Wimbledon College of Arts finds itself in a unique position with regards to performance. It runs courses in theatrical and fine art disciplines, with staff and students from both pathways working alongside each other and sharing ideas. For the last five years, Wimbledon Space has dedicated it’s springtime gallery slot to Acts Re-Acts, a series of connected events that examine the relationships between performance-based practices from both Theatre and Fine Art. The programme has included residencies, lectures, seminars and performances that explore new ways of working across disciplines, and what it means to have a performance-based practice.
In October 2017, former Dean of Wimbledon Simon Betts began a new role with us as Dean of Performance. Working across all three of our colleges, he will be a champion of the performance arts and an advocate for the creation of performance that exploits contemporary media and connects practitioners beyond traditional boundaries. In this article, he introduces the fifth year of Acts Re-Acts and invites key members of staff to look back on the project, pick out their highlights, and imagine a bright future for this annual event and performance practice at the colleges.
Simon Betts: The Acts Re-Acts annual live work event was initiated in 2013 by Wimbledon College of Arts as a lens by which to scrutinize what we call “the dangerous borderzone” between fine art and theatre performance. The College’s identity as a meeting point between Fine Art and Theatre gave us the opportunity to study the area where these two disciplines might meet, or even refuse to meet.
The Acts Re-Acts organizing group, comprised of academic staff members from both disciplines, set out to encourage work by fine artists and theatre makers for whom performance-making is the cornerstone of their practice. In so doing the different contexts and approaches to staging live work could be interrogated. This allowed Acts Re-Acts to explore and discuss ideas of hybridity, technology and the role of the audience across Theatre and Fine Art.
Over the last four years we have been able to exhibit a wide range of approaches to performance, sound, and film. Artists’ residencies have allowed our students to see the process of development for performance. The inclusion of seminars, lectures and talks has promoted debate within the college and encouraged many Wimbledon staff to submit proposals for the event. We are now beginning to link with some of our international partners by inviting key staff to exhibit, and last year Bruce Barber from Nova Scotia College of Art & Design showed recent work.
Looking ahead, we see Acts Re-Acts growing in reach, making performance more accessible, and developing a research agenda that uses the issues and philosophies coming from Acts Re-Acts to explore the exciting and relevant questions it is asking of fine art and theatre.
How did Acts Re-Acts begin? How has it expanded its scope over the years?
Dr Lois Rowe: Acts Re-Acts really began as a way to have a constructive dialogue between our separate programmes of Fine Art and Theatre & Screen. Applicants to the college would come to interview and say how exciting this relationship was, and the truth is, there wasn’t really a place to have that conversation previously. As Acts Re-Acts became established as an annual event, students came to recognize it as that place where a conversation occurs between the practices of Fine Art and the mechanisms of Theatre & Screen. Between staff across the programmes, between students across programmes, and eventually between the college and new partners, scholars, performers, and thinkers.
Peter Farley, Senior Lecturer in Theatre Design at Wimbledon: Alongside artists’ residencies, the performed element of Acts Re-Acts has progressed from a gallery-based installation/performance event in the Wimbledon Space to a two-day laboratory/ festival using not only the white gallery space but also the black studio theatre space at Wimbledon. This year, Acts Re-Acts 5 aims to expand again by utilising other areas in the College and possibly the town of Wimbledon itself. Our experience of running this event over the past four years and our unique position of being an art college with two specialist subject areas, Fine Art and Theatre & Screen, has allowed us to explore and expose crossovers and hybridities between the two areas using the medium of performance.
What have been the highlights of the project for you so far?
Jane: I really enjoy the planning stages, looking at the range of applications and working as part of a team across fine art and theatre to programme the festival. I also particularly enjoyed meeting and talking to Claire Bishop in 2015, and performing with research student Trish Scott in 2015 in our attempt to restage a seminar we had held in Chelsea the previous year.
Clare Mitten: I think there have been some fantastic pieces of work made over the course of the festival, and it’s difficult to choose favourites. I did really enjoy Kate Lane and Joe Wild’s Performance Machine in 2017. They used a set of axioms – Time – Space – Body – Text, which generated an algorithm to drive a machine. This machine and the performance it generated existed both in the real, physical space of the gallery but also in virtual cyberspace. It was tested to its limits by input from the session and the audience who participated in it. Also Edward Dimsdale’s Model Love Re-Kindled in 2014 was really interesting. He presented a performance and durational installation which started with a series of photographs that claimed to capture an instance of love at first sight. He used forensic techniques to scrutinise the images and question their narrative arcs, and I felt the work staged a 3 way conversation between photography, printmaking and performance practice.
Lois: Some of the momentum behind Acts Re-Acts was due to growing interest across our student body in performance as a mode for learning new forms of praxis. Curator Sarah McCrory spoke as part of Performance Management (Acts Re-Acts 4) about how performance opens up new and innovative ways for artists to practice as it is a kind of ‘borrowed’ form. Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, who was also part of the Performance Management event, brought a lot of the real potential of performance to our students during her time as Wimbledon College of Arts Practitioner in Residence and involvement in several events.
What challenges need to be overcome, and how would you like to see the project develop further?
Peter: One challenge we face is how to attract a larger audience. At Wimbledon we are addressing this by making sure that the two-day festival happens during term time and is clearly timetabled in order to raise student and staff awareness. We are also keen to welcome members of the public for the performance sessions and are reaching out to include members of our local community.
For me, one of the most important features of Acts Re-Acts is the involvement of students working with in-house professionals to document the project giving them an experience of recording and archiving that can be applied to their own work or in collaboration with other performance-makers, and I’d like to see that continued and expanded upon.
Jane: Although it started out at Wimbledon, I look forward to the continued expansion of Acts Reacts across Camberwell and Chelsea as well, and also staging events in venues off campus in the future. Building new relationships both in communities local to the colleges and on a national or international stage will really help to enrich the work that happens in the project.
Simon Betts is Dean of Performance for Camberwell, Chelsea, and Wimbledon
Dr. Lois Rowe is Programme Director for Fine Art at Wimbledon
Peter Farley is Senior Lecturer in Theatre Design at Wimbledon
Professor Jane Collins is Professor of Theatre and Performance at Wimbledon
Clare Mitten is Gallery Co-ordinator for Wimbledon Space
Acts Re-Acts 5 is at Wimbledon Space between 19 February and 2 March. For more information please visit the events listings pages