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It's All Allowed: Or What Adrian Howells Means to Me

12/07/2016 09:31 | Updated 12 July 2016

In 2014 I sat with a funding application for a tour in front of me, the week before a panel was due to decide whether or not to fund it. News had just come in that one of the collaborators named in the application had died. Did the artists want to continue with the application?

They went ahead and the tour of Dancer - a performance by Ian Johnston and Gary Gardiner - was supported by Unlimited. Adrian Howells was a collaborator on the original production, made possible through a collaboration between the Arches and Touchbase, Sense Scotland. Dancer lives on, gaining a four-star review from Lyn Gardner in the Guardian for being "such a lovely piece of work: simple, generous-spirited, vulnerable and entirely without side." It has toured repeatedly in Scotland, and also to Cardiff, London, Birmingham and Berlin and has recently been chosen as part of the Made in Scotland showcase for 2016's Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Adrian lives on too - through the body of work he created, those he inspired and the connections he made around the world. And now for a new generation of people who never had the privilege to engage directly with him, a publication has been released providing new insights into his process and practice - It's All Allowed: The Performances of Adrian Howells, part of Intellect Live which is a collaboration between Intellect Books and Live Art Development Agency. The publication is a not just equally fascinating and important; for those wanting to engage in acts of intimate performance, it's possibly the most comprehensive reference book available.

So who was Adrian Howells? A performance maker with exquisite (and often annoying) attention to detail? A pioneer of 1-1 and intimate performance? His alter ego Adrianne? A gay man who struggled with depression and placed both repeatedly into his work? An artist creating works focused on holistic acceptance, reducing shame and guilt for those they touched? A man who blurred boundaries and took repeated risks? A man obsessed with feeling failure? An artist nuanced in exploring discomfort and creating comfort? A virtuoso at performing intimacy? Of course, he was all, and more. It's all allowed.

It's heavy - physically too heavy to take with me on the train. Some bits made me cry, some bits challenged me with the complexity of their thought processes, the vast majority fascinated me. I was repeatedly moved, bored, stirred, enlightened and more. As I read, the thing that struck me most was how we need this collection of essays, opinions, perspectives. Those of us who admired his work in one area want to know more about the other spheres in which he operated, those entering the intense arena of intimate performance need his experience and wisdom to guide them.

I was particularly struck by the notion of 'accelerated intimacy', the culmination of carefully selected movements, spaces, structures and processes found within his work that enabled participants to surrender to the work and unburden themselves within in. The care with which this was created (by all members of his teams) was exquisite - from the documents framing participation, to the relations he established with everyone in the venues in which he performed.

I loved Stephen Greer's essay on What Money Can't Buy: The Economies of Adrian Howells, looking through boxes and files of uncatalogued papers to see what can be uncovered and what forever will remain hidden. I read Dominic Johnson's interview Held and used up a box of tissues, an unsettling feeling descending on me for days afterwards whilst I reached out to artists I know who might need support, conversation or just to know they are important to someone. Tea and Footprints, by Luzy Gaizely, Gary Gardiner and Ian Johnston made me smile - an easy conversation by people I know. I learnt masses from Helen Iball (Towards an Ethics of Intimate Audiences) and Robert Walton (The Pedagogy of Adrian Howells) on how to care for both performer and audience in such work.

And the images; there is extensive photographic documentation within the publication, intrinsic in a way I was not expecting. Adrian stares at me, is resting, is laughing, is reflective, is always performing. The work he created is shown in its true colours - vibrant, challenging, provocative and real. Without the images it would be easy to get caught up in the myth of the man. They ground us, bring us back down to what Adrian was (what all of us are) - complex, contradictory, human.

There is a line in Jennifer Doyle's reflection Distance Relation: On Being with Adrian where she reflects on 'the challenge of being, the difficulty of being present to others, and the limits of words'. Adrian's work occurred both with and without words, often dependant on the desire of the audience as much as the structure of the work he created. This publication takes on the challenge of communicating Adrian to new audiences, and whilst no words can ever sum up any human and their contribution to the world, for now it is enough.

It's All Allowed: The Performances of Adrian Howells is available from http://www.thisisunbound.co.uk/products/its-all-allowed-the-performances-of-adrian-howells

There is a book launch on 18th July at LADA for this publication: http://www.thisisliveart.co.uk/whats-on/its-all-allowed-the-performances-of-adrian-howells-lada-screens-book-launch/

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