National Review of Live Art

Inner visions

Kirstin Innes looks at the multiple barriers and connections between the performer and audience in the National Review of Live Art, Glasgow.

Now in its 27th year, the NRLA is taking over Glasgow’s Tramway for four days of live art, performance and installation from an international cast of established and emerging artists.

For those with an open mind, the packed programme offers plenty to get excited by. Just don’t attempt to categorise. Is it theatre? Much of the work on display is performed to an audience within a set time period, often involving physical movement and dance. But this year, programmer Nikki Millican has introduced work that could just as easily be described as music: André Stitt and Matt Cook, while both largely ‘performance artists’, play standalone gigs with their techno-punk band, The Panacea Society. Daan Vandewalle’s improvised ‘piano marathon’, Inner Cities, presents avant-garde music as installation, and would not be out of place at Glasgow’s experimental music festival, Instal. And NRLA has always had a very strong filmic element.

The NRLA is not just a collection of works that transgress genre boundaries; it creates a collective environment where genre does not exist. It seems increasingly to resemble an artistic representation of cyberspace. This is perhaps best encapsulated by Man in |e| space, by French company res publica, an attempt to map the human position in cyberspace using physical performers and computer-generated images.

The internet, of course, is currently undergoing a revolution known as Web 2.0, with an increased focus on user-driven or created content. Similarly, the act of performing and the physical presence of the performer creates immediacy and forces the audience to interact. A piece of art rooted in or taking place on the body - which all of this year’s acts have in common to some extent - runs the risk of being introspective and self-indulgent. By subverting the ways we interact with each other at surface level - skin level - and by occasionally transcending socially-prescribed comfort zones of intimacy, these works turn spectators into participants.

U_Raging Standstill by Belgian collective Crew (part of the umbrella New Territories festival which encompasses NRLA) requires participants to don virtual reality helmets and negotiate their way around an interactive narrative. Alexis O’Hara’s finished work The Sorrow Sponge will be composed of the absorbed fears and worries of participants recorded throughout the festival, and what you take from the ongoing installation Black Market International, which will occupy Tramway 2 whenever the building is open, depends entirely on what time and in which order you encounter the 11 performers. The meaning of each component of this year’s NRLA relies as much on the individual response as the original artistic input, and in this way it offers a much more forward-thinking model of what artistic form can be than more didactic works, which can be limited by their adherence to genre.

Tramway, Glasgow, Wed 7-Sun 11 Feb. See for more details.

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