“What would an art school, only for performance artists, look like?”
The Assembly workshop series, co-facilitated by myself and Alicia Radage, is an attempt to tackle this question. There have been two workshops in the series so far, Assembly 1 and 2, which have brought together artists from Germany, Ireland, Singapore, Spain and the UK. Both workshops, and (fingers crossed) the many more still to come, have been opportunities to collectively imagine and enact new models, attitudes and approaches to performance art education.
Assembly was initially conceived as a reaction to our own experiences, and those of other artists, on UK university programmes which claim to accommodate for performance art. Not meaning to whine, but its probably worth mentioning how we see the current situation. The limited facilities, the friction with university senior management, the constant struggle to not be amalgamated with theatre, the overriding feeling that your mode of expression just isn’t really accepted by the broader institution. While some of these criticisms are probably shared by the majority of students at UK universities in 2019, many of them seem to be specific to performance artists.
Maybe it’s because universities just aren’t used to performance art and the multidisciplinary, unformulaic, inconsistent processes that bring it into existence. Maybe it’s because certain core attributes of performance art sit in direct ideological conflict with the pervasive ‘audit culture’ and neoliberal obsession with goal-achievement that has increasingly infected UK universities. Or maybe its just because performance art (an artistic medium with deep roots in ‘learning through doing’ and lateral knowledge sharing) just can’t be taught, in the conventional ‘knowledgeable teacher, ignorant student’ sense of the word.
As it stands, we also don’t feel like it is exactly our job to answer this question. Instead, we are trying to facilitate situations in which power over how and what you learn is returned to you, the artist.
We decided that this micro ‘performance art school’ would be grounded in a few basic, unshakeable principles.
Firstly, it would be autonomous and situated outside of the academy.
Secondly, none of the participating artists would have to pay to participate. No tuition fees, travel paid for, food paid for, accommodation paid for, materials paid for.
Thirdly, there would be no curriculum chosen prior to the workshop beginning and no leader or teacher. Every decision around what exercises we would do, when we would do them, when we would eat, when we would wake up – all of these were made by the group.
This summer’s workshop was the first real attempt at putting this model into action. 7 artists from 4 countries, some of whom knew each other, some who were complete strangers to everyone. We spent two weeks, living and working together with a relentless intensity. The edges between living, working and art-making all became increasingly blurred as the workshop went on. The exercises ranged from drawing exercises to reading groups to performances to survival exercises. With no leader, the responsibility for each individual’s emotional and artistic wellbeing became diffused onto everyone else. It was everyone’s responsibility to create, and hold, the space for everyone else. Consequently, it felt like all of our art-making evolved out of, and was part of, a wider, social culture of care and mutual respect.
Assembly doesn’t pretend to be ‘the answer’ to the issue of how to teach performance art. Instead, we want it to be a space(s) where conversations around performance art education can be had and performance artists can feel empowered within their own work while also engaging with their responsibility to other artists swimming in the same relational soup.
Jasper Llewellyn, September 2019
Date Posted: 25 September 2019