Over the last few months I spent my Tuesday evenings at the Sofitel hotel in Pall Mall. I wasn’t meeting my lover – as my husband was insinuating. Instead I was meeting an amazing group of people, predominantly young women, working towards the launch of the city’s first-ever performance art festival.
Titled ‘Block Universe’, the event will be a return to midcentury performance values with a contemporary spin. A bunch of artists will be speaking, wriggling and dancing from the ICA to Somerset House, from RADA to the courtyard of the Royal Academy of Arts.
‘We’re seeing an increasing interest in it, despite the way it’s being programmed in London,’ says Louise O’Kelly, the festival’s director and a Goldsmiths grad, ‘but a lot of artists working in performance find they don’t have a home.’
A devotee of the artform, O’Kelly was roused when Tate Tanks opened in 2012 with a 15-week festival heavy in performance art. Then… nothing. It is remarkable that the creative capital of the world has kept for so long performance art in the margins, at a time when Marina Abramovic enjoys rock star status and is escorted by bodyguards whenever she performs or attends the preview of Frieze.
The intersection with contemporary art is what gives Block Universe contemporary freshness. We will see Jenny Moore performing a feminist manifesto at the Art Worker’s Guild, surrounded by portraits of the Guild’s forefathers. Conrad Shawcross’s installation ‘The Dappled Light of the Sun’ in the courtyard of the Royal Academy will provide the background for Nicola Conibere’s performance, when she will wrap two bodies in swathes of fabric and send them rolling around the courtyard.
‘Performance art in the Sixties was very much about moving away from an object-space practice to something more intangible,’ says O’Kelly. ‘Now there’s a lot of crossover between dance, painting and sculpture. Those conversations are opening again.’