A crowded library, a collection of artists, ethicists, scientists and others, and a sense of expectation. We are taking part in a Live Art Development Agency Study Room Gathering to discuss the work of Rita Marcalo and the development of a new piece based on her epilepsy, ElectroEncefaloGame.
Rita wishes to present her convulsing body as art to an audience, and ultimately, through this, to herself. She is a dancer, has trained for years to control and express herself through the medium of her body and the way in which it moves. When she experiences seizures, her body moves, but in a way in which she cannot control. It is this shift of control that Rita is exploring, and through it, her own identity - as dancer, as human, as Rita. But would you buy a ticket to watch?
As our invitation states: since 2009 choreographer Rita Marcalo has been working on a trilogy of works focusing on her relationship to her epilepsy. The first two works were Involuntary Dances (2009) and She's Lost Control (2010 and still touring), and she is currently working on ElectroEncefaloGame. She has invited us to this gathering to discuss, and advise her on, this third and final instalment of the trilogy.
Why? Why not? Artists have been using themselves as material for centuries. It is only natural that someone with artistic curiosity would wish to apply it to themselves, to different aspects of their identity. Also present in the room were Franko B whose work for many years involved using his blood and bloodletting, Brian Lobel who has created a diverse range of work based on his experiences with cancer, and Martin O'Brien whose work often addresses his experiences of his Cystic Fibrosis. This wasn't simply some strange gathering of artists as egos, the people curated by Rita Marcalo and Lois Keidan of the Live Art Development Agency had serious intent. And the four-hour discussion covered serious territory:
• What are the layered intentions behind the piece? Which is most important?
• What are the roles of, and for, the audience?
• Where are the ethical boundaries and responsibilities?
• Who has power and who has control?
• What is safe and how do we define that? Safe for whom?
• How can such work best be contextualized? How can this best be shared?
• Which public conversations around the work should one respond to and engage with?
• How can one allow those conversations to shape and influence the work? Should we?
I am new to live art and slightly both fearful and in awe. There is no arrogance, no desire to confound. On confessing my feelings, Brian Lobel invites me to see his work and attend a workshop in which he explains and explores with doctors in training to encourage them to see whole people and not simply ill bodies.
The Live Art Development Agency also work to try to 'demystify' Live Art and open it up to all kinds of new audiences. Their free-to-all Study Room contains a wealth of research material on Live Art, including an extensive collection of books and DVDs on Live Art and Disability. Last year they also produced a specially commissioned Study Room Guide written by Aaron Williamson, Disability and New Artistic Models that provides me with a rich context in which to wade.
The Agency will also be producing a publication based on the Access All Areas programme in Spring 2012, featuring documentation of a huge range of Live Art by disabled artists as well as articles, essays and reflections on some of the ways that Live Art can explore complicated issues around disability in radical and innovative ways. This will give us all further insight and will feature Rita Marcalo's Involuntary Dances: Correspondence, a collection of fascinating texts written by, and to, her in response to the first part of her trilogy. I'm hoping it includes mention of the Daily Mail's coverage and the vitriolic comments it provoked - interesting stuff about who is allowed to do what in our society.
So can an epileptic seizure be art? Of course. As can not having a seizure. As can the hinterland between having and not having. In this developing piece, Rita is interested in exploring a way of mapping her brainwaves so that she and we (as audience) can see the progression towards seizure, if such a progression occurs.
Making visible the invisible. Sharing unique perspectives. Examining questions to which one genuinely doesn't know the answers. For me, this truly is the function of art.
I'll buy a ticket to that.