The Rise And Rise Of Performance Art In London

Tate Modern The Tanks

With the opening of  ‘The Tanks’ on 18 July, Tate Modern continues its transformation with the the world’s first museum galleries permanently dedicated to exhibiting live art, performance, installation and film works. There is currently an active, exciting trend in London on the rise. Performance art is taking the city by storm through small shows in the East and Southern limits of the city hopefully exhibiting a change in the wind from massive overproduced exhibitions that lack audience interaction and shun individuals who are catered to in a manner implying they are devoid of the ability to appreciate contemporary art.

On Friday 15 of June, Brick Lane and it’s veiny subsidiaries were somehow quieter than normal. A fair number of people were walking the streets and taking part to uphold the general lively environment that engulfs the area. On Cheshire Street, just off of the main thrall, a similar constrained atmosphere had formed with even less people milling about and fewer shops and galleries drawing in groups with whatever opening was on offer. The exception was a small shop which had drawn a considerable well dressed crowd to it’s facade. After queueing up for half an hour guest were admitted to the space on an individual basis, which for many, meant leaving the familiarity of friends and warm rosy faces in the night air for the unknown depths of what the previously enlightened individuals who had already entered the building promised to be a ‘must-see’ event. Inside, were two actresses in heavy theatrical make-up, one dressed in nearly no clothing at all, while the other was draped in a long fiber embedded dress that featured throughout the exhibition. Also in the room was a DJ putting out astonishing amounts of electronic mash ups that would make any MDMA hipster’s heart swoon, and nothing else. Every person that entered the space willingly subjected themselves to whatever was in store beyond the door of the very cleverly concealed exhibition space. The actresses interacted with each person that entered the building in a way that was profoundly ‘different’ and individual. Upon walking out of the space many people were left in shock. Some smiled, some laughed, and many of them simply were left without words, yet all of them managed to keep things secretive for the continuing groups of people to experience for themselves.

What made the show so interesting was not so much what the actresses did to interact with the audience, or the space itself, but the ability for a group of complete strangers to willingly allow others to experience something without spoiling the event. On top of that, the exhibition directors made an excruciating effort to build anticipation among the audience. Very few openings for any gallery, major or mino,r are doing that successfully in London. When Damien Hirst opened at the Tate Modern the public knew exactly what to expect (including ludicrously long queues). Very few spaces around London are challenging audience expectations by being playful and providing interactive circumstances that can heighten the experience and lead to a greater appreciation for the works that are presented. What was all the more interesting about this minute show on Cheshire Street was the fact that it represented the opening for a couture boutique related in one sense to the costumes and makeup of the actresses, but also somewhat unrelated to the actual impromptu nature of the entire activity.

This event on Cheshire Street is not the only example of a rising performance influence in the city. From the 14 until the 17 of this month the Psychological Art Circus has been displaying their latest offering titled the ‘Illusions of Reference Ob. 12’ in an abandoned yard near Elephant and Castle. The project was prompted by patron Linda Dobell who returned to London from a visit to the Temple of Apollo. Upon her return, the Arts Council England proposed a project to creatively reinvigorate a retiring Routemaster bus. The subsequent event was part circus, part projection installation which was interacted with on the bus by an actress in order to propel the narrative.       

With the Olympics less than a month away more performances are sure to crop up around the city and the country. The feverish atmosphere is perhaps drawing artists to express themselves in more physical terms (aided in part by the occasional day of sunshine). Some are choosing to rely solely on performance where others are using performance as a prelude to other events such as the boutique opening on Cheshire Street.

 In conjunction with the Olympics comes a certain feeling of gallery fatigue. The festivities have, and are, bringing to London some of the biggest names in the art world and with that an endless amount of time spent in white walled rooms and the always present queue seemingly increasing at exponential rates as the summer lumbers on.  Artists and galleries, particularly those that are small and up and coming appear to be inserting a fresh perspective that shines through the use of performance and theatrics. Hope remains for larger galleries and spaces to support this movement particularly because they tend to have larger budgets to accommodate grand presentations.

These are simply two examples of the performance trend that is slowly creeping across the country. More is surely to come from the Olympic events which will range from the small and intimate to the extravagant examples that will spur the opening ceremonies. For more information about the exhibition on Cheshire Street called ‘The Death of Culture’ see the following link to their website In addition, for more information about the Psychological Art Circus.  Follow the link   

Words/ Photo by: Portia Pettersen ©: Artlyst 2012