Noel Witts - Professor of Performing Arts

LIFT-OFF FESTIVAL LEEDS 2012

May 19, 2012
LIFT-OFF FESTIVAL, LEEDS 2012

One of Leeds’ most recent festivals finished on Friday – three days of new performance, art, and installation from this year’s graduates of the new Art, Event, Performance Degree at Leeds Met.  There were gallery exhibitions, one-man shows, music, art installations and a host of other activities, involving an African ritual for a lost father by Zodwa Nyoni.  For me what stood out was how far these new artists, instead of interpreting others’ writings, were themselves creating a new world of discovery of what lies inside them – and perhaps in all of us. Much of the work was autobiographical or was from the experiences of the artists themselves. I remember Flo Dixon’s “Does Anyone Want to Talk about Anything?” , where she had recorded conversations with people in Leeds and Halifax for one hour a week over three months. This ended up in being an extraordinary record of people’s concerns at a certain point in time. Then there was the Nepalese artist Tanka Gautam, who gave us a strange monologue about himself and disassociation.Then there was Frankie Farrow’s installation of toilet art in a re-constructed toilet; and Ben Mills and Lisa Farrow’s exploration of dementia via some quirky methods.  Much of this kind of work now connects across the UK with other performance artists who are re-defining the world of ‘theatre’ as being, as it always was for Shakespeare, an arena where we can express our concerns and worries. As the American performer  Laurie Anderson puts it ” I try to look at things well, not to change them. That’s not my job.I don’t think the purpose of art is to make this a nicer, more civilized world. ” The Bard would certainly agree with that! If some of the Lift- Off works were confrontational they were in a long tradition of using performance in the UK as a vehicle for exposing and even solving problems. It’s good that Leeds has now joined a national movement for the rehabilitation of performance as a forum for discussion. Lift-Off was co-ordinated by Alex Kelly of Sheffield-based Third Angel.

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