Live, experimental & socially engaged arts practices

28 September 2012 Kathryn Gray

Live Art is the Kate Bush of the art world, eclectic, idiosyncratic and unpredictable.  It is driven by artists working across all forms and contexts that are seeking new languages of representation and compelling strategies for intervening in the public sphere. Field Theory, 2012

There are many inspiring, provocative and thoughtful artists exploring practices that can be described as Live Art, which the Australia Council has supported over recent years.

Pushing parameters of audience experience and performance making across artforms, Live Art is a flexible and often debated area of practice. It can involve unexpected art experiences, iterative and critical dimensions, collaborative and DIY processes. The artists driving this area of practice develop dynamic relationships with producers, organisations, community groups and audiences.

The term Live Art has been borrowed from a strategy of the Arts Council of England, and seeks to describe a range of performative practices between art forms. There is much diversity and idiosyncrasy in Australian Live Art and the bespoke, experimental, socially engaged practices it describes. The excellence and vitality of this work is recognised nationally and internationally.

Field Theory is a group of artists who have engaged critically in live art across Australia, and have created LALA, a network and collection of online resources for artists whose practice challenge traditional artform definitions. In 2011 Field Theory were invited to be Live Artists in residence at Performance Space in Sydney, supported by a Theatre Board Cultural Leadership Program grant. They delivered a number of excursions, discussions, a Durational Caffe Lattes series of performative meetings, and a lecture event examining the ‘meaning and relevance of Live Art’. They state,  ‘Field Theory believes in responsive art that seeks a platform for exchange and invites audiences to insert their own experiences into the work, art that constantly questions its assurance.’

Country Arts SA and Punctum are working together to provide a Leadership Program in cultural and civic engagement for artists working in regional contexts, also supported by a grant from the Theatre Board Cultural Leadership Program. Called The Coriolis Effect, it is professional and creative development program for 10 artists exploring regionally-based live art collaborations, which will feature at the Regional Arts Conference at Goolwa in October 2012. Punctum Director Jude Anderson elaborates:

‘What’s great about the Coriolis Effect is that we’re a bunch of artists connecting with regional and rural town residents and asking really hard questions together. We use our vast range of approaches and depth of experience to look closely at what the reality of ‘engagement’, ‘activation’, ‘cultural leadership’ and ‘civic imagination’ is for each person at the table. It’s a great privilege to have all these people collaborating and so invested in this questioning, and then building works that activate, stimulate, invite, incite. The Coriolis Effect is constantly shaping and revealing new possibilities –which is a little nerve racking but totally exhilarating.’

Campbelltown Arts Centre has curated Live Art programs engaging with the local and neighbouring communities through residencies, laboratories, partnerships and participatory events. Such programs include the SiteLab laboratories and Minto Live events engaging local people with national and international artists.  Paul Gazzola, who has recently taken on the role of Live Art Curator, acknowledges:

‘The precedent set by Rosie Dennis in creating such distinct art experiences in Minto has paved the way to explore a realm of approaches and strategies within these outer Sydney communities. The upcoming series of events over 2012/13 in the suburb of Airds/Bradbury aims to continue this line of direct and open engagement with the community through participation, dialogue and interaction as it addresses the urban realities of these communities in transition.’   

From the local to the international arena, the Australia Council Hopscotch touring initiative supports Live Art practitioners to tour their work with grants of up to $10,000. To date 18 national and international tours have been supported. Lucas Abela has taken Vinyl Arcade to den Hague, Brussels and Paris, in which participants race a remote control car over a custom-built vinyl rally track to generate the audio visual experience. Bennett Miller staged the Dachshund U.N. to crowds of people and pets in Sydney and Birmingham’s Fierce Festival, following hugely popular presentations at Melbourne’s Next Wave festival and in Perth. Nancy Mauro-Flude is presenting Error_In_Time, a networked media performance at Brighton Digital Festival, Darwin Community Arts and The HTMlles 10 Festival in Montreal. Jimmy McGilchrist staged Curious Creatures, a large-scale augmented reality projection project, to massive audiences at the Vry Festival in South Africa.

Thea Baumann has been awarded a Cultural Leadership grant for an international Live Art program Border Crossing and has recently toured Metaverse Makeovers. This is an augmented reality manicure project integrating virtual performance and live interaction with beauticians, about which she explains:

‘Metaverse Makeovers has been a project that has crystallised my forays into designing new Live Art worlds and experiences that examine transnational and cross-cultural subjectivities and communities, networked and digital culture, and the interplay between the local and the global.  Initially presented in Brisbane, Melbourne, and Shanghai – the work now turns its gaze towards ongoing developments and presentations in Tokyo, Bangkok and Seoul. 

Although neon-hued and holographic – this is a live art project that speaks about ‘connection’:  face-to-face, intimate, encounters between communities and audiences; the nexus between online, virtual, and the physical realms; and building ongoing partnerships, collaboration, and dialogue around contemporary live arts practice between Australia and Asia.’

Artists forge strong networks to experiment with performance and live experiences, often with elastic relationships to larger presenting institutions. The Live Art National Network Development (LANND) has recently launched by the Exist Festival. PVI collective are pushing the boundaries of tactical media arts engaging with everyday life in Perth and across their national and international networks. Vitalstatistix Theatre Company hold the Adhocracy interdisciplinary hothouse bringing together national artists to experiment and show work-in-progress in Port Adelaide. Artist run initiatives (ARIs) across Australia offer space for artists to explore and present their projects, and link up by the ARIna network. Festivals such as Next Wave, Underbelly Arts, Under the Radar and This Is Not Art are enabling and building audiences for emerging forms of practice.

Fran Barrett of the Serial Space collective asserts an important role for artists ‘initiating radical, risk-taking projects that are fleeting, antagonistic and explosive’. She describes the recent Time Machine festival presented across several Sydney venues:

‘Within the collective there is a diversity of practices, knowledge-bases, interests and relationships with particular communities. Collectives, spaces, practices, and communities can be fleeting and exist at a brief nexus between time, people and space. We wanted to capture this moment in time and forge a new and risk-taking experience for artists, their projects and audiences. What we have learnt from this process is that artists need to occupy spaces, think big and to provide opportunities for other artists.’

Recently the Australia Council also supported key projects for live cross-artform experimentation. Melbourne Fringe festival held the Visible Cities in 2010, bringing together artists from Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia to create, develop and show new artworks each day of the festival. The P4(pilot) was staged across Sydney and Perth with Performance Space, PICA and CIA studios, which explored creative parameters for artist and audience engagement through practice, publishing, participation and performing.

Artists exploring Live Art practices can consider numerous Inter-Arts, Theatre, Visual Arts, Music and Dance funding programs and speak to Australia Council staff about their ideas.

You can find more about some of the artists, projects, events and resources engaging with live, experimental and socially engaged arts practices:



CIA studios

Live Art National Network Development

Border-Crossing Live Art

Image Credit: Thea Baumann, Metaverse Makeovers. Photograph courtesy Andrew Mac.