is a whole new peace in peacelessness. It’s complicated, messy and human. It’s real life man, shit happens! The way I see it, if you don’t feel the need to weep for the world sometimes, then we’ve all got a problem. Positive thinking is not the precursor to peace. Personal peace is not even the precursor to peace. Moving towards peace can only happen through a paradoxical process of simultanously holding peace and peacelessness.

As I quoted in an earlier post, but because it’s so excellent I will quote again;

“To act (where many others don’t) and yet to question that action – in the very name of that action – while acting, [which] is the sublime fulfillment of what it is to be human – to be in open conversation with one’s world at all times. It implies a sensibility that transcends itself, and that therefore has the possibility of acting as the seed of a more conscious future” (a delicate activism, davidoff & kaplan).


THE ART OF ACTION (in the eye of the shitstorm)



CLICK ON THIS LINK !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This may well not turn out to be the most coherent string of words I’ve ever sewn together (it’s late and I’m tired), but then again, that’s not the whole story. Coherence is like debate – it can sound convincing, but be simltaneously utterly devoid of humanity. This post is coming from a different place. I’m writing it, person to person, in the understanding that some things need to be felt in your bones, and that this, my friends, is one of ’em. Some stuff spews from the guts. It ain’t always pretty, but I’ve come to realise, nevertheless, that it’s totally fucking necessary.

If you’re connected to me already, whether by blood, friendship, hell or high water, you’ll no doubt already have encountered my ranting, chanting and carrying on regarding the refugee crisis in recent months. My obsessive-compulsive social media sharing, and general banging on about articles, blog posts and campaigns, have received less comments, shares and likes (!) than I might have hoped for. Perhaps I’ve even done everybody’s nut in and come across as holier than thou…?!

Anyhoo, in the end I would like to publicly say SOD IT, FUCK IT, and as girl after my own heart, Kate Brittain, recently put it …. #SORRYNOTSORRY !!! I’ll continue ranting, chanting and carrying on, with all the Yorkshire-rowdiness and flexing of the freedom of expression muscles that I can currently maneuver. Because whilst I love the dancing (ohhh yup I really love that dancing!), I have come to the stark and shocking realisation that protest-dance has a supremely limited ability to help the folk freezing, drowning, and having a totally bloody dire time as they attempt to reach the relative safety of ‘Fortress Europe’.

This blog is called izzabellanecessary for a reason. It’s about calling a spade a spade and an arse an arse. It’s about lessening the gap between what’s considered ‘necessary’ or ‘useful’, ‘intelligent’, ‘arty’ or ‘creative’. It’s something to do with expanding my mind-body matrix in order to see, be and do what’s appropriate. What is necessary in order to navigate the complexity of this world; how can I slowly weed out the ways in which I’ve been furtively trained to see, be and act by society?

I’m now beginning to realise that this new approach can really encompass anything. We don’t all have to specialise and separate, creating artificial borders between art, work, life, our ‘selves’ and all other assorted humans, creatures and earthly wonders. There are ways and means of expanding beyond the microcosm.

In recent years my life has revolved around the learning the embodied art of dancing, and practising the odd bit of poetry to go with it. Meanwhile, under the surface, several other concerns have been taking seed. I’ve been composting thoughts, germinating ideas, and more overtly direct practices of ordinary magic had begun to seem necessary. To translate this into less of a tongue twister, I’m beginning to dip my dancing feet and dainty mitts into the art of taking practical action – whether that means weaving willow into a garden fence with my pals, taking baby-steps towards learning about bees and growing food, or tentatively engaging in actual direct action (somewhat delicately, like this little book suggests).

I’ve made a new commitment to collaboration, collective creativity, and taking a pragmatic, integrative approach in helping to heal the problems facing our world. Gahhhh, it’s not like I’m on a crusade friends, but some kind of sea-change has undoubtedly begun.

This might all sound suspiciously like my own personal new-era manifesto, and I will get to the point eventually, promise… However, I’m mentioning all this because I do believe that personal pleas are important. Scrap that, they’re essential, vital, and again, totally fucking necessary!!! People to people solidarity and grassroots responses have provided much of the backbone of humanitarian support across Europe, throughout this all-encompassing, ongoing shitstorm of a very sorry situation.

With this in mind and body, I’m asking you to feel beyond the boundaries of your own situation, and think about sharing, supporting and engaging with this ‘ere little initiative (go back to that link at the top, click it, read, share, and donate if you can). It may seem small, a drop in the ocean even, but it all matters. 

This particular initiative, aiming to provide 100 families with emergency surival kits for starters, has been set up by a super inspiring group of artists in Greece. I spent time learning lots of wisdom and wonder-things with them this summer at The Ricean School of Dance, in relative luxury on an idyllic Greek Island, not far from where refugees are still arriving in their thousands. They are enduring horrendous hardships, inhumane conditions, and have far, far too slender a hope of some shelter from the storm. Whilst summertime RICE focused on creating a temporary, experimental space to explore non-hierarchical, binary-bending, boundary-breaking approaches to art + life, WINTERRICE is a pragmatic response to an urgent situation of epic proportions. It made me smile to see RICE described alternatively in the conext of WINTERRICE as standing for a ‘real institute of civic engagement’. The two initiatives are perfect companions in the book of balance 🙂

Donations to WINTERRICE began thick and fast. I got into my cosy bed one night, and arose to find $1000 more in generosity flowing straight towards some of the people who need it most. After sharing till our fingers bled, we reached our target in record time! Happy days! The decision was then made to increase our target in order to improve the quality of the kits, include longer-lasting food, and to buy and staff a tent for refugees in Mytilene, Lesvos with two volunteers, including a nurse, who would also distribute the emergency kits.  We were ‘featured’ and we were ‘trending’, at the peak of the appeal, but donations have, of course, now slowed.

And so it is. The time has come to rant some more in a bid to keep that trickle a-coming. There’s only six days left, so now is the time!

Consider this a call to action and a serious shout out for a show of solidarity, if you will. I am begging / pleading / requesting that you please please please support and share this initiative! If you feel disconnected from the reality of the refugees it aims to help, or perhaps not fully aware of the extent of the refugee crisis, I ask that you make it a priority to check out the many blogs and articles online (often written by grassroots volunteers who are currently working, organising and helping on the ground across Europe, see the bottom of this post for links).

We all have our own realities, and struggles and action comes in many different shapes, sizes and varieties. I want to emphasize that right now, a series of historical moments are occurring. The full weight of what’s happening in the world, from refugee crisis to climate change, encompassing the full kaleidoscopic multitude of madnesses and back again, will become wholly evident only in hindsight.

I’m asking you to help ensure RIGHT NOW that these people are not forgotten, that these stories are told, and that we make ourselves necessary to the softening of this particular problem.

If you can’t donate, I feel ya. Let’s face it, I’m totally and utterly shambolically skint myself. I recently extended my overdraft again in order to, firstly, eat, and also to give a mere $20 to the very campaign that I’m pleading for. It’s not all about the cash-money. There are many ways to get involved and show your solidarity. You can write letters, raise awareness, share stories, organise a fundraiser, or make links with organisations supporting asylum seekers in your local area. Just give a shit and do something, basically. Use your big mouth and your unique life, to whatever extent you’re able.

We desparately need to see this situation for what it is, and not merely how the limited vision of the usual media channels represent it.Our governments are not doing enough – almost bugger all in fact, for a bloody change! Border policy and nationalist self-protection, along with ‘economic imperatives’ come first for them. I write simply and from a place of common sense, as you can see. I’m no political commentator.

Even so, what I do know is that this form of knowledge is as valid as any. I don’t need to back up this post with theory and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the complex political maneuvers that have contributed to this crisis. I know enough. I know that we are capable of putting the pressure on those governments, and that we can certainly choose to open our own personal borders to let the compassion out. It might only be a trickle at first, but eventually it can build into a booming expression of the interconnectedness of all things.

We’re all deeply implicated, whether we know it or not. I feel this deep in my bones, in the gurgling processing-pit at the bottom of my belly, and in the blood that boils when I consider the state we’re in. I also experience it in the beauty of the rich and diverse pragmatic practices of ordinary magic ocurring moment to moment, all across the world. It’s in the intelligence of nature, the individuals and communities creating amazing things everywhere, and in the awe-inspiring, warmth-inducing possibilities of the things we might potentially create together. We are a collective of flawed and yet well-intentioned humans, who might just have the ability to see what needs doing, and to spontaneously do it. It’s an invitation innit 😉

Directly after my time at The Ricean School of Dance this summer, I got on a bike (having not cycled in two years, I was really just following an intuition that this was something I wanted / needed to do), and joined the Critical Mass to Calais in order to donate bikes to the people there. It was an experience which was both eye-opening and transformative, and you can read / watch more about it herehere and here. Confronted with the reality of the refugees there, I began to more fully understand the extent of the inherent violence of borders. Policy, policy, policy, but what about people? #noborders #yourborderskill #fucktheborders. That is all I have to say.

The trip to Calais was not without it’s challenges and complications, oh aye; co-ordination and cohesive action is a craft, an art and a lifelong learning curve in itself. However, the kindness and compassion in Calais and the experiments in disrupting the usual modes of communication at RSOD, both served to make it blindingly clear that everything begins with dialogue and connection. This communication between self – environment – other is occurring always, on multiple levels. Much of the act of meeting has occurred before physical touch or ‘action’, as we usually conceive of it, occurs. I came to observe that there is a delicate activism occurring in the communication between everything, all of the time.

So I’ve been thinking about these things. Such as: what is the art of hosting conversations that matter? How does change happen? Does it start with a tiny seed and expand outwards, in a mycellium-like structure, just as mushrooms communicate underground? Is it essentially an organic process? Leading questions, I know, but both Critical Mass Calais and RSOD emphasized and developed further in me the necessity of standing in solidarity with fellow humans, other animals, and also the earth (which is also a part of us, not just another, separate story).

Recent experiences have demonstrated to me that we can develop the resilience that allows us to see these things, and not turn away. It is possible to learn the art of open dialogue and to translate that into the art of action. We can call a spade a spade, an arse an arse, and take on the eye of the shitstorm, in which spades and arses can often become confused and convoluted things, mutated beyond all original intention… You only need to read the news to see that.

We can do all this, amongst other, necessary stories… and fuckshitswine, I’m going to sound like a crappy motivational speaker (pfft, again #SORRYNOTSORRY) … but what I’m trying to spit out is that WE CAN DO THIS TOGETHER.

#winterrice #danceswithoutborders #artofaction #yourborderskill

See below for some related articles, videos and blog posts from recent months…. it’s like a weird little link diary via my social media over-share  and the bookmarks folder that I ironically, originally labelled ‘going home‘. This whole thing began for me by cycling to Calais to donate bikes and other supplies, as research for a DIY 12 Live Art Development Agency workshop, which I never even made it to in the end. Art sent me to action, and action sent me back to art, and I realised that there need be no difference between the two.

Before I sign off… WINTERRICE! WINTERRICE! WINTERRICE! Please be part of this real institute of civic engagement, or start your own … like my hi-vis jacket says on the back, DON’T JUST WALK ON BY! DO SUMMAT!*

*Yorkshire-speak for ‘something’.
































mushrooming : dancing at the edge of my understanding

by michael klien / steve valk / jeffrey gormley, from ‘the book of recommendations
I am in a discombobulating process of mind-body-bending, de-schooling, re-wilding, and imagineering. I am definitely dancing at the edge of my understanding !! Which can only be a good thing, or so I’ve come to believe. I have got this far, but it’s all still a bit blurry around the edges … you’re gonna need to just hold tight with me for a moment, the dancing part comes back later…
WHAT IF WE COULD LEARN: “to act (where many others don’t) and yet to question that action – in the very name of that action – while acting, [which] is the sublime fulfillment of what it is to be human – to be in open conversation with one’s world at all times. It implies a sensibility that transcends itself, and that therefore has the possibility of acting as the seed of a more conscious future” (a delicate activism, davidoff & kaplan).
WHAT IF WE COULD EXPERIENCE: “a felt shift from separation to connectedness. From being an individual somewhat isolated observer, looking for connectedness, to being essentially and intimately connected… Instead of being too busy to care, we notice what needs doing to look after the people and the environment around us, and you naturally do it” (guy claxton, on being touched and moved at the RSA).
I’ve long believed that change is only possible, firstly, through the revolution of individual consciousness. Any forced attempts at change merely echo the imperfect structures that bore the bullshit in the first place. At a micro-level, change happens first in the individual mind-body, and then via communication with others and our surroundings. What I didn’t realise was that my own understanding of consciousness, communication, and our relationship with the world, was still so limited… The phrase I have so often quoted from Krishnamuriti, that ‘I am you, you are me, and the world is us’, now takes on a fuller meaning.


*some thoughts*
the final act of meeting is the act of physical touch.
likewise, the final act of communication is the act of using symbolic language.
so much has already happened within you before you ‘decide’ to do something (new-wave science has proved it)
hence, conscious ‘free will’ is debatable, given the amount of unknowns…
which means that embodied intelligence, and other less appreciated ways of knowing (such as intuition), are REALLY BLOODY IMPORTANT! if we can cultivate the skills to ‘know’ in more ways than one, what might this mean for our way of living and being?


This is the mushrooming of my understanding of what dance is, and can be. We are deeply implicated, interconnected beings, engaged in a dynamic entanglement with self – environment – other. I thunk it, I felt it, but now I’m TOTALLY CONVINCED!!!

PS. I apologize for all the caps locks, italics, and strange formatting!! WordPress is giving me gip, hence the lines of separation between paragraphs… and my mind-body is struggling to digest / process / compost all these half-formed realisations. Danke for your patience, friends!

dancing / borders / bicycles / crossings (and other matters)

People are on my mind. After the amazing, discombobulating and enlightening experiences of RICE on Hydra and Critical Mass to Calais with Bikes Beyond Borders… here are some words to get out of my head and into the world as soon as possible. It’s sort of an update / poem in progress / repetitive, related mashup of bits and bobs that I wrote here after the Climate March in September. More detailed write-ups to come on both experiences / events later, when the bladdy thesis is fnished… !!
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photos by minou tsambika (the circle, my new non-dualistic symbol for love, the universe and everything), zoe tsaff (map of the sunrise to sunset dances on hydra for which i took on the role of nomadic care-giver), and two crappy phone shots by me (a bird flying free between dover and calais, and three well-intentioned pairs of cyclist’s feet, on their way to donate bikes to people in ‘the jungle’, calais).
what i am interested in is the borderline. the crossing. the communication between individuals and the whole. the tipping point. how the individuals make the whole. how change must, and can only happen organically. how everything is organic really. how each person does what he or she can, under their particular circumstances. how radical compassion must mean radical understanding. because i am you, you are me and the world is us, yes, but it’s all so easily misunderstood ! for years I was living with i am you, you are me and the world is us, so why can’t you be a little bit more like me, please? and i never even noticed. how anger and and action and force might be necessary, sometimes. how they open the way for the rest of us. but how not to forget the quiet ones, or the ones who compose thoughts more slowly and speak more carefully… and what are all the different ways of knowing anyway?

how to be a practical, pragmatic poet?

because, make no mistake about it,

i just love dancing and writing poems,

and whilst i’ve toyed with the idea

of becoming a full time activist and living in a tree –

for the moment, i’ve just got to accept that i’m me.

i can plant small seeds, help ideas germinate,

i can create. but i can also do flash mops

to the sound of 80s electro-punk

and make myself izzabella necessary on occasion.

how to be useful…

it’s all even more complicated than i thought.

how to build a boat. how to build bridges.

how to take bicycles beyond borders

and build radical dance schools of the future.

how to get clean water.

how to facilitate. how to have a different kind of conversation.

what is the art of hosting conversations that matter?

how to be tolerant but not be a dead fish…

how to live a good life but know that you’ll always

have to co-exist with the whole world and it’s plentiful shit?

how not to ignore it, but not sink in it either.

there is no shortcut through that shit! like my wise mum says.

how to just live well and be helpful, in a world as complicated as this?

The Performance of Paradox: ‘Border Perspectives’ on the work of Marina Abramović

Post an old essay… why not? Just read this back to nick some quotes for a reflective journal essay for my MA, and thought I should whack it on here. I think it’s interesting, maybe some other people will too 🙂

Marina Abramović has insisted that “performance, by its nature, is ephemeral” (in The Artist is Present, 2012), and a world away from the “fake blood” of theatre (ibid, 2012), yet is this really so? It may read like some kind of Zen riddle, but if life is performance as many have suggested (Augusto Boal, Allan Kaprow, Abramović herself), then how can we separate the real and the unreal; is it necessary to(?), and if we cannot or will not, what incongruities does this reveal in the work of Abramović and others like her? Finally, but most crucially of all, how are we to approach such artists’ work from a new perspective?

Performance art is already a slippery category, brimming with paradoxes on which there are various perspectives. Performances of art, ritual or ordinary life all tend to “mark identities, bend time, reshape and adorn the body, and tell stories” (Schechner, 2002, p.22), so we are told. Performance in its larger context cannot then be confined to a particular art form, or even to art itself. Consequently, when it comes to Abramović we find a ready reflection of the paradoxes at play both in the world at large and within her as an individual. If each human being is a conglomerate of causes and effects which reach way beyond the time and space of their own individual life, and performance can be in the ‘being, doing, showing doing’, or even ‘explaining showing doing’ (op cit, p.22), then it is no surprise that paradox prevails in her work. Who is Marina Abramovic, what is performance art – but most of all, why are we still so concerned with finding definitive answers to such unanswerable questions?

When performance artist Guillermo Gómez-Peña wrote his essay on The New Global Culture in 2001, he described the state of the world, and performance art’s place in it with considerable clarity. In a border perspective from a radical-Mexican-artist-now-residing- in-Chicago, he depicted a no-man’s land “somewhere between Corporate Multiculturalism and the Mainstream bizarre” (Gómez-Peña, 2001, p.7), when discussing the many consequences of the cult of globalization and virtual capitalism. He described how he and his contemporaries had become marooned at the borderline, unable to “assume simplistic personalities or to unconditionally embrace a cause” (ibid, p.7) since binary models of understanding were no longer functional. All they could do now, he said, was “raise questions, myriad impertinent questions” (ibid, p.7).

From Object to Individual in ‘The New Global Culture’

These questions might be felt most keenly in an art form in which art and artist are more closely bound than ever. As reviewer Adrian Searle says, suffering for your art is one thing, suffering as your art is another”, (http://www.guardian.co.uk/art anddesign2012/jul/03/performance-art-abramovic-tate-modern, 10/12/2012). However, in a life which is flux, is it not unlikely that one would suffer forever, at least not from the same kind of suffering? Or alternatively, as Japanese writer Haruki Murakami states, is “pain inevitable, suffering optional”? (2008, foreword: vii).

Marina Abramović, now 64, is a Serbian performance artist who began her long career in the early 1970s.  She is often described as the ‘Grandmother of Performance Art’, and though this might be debated from a critical standpoint, she is certainly the most infamous, as demonstrated by her 2010 retrospective The Artist is Present. The show was not only the first such honour for an artist of her form, but was also said to have garnered “as much mainstream press as a pop star” (Yablonsky, http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/02/artifacts-marina-the-magnificent/, 15/10/2012). As Peggy Phelan puts it, “the gap between the art Abramovic makes and the form of its most recent celebration raises interesting questions about both art and capital in the new century”. (http://search.proquest.com/iipa/docview/2078834 /13B9A79EB2E6DCC3AED/1?accountid=10258, 07/12/2012).

In 1974, Abramovic declared “I am the object” (Thurman, http://search.proquest.com/ iipa/docview/753490553/13B9A7D52B67F2F58A9/1?accountid=10258, 7/12/2012). This begs the question: does performance art rid us of the art object only to find it replaced with the human artist as object, uncomfortably perched upon a very similar, if not even more questionable pedestal? This treatment, in which the art/artist becomes elevated yet de-humanised or caricatured via quotations, and is essentially commodified as a seller of news stories or even ideas, is a direct consequence of the times we live in. This is exemplified by Vito Acconici’s description of performance art as a contract between performer and audience:

“On the one hand, performance imposed the unsaleable onto the store that the gallery is. On the other hand, performance built that store up and confirmed the market system: it increased the gallery’s sales by acting as window dressing and … publicity … There was only one meaning of the word ‘performance’ I was committed to: ‘Performance in the sense of performing a contract – you promised you would do something, now you have to carry that promise out …” (quoted in Freeman, 2007, p.62).

From a personal as political vantage point, the artist as art phenomenon also brings the paradoxical nature of identity into the furore. It is a delicate operation to provide a balanced view of an artist who seems so inseparable from her work, as Christopher Grobe demonstrated when he praised Abramović’s biographer James Westcott’s “work at its best” (2011, p.105).

“Paying close attention to archival material, much of it rare or difficult for the average researcher to access, Westcott supplements the record with well- educated acts of imagination, or else prompts the reader to do so through his spare juxtaposition of historical detail and commentary. Finally, using extensive personal interviews with Abramović, her peers, and her intimates, he places the work in its proper personal, professional, and theoretical contexts. In this and other such compelling moments, Westcott shows just how entangled these countervailing contexts can be” (ibid, p.105).

Contradictory statements made by Abramovic, such as “to be a performance artist, you must hate theatre” (quoted in Gardner, http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/theatre blog/2010/jul/20/noises-off-performance-art-theatre, 5/11/2012), as opposed to “it’s not so much the type of art you practise that matters, more the state of mind you approach it from” (The Artist is Present documentary, 2012) are a consequence of  just such ‘contervailing contexts’.

As a young idealist in her years with Ulay, Abramović lived in a van in order to experience a heightened perception of life. Yet as ‘corporate man’ Hardenmore says when held captive by young revolutionaries in German film ‘The Edukators’, “one day, you want a car that doesn’t break down and some other conveniences. Then you have children and want security for them. Then one day, to your surprise, you find yourself voting conservative” (2004). Though Abramović never had children and as far as we know, never voted conservative, critics such as Thurman have often commented that she receives “quite a payload for a nomad” (http://search.proq uest.com/ iipa/docview/753490553/13B9A7D52B67F2F58A9/1?accountid=10258, 7/12/2012), and she does now admit to wanting to be accepted by the establishment.

In The Artist is Present documentary, however, she also says that she “kind of misses” (2012) people questioning why her work is art. That nobody asks this anymore is evidence that her performance art has been accepted into the mainstream and is no longer considered particularly controversial. Abramović is revealed to be neither quite here, nor there – a position which will recur throughout this essay. Has her art’s radical content been subsumed by the art machine which is subject to the same economic conditions as the rest of the world? What is now truly radical? 

From ‘The Art of the Ordeal’ to ‘The Art of Doing Something Closer to Nothing’

Abramović’s physically demanding and often dangerous earlier works, of which Rhythm O in 1974 was the most famous, a piece where spectators “abused her at their will for six hours, using instruments of pain and pleasure” (Goldberg, 1988, p.165), ensured that her work would be heavily marketed in future. As curator Chrissy Iles said;

“The veneer of civilization is very thin. What’s absolutely terrifying is how quickly a group of people will become bestial if allowed to do so” (The Artist is Present Documentary, 2012).

Beisenbach, her ex-husband and manager, describes Abramović’s work as “staging miniature experiments which reveal human nature” (ibid), and Sean Kelly, a gallerist observes that it is “playing with the sharp edge of the knife which allows her to make her performances transcendent” (ibid). Such bombastic controversy in which performances must be cut short due to an audience member holding a gun to the artist’s head and a fight breaking out, or the artist passing out in a star of fire and having to be rescued (see Rhythm 5, also 1974), was described as ‘the art of the ordeal’. However, over time and with thanks to the new global culture, the art of the ordeal became almost an everyday occurrence. Was Abramović subject to ‘the monstrous culture of the mainstream bizarre’ as Gomez-Pena described it? A time when;

“‘alternative’ subcultures and so called ‘radical’ behaviours as we knew it have become mainstream. Spectacle has replaced content, form gets heightened, more stylized than ever, as ‘meaning’ (remember meaning?) evaporates, or rather, fades out, and everybody searches for the next ‘extreme’ image or ‘interactive experience’” (2001, p.13).

Gómez-Peña suggested that the mainstream bizarre, particularly the availability of anything and everything in the media and particularly the internet, has blurred the boundaries between,

‘pop culture, performance and ‘reality’, between audience and performer; between the surface and the underground; between marginal identities and fashionable trends” (ibid, p.13).

Whilst Abramović, as ‘Grandmother of Performance Art’ is at risk of this phenomenon, it can also be argued that there is much more of substance to be found in her work. Nevertheless, if ‘radical spirituality’ is to the 21st century what ‘radical politics’ was to the 80s and 90s, as Gomez-Pena’s vegan anarchist friend suggested (2001, p.23), then a question is raised about how ‘genuine’ she is. Still, I wonder, why am I even asking this question? The answer has to be that there is little way to function within the mainstream art world without becoming enmeshed within the ‘cult of the personality’.

It would not be easy to deny, for example, that in art which explores the limits of the body and the possibilities of the mind alongside the relationship between artist and audience (http://arttattler.com/archivemarinaabramovic.html, 10/10/2012), Abramović betrays her own formative years. This was a childhood in which her war hero parents’ military approach to parenthood lay in sharp contrast to the loving spirituality of her Grandmother.

At an early stage her performances were aggressive, repetitive and ritualistic (See Rhythm 10 and the Russian stabbing game); but there were also early performances focused on stillness, fasting and presence. For example, the series performed in conjunction with Ulay and entitled Nightsea Crossing, in which they sat silent and motionless facing each other across a table, and Conjunction, in which they were joined at a golden table by a Tibetan Lama and an Aborigine for four days of meditation. An interview with Abramović on the MoMA website confirms that this piece was inspired by the time that her and Ulay spent immersed in Aborigine culture – a choice they made due to the culture’s nomadism, lack of possessions, the idea of here and now, and their entire life being based upon ceremony (http://www.moma. org/explore/multimedia/audios/190/1985, 3/1/2013).

These themes run like a vein through Abramović’s work and life. In 2002 Abramović performed “The House with the Ocean View”, spending 12 hours a day silent and fasting as she lived in a sparsely furnished open fronted house, five feet above the ground in a gallery. Abramović later said, “I made a huge mistake in ‘House’, to put myself up on some kind of altar” (http://search.proquest.com/ iipa/docview /753490553/13B9A7D52B67F2F58A9/1?accountid=10258, 7/12/2012), and since then her trajectory has been further towards simplicity and presence – towards, as she has put it, “something closer to nothing”, since “the more I think about energy, the simpler my art becomes, because it is just about pure presence” (ibid). As T.S.Eliot wrote about the state of old age,

“we must be still

and still moving into another intensity” (http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Four_Quartets, 10/12/2013).

For The Artist is Present retrospective, Abramović chose the participants who would re-perform selected works via a retreat of sorts, where the contract obliged them to;

“observe complete silence; to fast on green tea and water; to sleep on the hard floor of an old barn; and to submit to her discipline, which is partly that of a guru, partly a drill sergeant” (Thurman, http://search.proquest.com/ iipa/docview/753490553/ 13B9A7D52B6 7F2F58A9/1?accountid=10258, 7/12/2012).

Divestment of “comfort, modesty, impatience, habits and attachments … seemed to be what she was after” (ibid); and the first tasks included breathing exercises, naked communal submersion in a lake and slow motion moving for three hours.

Her own performance, which the whole retrospective borrowed its name from, was much pared down, including only a table, a chair and Abramović seated there for seven hours per day, six days a week over three months. It was the longest durational piece ever mounted in a gallery and demonstrated a coming of age for Abramović. Members of the audience could choose to participate by sitting in a chair opposite her. Was this performance virtuosic endurance, meditation, or both? Who are we to judge? It was certainly no less punishing than her earlier works.

In the documentary, Abramović admitted that “the moment you really go through the door of pain, you enter this other world … feel lightness, harmony, no borders between you and the rest of the world” (The Artist is Present Documentary, 2012). She states that performance is “all about state of mind’, and expresses hopes for a “direct energy dialogue” between public and performer. It is work which relies “on the belief that emptying out and erasing the self and the objects used to sustain that self paradoxically creates extraordinary abundance” (Phelan, http://search.proquest.com/iipa/docview/2078834 /13B9A79EB2E6DCC3 AED/1?accountid=10258, 07/12/2012 ).

Reviewer Francine Prose has commented that “less and less frequently does contemporary art inspire extreme emotion as this work did” (http://www.nybooks .com/blogs/nyrblog/2012/sep/06/marina-abramovic-when-art-makes-us-cry/, 5/11/2012). Watching the footage, it is clear that an exchange did indeed take place. Some people returned over twenty times, to this performance which slowed everything down and made time visual. The performance area was described at various times as ‘silent therapy’ or a ‘boxing ring’ (The Artist is Present Documentary, 2012), an apt description given Abramovic’s hopes.

It is fascinating to watch the ‘hand on heart’ gesture which so many of the people seated opposite Abramović gave. It appeared to be a non-verbal expression of shared consciousness, the price of this being a glimpse of “the threshold between form and formlessness, knowing and unknowing, life and death” (Phelan, http://search.proquest.com/iipa/docview/2078834 /13B9A79EB2E6DCC3 AED/1?accountid=10258, 07/12/2012). It appeared that Abramović managed to defeat the emptiness of an alienating culture in creating a work which connected human beings and enabled energy exchange – as long as they could handle what was left.

Though Gómez-Peña et al might well be jaded with ‘alternative’ spirituality manifested as temporary festivals and assorted ‘tribal’ tattoos (2001, p.19), Abramović’s presence can hardly be argued with. Yet if we insist that her presence does communicate, what then, do we make of her forays into theatre, which began as early as The Biography Remix in 2004, and led up to her most recent work in 2012; a collaboration with avant-garde theatre director Robert Wilson with the grandiose title, “The Life and Death of Marina Abramović”.

From Performance Art to Theatre and Back Again: “Direct Energy Dialogues”

Usually people say that a truly artistic show will always be unique,

impossible to be repeated; never will the same actors,

in the same play, produce the same show.

Theatre is life.

People say that, in life, we never really do anything

for the first time, always repeating

past experiences, habits, rituals, conventions.

Life is theatre.

(Boal, quoted in Schechner, 2002, introductory page)

“To be a performance artist, you have to hate theatre. Theatre is fake: there is a black box, you pay for a ticket, and you sit in the dark and see somebody playing somebody else’s life. The knife is not real, the blood is not real, and the emotions are not real. Performance is just the opposite: the knife is real, the blood is real, and the emotions are real. It’s a very different concept. It’s about true reality”.

(Abramović, quoted Gardner, http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/theatre blog/2010/jul/20/noises-off-performance-art-theatre, 5/11/2012 )

“What matters is not so much the type of art you make, but more the state of mind which you approach it from”. (Abramović, in The Artist is Present Documentary, 2012).

When faced with such a bundle of contradictions, how do we decide whether theatre and performance art are really so different? Perhaps in the revolutionary heyday of performance art, such separation of form would have been more helpful in differentiating the form, but today the standard live art rejection of theatre is no longer permissible in a postmodern world. In 1966 Kaprow declared the “installation dead … [that] whilst time is always in progress, terms offer only calcification” (quoted in Freeman, p.63). Now we are faced with the problematic existence of a world in which nothing is dead, collaboration is key and every genre is ripe for the postmodern plucking of its’ treasures. We are transient, mortal creatures who are nevertheless, time-binders.

In addition to this, much late 20th century avant-garde theatre, often aligned with that other slippery, much maligned category ‘physical theatre’, also reaches towards this genre defying creation of a paradoxical world. Remarkably, this theatre was pre-described in the 1930s by Artaud when he envisaged a ‘Theatre of Cruelty’,

“Theatre … which is in no thing, but makes use of everything — gestures, sounds, words, screams, light, darkness — rediscovers itself at precisely the point where the mind requires a language to express its manifestations. To break through language in order to touch life is to create or recreate the theatre” (topologicalmedialab.net/xinwei/classes/readings/Artaud/Preface.doc, 20/11/2013).

For Artaud, the image of a violent act portrayed in theatre was infinitely more powerful than the act carried out elsewhere – ‘showing doing’ carrying more meaning than simply ‘doing’.  (Freeman, p.110). Furthermore, can it be argued that the white space of the contemporary art gallery is any more true to life than the black box of the theatre? Does it really matter? As Lyn Gardner questions, are such environments always antithetical to the creation of work which is truly radical? (Gardner, http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/theatre blog/2010/jul/20/noises-off-performance-art-theatre, 5/11/2012). Does Marina Abramović observe true reality in her work? At the level of common sense, does she really hang around at home carving stars into her abdomen; would she really sit for 7 hours per day if she had no audience?

Of course not, but as Beisenbach, Abramović’s manager and ex-husband puts it, “with Marina, she’s never not performing … she seduces everybody she meets” (The Artist is Present Documentary, 2012). From another perspective, it could be suggested that The Artist is Present is superior to The Life and Death of in that it depends upon shared face to face experience with the artist, nothing rerouted via character or imagined worlds as in a theatrical performance. It could also be argued, however, that in the ideal performance, what meets in the performance space would not be the performer and observer, but the unmediated presence of the two. In any good performance, surely both parties are transformed, brought to another sphere of presence entirely? We are all performers in the end, and as Lyn Gardner points out so astutely:

“When an audience is required to see something as both real and unreal simultaneously there arises a creative and imaginative tension that enables us to transcend the mundanity of real life” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/theatre blog/2010/jul/20/noises-off-performance-art-theatre, 5/11/2012).

It is clear that the shared concerns in The Life and Death of and The Artist is Present are striking. As Christopher Grobe said of his time in the presence of the artist,

“her eyes set in a thousand yard stare and her face clammy, waxen with another day of perfect stillness, she looked to me like a corpse – or else a premature effigy of herself” (2011, p.109).

At 64, the theme of her own mortality has clearly crept into Abramović’s work and collaborations. Much criticism abounds surrounding The Life and Death of, with many critics disappointed that it was in fact, Wilson’s work, describing it as “not so much a disappointment, as a travesty” (Dorment, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-reviews/8630769/The-Life-and-Death-of-Marina-Abramovich-Manchester-International-Festival-review.html, 15/12/2012). It was widely considered a work of visual pomp and ceremony which contradicted the state of stillness achieved in The Artist is Present.

There has also been much discussion of Abramović’s later tendency towards the repetition, documentation and preservation of her work. She is now developing extensive archives, acidic critics such as Thurman remark that “the purgative ethos of the retreat does not, apparently, apply to her archives” (http://search.proquest.com/ iipa/docview/753490553/ 13B9A7D52B6 7F2F58A9/1?accountid=10258, 7/12/2012). She is also very particular about the way in which her work is documented, and as early as The Lovers walk along the Great Wall of China in 1988, there have been re-enactments with increasing frequency. Christopher Grobe observes that in the filming of the piece, four months after they originally met and split up in un-filmed real time, you can hear Ulay complain to Grigor: ‘Murray, we’ll have to do it again. She’s crying again.’ ” Marina recalls, “To me it was re-enaction but at the same time it was twice real. It was just as painful” (quoted in Grobe, 2010, p.104).

Again, such statements can be seen as the answer to Gómez-Peña’s philosophical vertigo. Creative and imaginative tension, a subtlety of play which holds two spheres of meaning overlapping, and breaking through language in order to touch life. These are the paradoxes of performance at play in Abramović’s work. The ability to simultaneously hold two spheres of meaning is what allows us to appreciate her work without becoming depressed by the limitations of art which is beholden to economic conditions, or a human being whose performances could be endlessly debated as to whether they are ‘real’ or not, or whether or not certain actions contradict her own philosophies. Nowadays, this question is more complex than ever.

A Conclusion Which Reads as a Confused Manifesto

In a final performance of paradox, this conclusion reads as a confused manifesto. In Marina Abramović and her work, we have discovered the blurring of boundaries and defeat of dichotomies. In her work, little is constant, except change. I propose that the movement has been thus, in so much as it can be described:

From the rejection of a static art object we arrive at the cult of a changeable identity,

From the art of the ordeal the work becomes ‘something closer to nothing’,

From outsider radicalism to mainstream success (whilst attempting to maintain a mixture of both),

From the standard live art rejection of theatre to collaborating with theatre,

From unrepeated live performance to repetition, documentation and preservation.

Abramović’s work has been revealed here as a microcosm of contemporary culture. Everything is connected in the paradox we all face. Under the ‘New Global Culture’ as described by Gomez-Pena, everything we ‘perform’ is compromised, and since I am not a critic but merely an observer, I would be loath to criticize Abramović for this. As has been demonstrated, her performance art has real depth in a human to human sense, and as she herself attests, in the right set of circumstances “each of us can be a killer” (interview with Abramović by Thomson and Weslien, 2006, p.41), or The Grandmother of Performance Art, as the case may be. Nothing is simple, and in an attempt to avoid paralysis Abramović’s later works are no longer fighting with tools which might have become closer to the “mainstream bizarre” or “corporate multiculturalism”, instead coming to the belief that raising our own individual consciousness through encountering ourselves and others more closely is the way forward. (interview with Abramović by Thomson and Weslien, 2006, p.30).

I recently read a book called The Story of B, which said that the world will be saved by a complete overhaul of vision, not by new systems and programs (for example, reforestation or recycling cannot save us, this is merely minor revolutions imposed from without. Instead, a complete change of vision happening incrementally will be necessary). At Abramović’s stage in life, as a performer of paradox taking part in two spheres of performance simultaneously, it appears that she has reached a state of comfort in her own contradictions, affirming to us, the audience, that all one can now do is “ask questions. Myriad important questions” (Gómez-Peña, 2001, p.7).


Written Sources



Freeman, John               (2007)    New Performance/New Writing

Hampshire, Palgrave Macmillan.

Goldberg, RoseLee      (1988)     Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present

                                                         Singapore, Thames and Hudson.

Howell, Anthony            (1999)    The Analysis of Performance Art

                                                          Singapore, Harwood Academic Publishers.

Murakami, Haruki           (2008)    What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

London, Random House

Schechner, Richard       (2002)     Performance Studies: An Introduction  

London, Routledge.


Grobe, Christopher     (2011)     When Marina Abramovic Dies: A Biography/Marina

Abramović: The Artist is Present, Theater, vol. 41

Issue 1, pp. 104-13.

Gómez-Peña, G          (2001)      The New Global Culture, The Drama Review,

Spring 2001, Vol.45, No.1, pp.7-30.

Electronic Sources



Dorment, Richard       (2011)    The Telegraph Website, The Life and Death of                                                         Marina Abramović, Review, http://www.telegraph. co.uk/culture/art/art-reviews/8630769/The-Life-and-Death-of-Marina-Abramovich-Manchester-International-Festival-review.html, accessed         .

Gardner, Lynn            2010)     The Guardian Website, Noises off: What’s the                                                             difference between performance art and theatre?, http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/theatre blog/2010/jul/20/noises-off-performance-art-theatre, accessed 5/11/2012.

Prose, Francine          (N/A)      The New York Review of Books, (http://www.ny books.com/blogs/nyrblog/2012/sep/06/marina-abramovic-when-art-makes-us-cry/, accessed 5/11/2012

Searle, Adrian            (2012)     The Guardian Website, http://www.guardian.co.uk/ artanddesign/2012/jul/03/performance-art-abramovic-tate-modern, accessed 7/11/2012.

Online Journals

Phelan, Peggy            (2004)     Marina Abramovic: Witnessing Shadows, Theatre                                                       Journal, Vol 56, No 4, pp569-577. http://search. proquest.com/iipa/docview/2078834 /13B9A79EB2E6DCC3AED/1?accountid =10258, 07/12/2012         

Thurman, Judith         (2010)     Walking Through Walls: Marina Abramović’s                                                                Performance Art, The New Yorker, Vol 86, No 3, pp                                                    569-577. http://search.proquest.com/ iipa/docview/753490553/ 13B9A7D52B6 7F2F58A9/1?accountid=10258, 7/12/2012).

Weslien, K &               (2006)     Pure Raw: Performance, Pedagogy and      Thompson, C                              (Re)presentation, PAJ, vol 28, issue 1, pp29-50. http://search.proquest.com/iipa/docview/2161397/13B9AE77F4E646BE642/2?accountid=10258.


Akers, Mathew          (2012)     The Artist is Present, Dogwoof Studios.

Weingartner, Hans    (2004)      The Edukators, Hans Weingartner Studios.

dysfunctional collaboration


The Journey was a cross arts collaborative project I was involved in back in May. Seems like a very long time ago now, but I suppose it wasn’t really, it’s just that a lot has happened. The Journey took a group of unsuspecting travellers on a minibus ride to a mystery location. Driven by a lovely 70 year old sculptor named Jon Volger from Roundhay, and assisted by the neurotic Hostess Mackerron, the travellers discovered that all would not proceed as planned. From safety demos in three different languages to mastering the ‘protect yourself position’, no traveller was allowed to sit back and simply relax. Their participation was expected from the get go.

As the minibus meandered its unlikely route around the back streets and alleys of Chapeltown, a host of unscheduled wee-stops, wrong turnings and suchlike, led the travellers deeper into this nonsensical world, where a diverse range of characters were intercepted at intervals. From the modern folk troubadour and an embedded recorder-playing folk singer, to a pair of scowling cowgirls at the end of the world. Of course, no journey would be complete without a blessing of the bus, dishes of rebalancing served by an Elfin creature straight out of Lord of The Rings, and a call to arms, issued by King Sven of The House of Svenson – a Swedish Knight in dire need of an army.

Unfortunately, the diversity of stuff going on in The Journey was the result of a really rough journey for us as collaborators. Nobody likes to dwell on negative happenings, which is probably why I never published this way back when it all occurred. It was too stressful. Just thinking about the experience made me feel tense. Now I feel like enough time has passed to publish what I wrote about it all those months ago, in a fit of disbelief and incomprehension. As I am constantly reminding myself, every ‘problem’ is an opportunity for learning! Looking back, it seems obvious that a collaborative line-up of such strong characters would cause issues. Perhaps my positivity prior to beginning the process had blinded me a little to reality…

This is how it went down…

3rd June 2014

How is it possible that you can work with various people in a variety of contexts and have no problem whatsoever, yet when you all try to work together collaboratively it escalates into the dance artist’s version of a WWF smackdown?! We’re all capable of being vicious given certain circumstances. Put so many bossy britches together in one group and you’re asking for trouble. Such situations can bring out the worst in us, as we will take no prisoners when we believe that our idea (or field in our case – this being a piece about ‘the journey’ that ends with a singalong in a field), is ‘the best’. All usual social conventions fly out of the studio window, and it’s just a later-in-life version of the schoolyard chant ‘my [insert item here] is better than your [insert item here]’.

What we are left with then is seven stubborn individuals, who previously called themselves friends. Although the styles of conflict are different in each person, the effect is the same. Not one person in the group can rise above the collective dysfunction. Each of us behaves in ways we would never normally behave. Frankly, the experience of working with this group has been nothing short of an absolutely awful nightmare. In smaller groups, it’s fine. Collectively, we’re a microcosm of all that’s wrong with human relations. Conflict reigns supreme and it’s person against person, ego against ego, idea against idea.

The whole thing has really been that bad – it’s been unsavoury, from top to bottom. We stopped short of physical violence, but I’ll admit that I visualised high kicking one or more of my collaborators in the face, and that the hours of endless discussion around the table felt pretty embittered most of the time. As we sat around the table staring at each other, it felt like broken down peace talks between warring nation states. There seemed to be little regard for what started the particular debate in the first place. It had devolved into protectionism; each person simply protecting their own little piece of power at all costs.

I now understand how friendships can be broken by such scenarios. This is when the worst sides of human nature rear their ugly heads. I can recognise the absolute frustration of trying to communicate with people in a situation where communication repeatedly breaks down in a series of negative cycles. The project (or relationship, or whatever! this is a transferrable scenario) is just set up to be a very difficult one. Maybe it’s all about specificity. Some people can work together, in certain situations, at certain times. Other times it’s always going to be a struggle. Change any variable and you might potentially have problems. It’s all even more delicate than I realised.

As the weeks wore on, my shoulders tightened, my teeth clenched, and I couldn’t get to sleep at night. It was extremely difficult to relax and let go of the stresses of this scenario. I love all of the people in the group, but we really drove each other crazy. The combination just didn’t make for a pleasant process. Personally, I made a conscious decision to voice my views and opinions, rather than gritting my teeth and keeping shtum for the sake of keeping the peace. If I felt something was unreasonable, I said so. I tried to retain my integrity without being too inflexible, but I did lose my rag a couple of times out of sheer frustration.

In the end, we pulled through and created something decent, albeit slightly schizophrenic. This process did teach me some valuable lessons though. Perhaps the most important part of collaboration is choosing a realistic group of collaborators?! Then again, you don’t always get to choose who you work with and you can’t always foresee the potential pitfalls, which makes it instead a case of learning to handle these situations more effectively. I don’t deal particularly well with conflict and prefer to avoid it where possible, but it is a part of life like everything else. Sometimes it’s unavoidable.


What matters more – the piece of work or the human beings in it? On one hand I instinctively say the people, but on the other it must be the piece of work. If the people work together, the work will benefit, but you can’t force people to work well together! Making the best of a difficult situation and learning from it is sometimes enough.

Look for more patience and more tolerance (there is always more tolerance possible inside you if you look hard enough). Nevertheless, don’t tolerate crap. It’s not about being steamrollered.

And, everybody, PLEASE!! Retain your perspective! Do some deep breathing or something. Like Jonathan Burrows says … it’s only a stupid dance, after all.


Written by Izzy BrittainPublished at http://championupnorth.com/life/rant-of-the-week-brand-bashing-and-why-this-is-not-a-rant

russell brand

As we’re all aware, Russell has been getting some right stick of late, with every hack and their auntie urging us to ignore this “excitable comedian” and his incoherent ramblings. This media storm follows the recent publication of his book – provocatively titled ‘Revolution’, and his latest rowdy interview on Newsnight. The main accusations are that it is irresponsible of him to tell the poor, misinformed public that there is no point in voting, with one even going so far as to suggest that “the Beverley Hills Buddhist” might discredit the entire ‘lefty weft’ with his “smug, shallow manifesto.”

This rampant Brand bashing has united voices of the left, right, and right-on in condemnation, with almost everyone eager to portray him as a plonker. They say that we should all “calm down” because ”he’s just a comedian”, but if that’s true: what’s all the fuss about? Could it be that the media furore illustrates that a fair whack of what Russ says is dangerously close to the mark? He and his views might not offer all the answers to life, the universe, and everything, but then, what does?

I can’t help but feel that there are several things that all this Brand-bashing misses, you see.
I was itching to clarify the accusation that Brand is to blame for encouraging apathy with his comments about not voting, but I was pleased to find that someone else got there first. See here for a dose of common sense in the “Brand is right about democracy, but wrong about how to change it” vein , and for a reasonable course of action for those disillusioned with the political system. Headhere to check out your own allegiances with this policy-based bullshit detector. It’s not just Russell Brand that you should be listening to: it’s these folks.

I was also keen to mention that the media mauling should be taken with a healthy pinch of salt, because, “if you think Brand’s book is confused, take a look at what his critics are saying.” With good grace, I sat back in front of my laptop, smiled and took it on the chin when this guy made that very comment for me. It’s an excellent article, highlighting the holes in the many outflanks and manoeuvres offered up against Brand (and we thought Russell was the sensationalist one, eh!).

russell brand revolution

One of the points raised is what all this Brand-bashing says about our ‘messiah culture’. Whether it’s Russell Brand or Jesus Christ, the people want answers. But fixing all your hopes on one dude is an outdated view of revolution in my opinion. Until we stop making other people, and particularly a single, fallible individual, responsible for our actions, how can real change happen?

That Brand poses questions but no solutions is a common accusation, but only messiah culture gone mad would expect him to single-handedly sort our shit out. Brand has never claimed to have a master plan for changing current political structures from within. It also isn’t Brand’s responsibility to be coherent or likeable. Even his so-called ‘naivety’, simplification of issues and the errors in his book, which are offensive to many, can be seen as refreshing in a mainstream media environment which generally lacks alternative narratives for change. We all make mistakes, after all.

If Brand acquiesced to his haters and fit into a more ‘sensible’ political commentator mould, he simply wouldn’t be saying the things he’s saying. He would be saying what everyone else already is, and we don’t need another one of those.

It may be an obvious statement, but the tide of shit slinging also detracts from the real issues. If Brand-Bashers really want change, how about focusing the anger where it’s appropriate? This is bigger than Brand and his big hair and long words. Let’s look at the cause of his disillusionment, not the expression of it. At least Brand has got everyone riled up, which is more than anyone else has achieved. It’s a good start.

“But where’s the bloody end of it all, messiah”, we cry! Well there isn’t one (sorry) but as a good friend reminded me, change happens through a dialogue – through human communication. Since absolutely everyone has an agenda to further, we can be our own worst enemies when it comes to effecting change. Whether it’s the media we listen to, the Facebook algorithms controlling what we see on social media feeds (see here for more on that ), or because we choose our friends, partners and lifestyles based on upholding shared values, it’s no surprise that our tendency is to only see points of view that we already agree with. That’s life, as they say.

All we can really do then, is keep talking and learning using all means possible, with as diverse a range of people and views as possible. It’s imperfect, challenging and can be warped, and it’s becoming infinitely more complex with each new mode of communication invented – but for every negative there’s also a positive. If we do our best to communicate with empathy, perhaps the current surge of interest in politics might actually get us somewhere.

Let’s stay friendly. Concentrate on understanding why and how other’s views were formed, no matter how ‘far out’ they seem, and trying our damnedest to not be tempted into contempt for our fellow human. Whether it’s Brand or Farage or your next-door neighbour, only through radical empathy and understanding will this world change. Otherwise it’s just the schoolyard writ large across the face of an earth that needs evolved adults. That’s why I’m jumping off the bandwagon and starting my own personal revolution, and I suggest you do the same*.
*DISCLAIMER: Just don’t blame me if you find it’s not an easy road to travel. Staying open to opposing viewpoints never has been the popular choice. It’s not as ‘ranty’, doesn’t provide the short-lived feeling of release you get when you slag someone off, and the idea is that it allows far less egoistic one-upmanship (but hell, I’m not promising to always live up to my own standards. Sorry loves, I ain’t perfect, but I try my best).

dancing outside downing street


I moved to London recently to do a Masters. It’s not in sustainability or anything envionment-related. In fact, it’s in an even more niche entity – the little-known world of contemporary dance, with all it’s lovers, artists, and a few lonely followers. (I’m not going to go into what contemporary dance is here, for those who don’t know, but maybe that’s another post in the making now that I’m expanding this blog beyond solely artistic elements).

So I came to London to dance, and that is exactly what I have been doing. However, one of those dances was my first ever protest-dance, right outside Downing Street as part of The People’s Climate March. I had only been to one protest previously, which was basically a small anti-Tory gig in Harehills, Leeds, staged especially for David Cameron’s visit to the area. People don’t like Tories in those parts, and I am also a working-class Yorkshire girl. It was shortly after the tuition-fees were raised; I was annoyed that I hadn’t made it to the recent protests about it, and I was damned if I was going to miss another opportunity to make my voice heard.

The People’s Climate March was something quite different to that small band of folk. It was, well, massive, for a start, and the issues at stake are more far reaching than most of us can comprehend.

Way back when in yonder years, I was your classic, run of the mill Topshop-ing, exercise-avoiding, junk-food-scoffing, appearance-obsessed girl-from-a-small-town. Living for the weekend and all that. I don’t mean to streotype myself, but I was, for a while. I didn’t have much of a grip on how the cogs turn in the world at large, although at some point, I started to get one. It happened almost impercetibly. I’m not sure where it came from, but it was probably a mixture of things. I only know that my growing consciousness of all the crap, without the necessary tools with which to handle this new information, really got me down for a while. I christened this ‘the consciousness of crap blues’, and I’m currently trying to write a poem about it, because I have my suspicions that it’s a very common phenomenon amongst today’s youth. Not that I’m that young anymore, but I guess that all depends on your perespective 😉

During this phase, or phases actually, since it comes in waves, I have sometimes been known to ineffectually torment myself with the weight of my inability to single-handedly change the world. I often felt that I should be doing more somehow. I wasn’t doing enough, but I didn’t know what to do, so what was I to do? I tried doing some Youth Work, but it turned out I just wanted to dance. What’s a girl to do?! Sometimes I had to turn away from it all. I’ve never been good at watching too much news, and anyway, I’ve learnt not to trust the mainstream media (see here, or do the classic and just read anything by Chomsky!). I’m also no eco warrior. In fact, I’ll tell you a secret, I read my first book about climate change earlier this year, and had to put it down halfway through because I was getting so depressed.

Instead I tend to educate myself in short bursts of articles, in order not to overload my sensitive soul. It’s sort of like the time when the sad eyes of a homeless man on Briggate in Leeds made me cry, but I wouldn’t go near him to give him my spare change, because somehow, his hopelessness looked catching. You’re no use to the world’s woes when you get to that point. You know you’ve gone too far and you should put the book down, go for a walk instead. Breathe, look at the sky. Think about all the things you’re grateful for and re-energise your heavy head. Then, if you can, do something constructive to alleviate the horrors you are shying away from.

The thing is, I just love dancing and writing poems,

and whilst I’ve pondered the idea of becoming an activist and living in a tree –

for the moment, I’ve just got to accept that I’m me

***That’s a line from my rant rambling poem-in-progress for ya… sneak preview!***

Eventually I realised that all is not lost, inside my own mind that is. I can’t speak for the whole world! I am me, yes, and I write poems and dance dances. If I can incorporate my consciousness of all the crap into my making-art-practices in a constructive way, then maybe all is not lost. There are many different ways of approaching the same thing, and you’ve got to do your best to untangle the knots and find your own way through. It will be your unique pathway and sod those who think it’s their way or the highway. I think I’ve learnt by now that no one way is the right way. I met a girl at the Climate March who was asking these very same questions, intriguingly…

What I do know, is that radical compassion (a la Kate Tempest) is the way forwards. Do what you can. Make your own way. Follow your wholeness and integrity. The world will go on with or without us, and whilst I’m all for saving it, and humanity if possible, it will certainly take the most popular of popular movements to do so. In the words of The People’s Climate March – ‘to change everything, we need everyone’. Well, perhaps not everyone, but definitely a majority gets the ball rolling…. This is precisely why it was so exciting to be part of this march.

This is how PCM was presented:

“This September, as world leaders meet in New York City for a historic summit on climate change, join people around the world to show we need action now!

This is an invitation to change everything.

On September 21st, the eve of a historic summit on climate change, people across the world will take to the streets in their hundreds and thousands to inspire the world’s most powerful leaders to take ambitious action on the climate crisis.

With our future on the line and the world watching, we have the opportunity to meet this moment with unprecedented mobilisations in cities across the globe.

From New York to London and Delhi to Australia, we’ll take to the streets to demand the world we know is within our reach: a world with an economy that works for the people and planet; a world safe from the ravages of climate change; a world with good jobs, clean air and water, and healthy communities.

There is only one ingredient required: to change everything, we need everyone. Join us.

London People’s Climate March
21st September 2014 – 1pm, Temple Place.”

The march was a popular one. There were 2646 solidarity events in 156 countries and I can’t even plough my way through the wildly varying account of the numbers of people, but I know it was HUGE. There is no doubting that it made history as the biggest climate march ever. This is not to sniffed at, but as always, some critics were quick to have a go. It’s not radical enough. It’s “the last gasp of climate change liberals,” and “the real resistance will come afterward “from those willing to breach police barricades.” See here for where those quotes came from, and a good response to such critics.
I have to admit that I did wonder, as I danced outside Downing Street, whether we were really making any difference. I knew it wouldn’t change the outcome of the summit in New York. I know that things have to get really bad, as in, directly affecting people’s immediate daily lives in quite a huge way, before most people will take radical action (or even any action at all). At that point it may well be too late, but I suppose we just have to keep trying and we’ll find out. I also know that there will always be critics of everything, and sometimes you’ve just got to not give their criticisms any furrther energy. Such is the balance and flow of life I suppose.
Anyway, this debate over approaches is valid. I believe that such critics have a point when you consider the timescales involved. However, it also reminded me of one of the most ironic things I saw at the climate march. It involved one bloke having a go at another bloke, because the second bloke was running a stall about chemtrails and geoengineering. First bloke was shouting at second bloke (quite aggressively) and saying that his stall was a load of bullshit and was detracting from the real issue.
The thing is, the shouting and bickering was what was actually distracting. Chemtrails man was merely stood behind his stall handing out the odd leaflet… It didn’t look like he even got a word in edgeways, and whilst I know that his views are widely considered to be nonsense conspiracy theories, I don’t know enough about it to express an opinion, and it wasn’t the reason we were there anyway, so why cause a drama? This could go on, backwards and forwards like a ridiculous ball of ‘my beliefs vs your beliefs’, and I realise that I am also continuing it even by writing about it! Actually, I don’t want to have a go at the righteous indignation of bloke 1, who must have had his own internal logic going on, plus who knows what prompted the shouting in the first place? Not me. 

I just know that debate like the one I’m engaging in is how things change. It’s all about a dialogue between people. Also, the chemtrails thing did seem to serve as a funny reminder of the paradoxical nature of the human condition (we’re forever confined to our own heads, despite our varying efforts towards tolerance), paricularly because it happened just as the march was about to begin. I even started to get paranoid about smoking in the open air, since I became hyper conscious that I was polluting the air around me. I had to move away from the throng of people and to have a furtive fag.

Luckily, the chemtrails altercation wasn’t a sign of things to come. The march was good-natured. It was genuinely fun for all the family, with people from many different walks of life marching together in solidarity! For me, this is all the proof I need that the tide of popular opinion is turning.

The whole debate and my experiences at the march made me remember the following. It’s just a few words that I scribbled down this summer after reading a book called Serbia Calling, which was about a revolutionary radio station and the popular uprising in the country (combined with various other factors) which eventually helped to bring about the fall of Milosevic.

I wrote it in a place where I was happy, but still holding on to some old hurts. I was leaving behind certain of my own inner conflicts by going on an adventure with my soul sister Katie. She is one of those friends who reminds me who I am. Someone who keeps me grounded but also growing. We were at an old fort near the Polish border, where a merry band of writers and musicians gathered. I had all sorts swirling round in my head, as I contemplated the metres of stone which encased so many stories, and also the spike-filled moat which was right in front of my tent.

I wrote…

what i am interested in is the borderline. the crossing. the communication between individuals and the whole. the tipping point. how the individuals make the whole. how change must, and can only happen organically. how each person does what he or she can, under their particular circumstances. radical compassion is radical understanding. how to build a boat. how to build bridges. how to be tolerant but not be a dead fish…

Dead fish was a good analogy, although I didn’t intend it at the time.