It has established a global reputation for the innovative ways in which it has engaged with the political duality of the “Troubles” and their resulting contested spaces. However, it is still very much an underrepresented narrative, bound up with local history.
There is currently no focused documentary history of Northern Irish Performance Art (as there is with its Welsh equivalent). There is a mere mention of Alastair MacLennan’s name in one of the official Arts Council-commissioned essays on art and the Troubles––nothing more, despite MacLennan’s prolific and internationally regarded practice. His omission from local art history exemplifies that Performance Art is thus far under-appreciated by audiences, writers, and funding bodies in Northern Ireland.
The performance artist Brian Connolly and art historian Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes are co-curators of this exhibition and its related events, featuring a range of the key and influential artists who moved to Northern Ireland in the 1970s (MacLennan), or artists from Northern Ireland (André Stitt, Sandra Johnston, Sinead Breathnach-Cashel, Brian Connolly, and Bbeyond). Other more temporary but impactful presences were Samuel Beckett (his education in Enniskillen and subsequent work in Belfast), Joseph Beuys in 1974, Adrian Hall, Black Market International, Dan Shipsides, Sinead O’Donnell, Brian O’Doherty/Patrick Ireland and selected key members of the Polish, British, and continental European performance art movements. The exhibition is an initial historical survey of Performance Art in relation to Northern Ireland.
One of performance art’s strengths is its ability to provoke, to inhabit the interstices, to remain fluid, flexible, and mobile. Such strategies have enabled it to remain independent and not co-opted by one side or the other in the local conflict. Much of MacLennan’s performance artwork (and that of others) has achieved this. His work Target (1977), literally a going back and forth across the security barriers within the city centre, is an early example. Stitt’s visceral performance actions in response to political bigotry and violence have also resonated through time.
Performance art has been brought into the foreground through projects such as Available Resources (Orchard Gallery, Derry 1991) and Exchange Resources (Catalyst Arts, Belfast 1995 with Connolly, MacLennan and others).
Key individual practices and organisational aspirations eventually led to the establishment of Bbeyond in 2001, an artist-led organisation, which has generated a wide range of international events within Northern Ireland (In Place of Passing, Inbound, Open Relations 1 & 2), while offering a spring board for younger artists and a link to growing international networks outside. Bbeyond continues to host a series of monthly meetings in different locations throughout Northern Ireland, which are open to all performers.
This exhibition and its constituent parts are highly challenging, as performance art’s basic tenet is that it should be seen and experienced live. An exhibition of performance art may well work with performance “relics,” sculptures, and installations; but an exhibition that claims to be a survey also needs to work with scheduled events, recorded performances and archival documentation. Despite best efforts, such a project has to establish itself under the conditions of absence and in the face of inevitable failure.
The Golden Thread Gallery will present a series of documentary artefacts, still photography, video, film, and other archival materials, and will also host a series of performances from key artists such as MacLennan, Johnston, Connolly, and Bbeyond. The global art historical, theoretical, and institutional debates about the appropriate representation(s) of performance art are contested and ongoing. The often collaborative, egalitarian, engaged, and site-specific nature of performance art in Northern Ireland will make this exhibition challenging and rewarding. An accompanying publication will serve to complement Áine Phillips’ recent historical map of Irish performance art in general and provide pointers for interpretation and contextualization. The essay by Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes, with Karine Talec, was developed also as a Toubles Archive essay within the framework provided by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland (see http://www.troublesarchive.com/essays). A series of educational seminars and potential artist workshops are being planned and will also form part of the exhibition programme.
- See more at: http://goldenthreadgallery.co.uk/event/performance-art-northern-ireland/#sthash.0982MGIe.dpuf