Anything goes

Updated: 2015-07-13 07:23

By Valerie Osipov(China Daily)

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Beijing residents get a view of Britain's informal performance art, Valerie Osipov reports.

It's called performance art and is a bit hard to define, because it tends to be interdisciplinary and informal. But loosely put, it's a field where people engage in live action to express themselves to audiences through music, dance, poetry, theater, painting and more. It is said to have emerged from a movement against the commercialization of art.

Audiences aren't expected to pay for the performances, some of its practitioners say.

Anything goes

British performance artists Holly Darton (left) and Jenny Hunt, with pineapple tops strapped on their heads, entertain audiences with their comical act at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing. Feng Yongbin / China Daily

Andy Field, a performance artist, was inspired by the endless opportunities that live art provided him to create Forest Fringe, a large community of performance artists, along with two similar artists, Deborah Pearson and Ira Brand.

In 2007, the British group first performed at the Edinburgh Festival.

Last week, the trio brought a few Forest Fringe artists to Beijing.

Their gig was held at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing's 798 art zone, where Forest Fringe's performance was themed "risk and experimentation". It showcased their creativity in a lighter vein.

"A lot of the spirit of Forest Fringe is that we've been trying to create a playfulness and accessibility within this practice so that you can laugh with and at us," says Field.

"There is still this seriousness that's maybe associated with performance art. But we're suggesting that it doesn't have to be the opposite of fun."

This idea was visible in his own piece, a booklet of directional cues inviting the reader to perform duets with complete strangers around the gallery. Whether kept in your imagination or played out in reality, the concept is to develop intimate connections with random individuals in the surrounding crowd.

One of the most interesting acts of the day was the humorous Hunt & Darton Cafe, an interactive cafe installation run by tongue-in-cheek artists Jenny Hunt and Holly Darton.

As their "customers" sat down at arranged tables, the spunky duo tied pineapple tops to their heads and performed different acts based on their menu.

Food for eating, rather than wearing, was available as well - mostly English tea and sweets - but the participants were far more fascinated by the live art, including coordinated dance routines on top of tables to hysterical laughs.

After the comical pieces, members of the audience sat amused, digesting what they had just seen.

Anything goes

The idea behind the project is to create an interactive setting where the audience becomes part of the art or performance as soon as they step inside a venue - their reaction being an important contribution to the piece.

At this art cafe, visitors can experience the unusual exhibits and order a "three-course meal" of live art. Samples include Mum, a poem recital by Hunt; Cheese Toastie, a comical poem by Darton; and Victory, a series of triumphant shouts that one might expect from a winning athlete.

Strange, but without a doubt, entertaining.

In the same room, Tim Etchells, artistic director of Forced Entertainment, another performance art group, had his own exhibition running. It was an arrangement of posters with the repeated text: "Everything is under control." The display was meant to stimulate a reaction from the viewers, seeking to connect them to the artist, even in his absence.

More artists from the Forest Fringe performed.

Works included Someone Something Someone, a slow, choreographed performance of movement by Maria Sideri and Simone Kenyon; Time-Lab by Abigail Conway, in which participants could bring their own timepieces only to destroy them and rebuild them into works of art, symbolizing and toying with our perception of time; and The Redux Project, a series of popular film scenes amusingly re-created by Richard DeDominici.

With every exhibit, the events of Wednesday and Thursday gave Beijing residents a chance to familiarize themselves with performance art.

Such experiments help the artists involved to learn more about their peers, too, Field says.

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(China Daily 07/13/2015 page20)