Heavyweights take performance art centre stage

Some of the more cutting-edge work at this year’s National Arts Festival has been in the category of performance art, so it is surprising that this is the first year the category has been officially included on the festival’s main programme.

As Jay Pather, the chairman of the festival’s artistic committee notes, there is nothing new about performance art. It has been explored in South Africa for years and the genre itself has been around for the past century. However, it is not without its problems and audiences in South Africa might still be confused about what exactly performance art is and how it differs from traditional theatre.

Certainly, some of the heavyweight names on the programme this year have brought attention to the field. Artist Steven Cohen’s work Cradle of Humankind is an interdisciplinary piece interrogating ­slavery and colonisation. Performance artist Athi Patha Ruga collaborates with visual art Young Artist Award winner Mikhael ­Subotzky in ­Performance Obscura, and ­Discharge, presented by the First Physical Theatre Company, unfolds in a military base.

Brett Bailey’s provocative work Exhibit A, which looks at the colonisation of Africa, has had audiences leaving in tears and French production Afternoon of a Foehn, which combines the use of plastic bags and fans to ignite an imaginary world, has been this year’s festival favourite.

The works challenge the audience in new ways and rethink notions of space. They move it beyond traditional theatre settings and often ask the audience to rise to the challenge of interaction. Almost always, they function on an inter-disciplinary, multimedia level.

Broad strokes
Bailey has always been interested in performance art. “Performance art doesn’t specify location, it specifies an approach,” he said, offering up the following definition: “It seldom revolves around a narrative. There’s no plot, generally. Or much emphasis put on character. There tends to be an exploration of a theme, rather than an anecdote, which is more in the line of drama.”

Pather, who is also director of the Gordon Institute for Performing and Creative Arts in Cape Town, said the decision to include performance art in the festival’s main programme had evolved over years.

“The main reason is that it is an important category in the world and it is growing in South Africa. It started a while ago and it has been bubbling. I believe the innovative experiment of whether it is performance or public art is the most vital for any festival. Something is happening, but you’re not sure what it is. Later, you realise what it is.”

In Pather’s opinion: “Performance art is about installation work that has a live and time-based policy which makes theatre artists and ­choreographers think a little more visually about their work.

“Over the past few years, the Gordon Institute has tried to develop  discourse around these topics,” Pather said.

In October, the institute will host Thinking the City, a conference discussing public art. In November, there will be a Live Art Festival, closely linked to elements included in performance art.

The number of works shown at this year’s festival is evidence that performance art is expanding in South Africa and that there is burgeoning demand for more.

Said Pather: “I think our audiences are waiting to be challenged.”

Advertisting

Save Fort Hare and stop with the theatrics

The university with its rich history is not only the pride of the Eastern Cape but of the continent. It needs to regain its glorious status in academia and not only be in the news for unfortunate reasons

Trolley tender causes Acsa eruption

Stolen contract exposes rift in the senior ranks at the state airport’s management companies

Unions slam move to cut wage bill

Cosatu rejects job losses and a wage freeze for public servants, calling this ‘a declaration of war’

Press Releases

Scatec Solar begins another Upington project

SPONSORED Scatec Solar and partners have once again grid connected in the ZF Mgcawu District, and started early...

Over R400-m given to businesses since launch of three-minute overdraft

The 3-minute overdraft radically reduces the time it takes for businesses to have their working capital needs met

Tourism can push Africa onto a new path – minister

The continent is fast becoming a dynamic sought-after tourist destination

South Africa’s education system is broken and unequal, and must be fixed without further delay

The Amnesty International report found that the South African government continues to miss its own education upgrading targets

Business travel industry generates billions

Meetings Africa is ready to take advantage of this lucrative opportunity

Conferences connect people to ideas

The World Expo and Meetings Africa are all about stimulating innovation – and income