Curating, a great big onion of a thing that’s all a bit earthy

Eleanor Lawler, one of the co-curators of the Livestock — Performance Art Platform, provides insights into her experiences of facilitating these events.

by Eleanor Lawler

When curating live art events, proper planning and experience, one could suggest, are basics. But what does that mean and how can you possibly have proper planning for a live art event? Something might and frequently does require last minute adjustment, like the performer who does something not discussed or planned for, the performer who gets cold feet and doesn’t turn up, or the one who turns up two hours late. What about the performer who forgot to tell you that they need an amp, a mic and lighting? How can proper planning possibly avert what, for a curator of 2D work, might seem an impossible task? With every live art event curated, another layer is added to that great big onion that is curating a live art event. (The onion metaphor is useful as onions are useful vegetables that need compost to grow but depend on many layers to make them what they are, adding to their flavour and size. Not too big as to be tasteless, (excellent metaphor), great for a stew too).

Livestock began in 2008 at The Market Studios and was established and run by Francis Fay, Joan Healy and Louise Ward. I had attended my first Livestock and loved it so I took a studio at The Market Studios. Joan and Louise moved on to other work and new places so I volunteered my services. Myself and Francis Fay have been working on Livestock together since 2011, the rest is still unfolding.

Performance by Valerie Joyce, Livestock at Market Studios, 2010.

Livestock is about facilitating and providing a platform. The curation happens with selection of appropriate works and timing of performances. Administration and clean up, the usual delights of curating, are augmented by decisions to be made on the night like the ones of a last minute nature, unpredicted, unplanned for and hopefully none serious enough that the audience will notice (the smell of raw onions seeping into the performance area perhaps?). Proper planning, that’s what needed and perhaps experience, actually experience counts for a largest proportion of compost that helps the onion to grow.

There are, of course, moments of panic, but maybe that’s just me — but it’s not just me who sees the moments, minutes, and sometimes hours that are the pure magic of performance art. The realness, the shared experience, the subversion of an economically titled society, the pleasure and the pain of that shared visceral reality, the experience of the moment; how can that be ignored, negated and devalued by heavy handed curation? I don’t curate, I facilitate: good, bad, and occasionally awful performances (purely subjective). However, I will fight for facilitation for every last one of them. Facilitating space for real, exciting, vital, embodied voices is not an option for me, it’s an absolute essential.

Paul King performing Action Sculpture at Livestock at the Complex Dublin, March 2016. Photograph by Amber Baruch.

Facilitating Livestock is one type of curation (read onion farming). As with all curation, some artists are such a pleasure to work with, clear in what they want or need from you, turn up on time ready to perform—a level of independence that is professional and admirable —while others require a tad more looking after. Without doubt, curating live art is by far and away the best experience, compost or not. There are some artists who are so very nervous before their performances, dancing and singing afterwards with delight at having their voice heard. There are also the experienced practitioners who exude happiness at a performance going well or simply embracing the performance however they felt it went. Either way, delighting in the experience of being “heard” is something that speaks loudly to me: “I hear it in the deep heart’s core.” Curation (of live performance art) rocks! If you get the whiff of raw onions when you attend your next live art event, just think of it as compost helping to make a bigger, better and more full-bodied onion.

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