Arnolfini 16 Narrow Quay Bristol, BS1 4QA

  • Emma Smith
    Title : Emma Smith
  • Georgia Sagri  Owen  Photo Credit Eirini Papakonstantinou
    Title : Georgia Sagri Owen Photo Credit Eirini Papakonstantinou
  • Mikhail  'Xenon ears' (image courtesy of the artist)
    Title : Mikhail 'Xenon ears' (image courtesy of the artist)
  • NilsBech (Credit Benjamin A Huseby)
    Title : NilsBech (Credit Benjamin A Huseby)
  • PhilippGehmacher (Credit Eva Wurdinger)
    Title : PhilippGehmacher (Credit Eva Wurdinger)
  • Sharon Gal  Gals with Guitars  Photo Credit Sharon Gal
    Title : Sharon Gal Gals with Guitars Photo Credit Sharon Gal
  • Sharon Gal  Gals with Guitars2  Photo credit Sharon Gal
    Title : Sharon Gal Gals with Guitars2 Photo credit Sharon Gal

4 Days

Arnolfini, Bristol

17 – 20 January 2013, 11am - 8pm
Text by Jamie Eastman

Many of the events and performances presented in January’s edition of 4 Days will be done so in familiar formats. Artists as ‘performers’ - physically present in a room (or space) will be commonplace - exchanging ideas through movement, gesture and speech to an assembled audience. Performance circles often describe this type of liveness as related to the body because much of the artistic output is achieved using the body. For an artist, performing ‘to’, ‘for’ or ‘with’ an audience in real time retains huge potential thanks to the mutuality between those present of the corporeal (‘being’) and of action ‘doing’ - and the shared experience therein. During the first edition of 4 Days (in order of appearance) Heather Phillipson, Edwin Burdis, Nils Bech, Georgia Sagri, Bodies in Flight, Sarah Vanhee, Laure Prouvost, Mikhail Karikis, Mette Edvardsen and Philipp Gehmacher will all incorporate their bodies in presentations to an audience. Mixed in duration, origin and style and set to take place at different times on different days, the presentations from these artists will be in Arnolfini’s galleries where the exhibitions are usually located. Sarah Vanhee and Mette Edvardsen will also perform additional sessions in Arnolfini’s Dark Studio setting, raising questions of repetition and location. One of the tentpoles of performance art is that it can never be the same twice (either for audience or performer) so it will be great to have an opportunity to explore exactly that with Mette and Sarah.

In terms of timing, all of the artist presentations listed above will last between 5 and 45 minutes with one exception, that of Georgia Sagri’s durational work ‘Owen’. Like the Vanhee and Edvardsen works ‘Owen’ will also be presented on more than one occasion during January’s 4 Days, but unlike them it will last significantly longer at over 7 hours each time it is performed. Sagri’s ‘Owen’ also includes a manual instructing third parties on how to ‘perform’ the work again, and 4 Days will give a volunteer the opportunity to do exactly that on the final day of this January edition on Sunday 20th January. Interactivity is a hallmark in Sagri’s ‘Owen’, and by placing participation at the heart of the piece, she takes the visitor into less familiar territory than that of simply watching performance.

Participatory art (or social practice) is increasingly common in the world of contemporary art and performance, but such presentations remain a different proposition for audiences to that of observing something in a relatively passive manner. Georgia’s ‘Owen’ asks the visitor to help her ‘learn by heart’ a passage of English text in order that the artist might accurately recite it in a public speech. Seeking the visitor’s help, and inviting them to switch from spectator to participant is crucial for ‘Owen’ to develop, not least because the artist’s first language is Greek and not English. Participation is integral to ‘Owen’ for a number reasons, one being that the work seeks to explore Gertude Stein’s idea that sometimes actor and audience can be one and the same. Acknowledging the aforementioned proposition that performance is rarely the same twice ‘Owen’ pointedly provides visitors with a choice as to whether they wish to help out or not. Placing the option in such a way as to render the experience of ‘Owen’ different for everyone. Whether you choose to observe Georgia, or help out, I certainly hope that you opt for the latter, and also that you will want to take part elsewhere in 4 Days, with the interactive ‘ΔE=W’ (change in energy = the work) by Emma Smith and the workshop performances led by Sharon Gal - ‘Gals with Guitars’ and ‘l’espirit d’escalier’ hinging on varying degrees of participation. I also hope that visitors will drop in on Project Boondock’s ‘You are Here’ forum and share their experiences of performance, whether experienced as part of 4 Days or otherwise (more on which below). But no pressure, you’re just as welcome to come along and experience 4 Days on whatever level works for you, as that’s what matters.

Everything featured during 4 Days whether more obviously ‘performed’ by an artist or otherwise will be presented under the banner of experimentation. Experimentation is fundamental to the core programme at Arnolfini and a primary motive for the ‘organisation’ and contemporary art spaces like it around the world. In performance terms, conceptual artists experimenting with the medium have regularly asked questions such as ‘what is theatre’, ‘what is dance’‘, ‘what is music’’ and so on and 4 Days will continue with these traditions. However the platform won’t dwell exclusively on this deconstructionist side of experimentation and interrogation. We’ll look to present aspects where reconstruction is equally important too. Experimentation can be as much about building new ideas as questioning old ones, so hopefully some layers will go back on the onion as we go along.

A laboratory context for such experimentation is another aspect of 4 Days that I hope we can foster. Laboratory conditions (although not in the literal form of say a scientific lab) are often created in conceptual art via discourse and environment and as such presenting performance in these contexts can provide the opportunity to remain more obviously in ‘experiment mode’. For performer and spectator presenting live work in a such a way offers both parties the chance to try things out, to look at process as much as end product and exchange ideas more openly. During January’s edition of 4 Days, everything will retain this experimental quality and with the help of the spectator in some instances (as participant) conjure unique outcomes. Sharon Gal, in her two works ‘Gals with Guitars’ and ‘l’espirit d’escalier’ will directly incorporate experimentation and participation to achieve her 4 Days performances. Each performance will follow from a workshop in-which volunteers led by Sharon, explore sound and environment together in a series of practical exercises. In ‘Gals with Guitars’, women are invited to bring along a guitar and play together as a group to create a collaborative soundwork, performed on Friday 18th January at 6.30pm.

Similarly and following another workshop ‘l’espirit d’escalier’ (from the French term l’espirit de l’escalier or the spirit of the staircase) invites 15-20 volunteers to perform on Arnolfini’s staircase on Sunday 20th January at 1.30pm. This workshop is for anyone (male or female) aged 16 and over and this time invites the use of the body, most especially the voice to create a group performance situated in the unique environment of Arnolfini’s stairs. It’s exciting to imagine the stairs and foyer of Arnolfini activated by performance in this way, with the chance that ‘l’espirit d’escalier’ will quite likely be heard first before it is seen, commencing on the top floor of Arnolfini and working its way down. ‘l’espirit de l’escalier’ is a French saying for wishing you had said something in a conversation (such as the perfect repost) after the conversation has taken place, raising the associated topics of present and past that frequently crop up in contemporary art presentation. On this occasion though, much of the focus (as with all the performance taking place in January’s edition of 4 Days) will be on immediacy and the potential for performance to affect change, emotional or otherwise in the immediate moment for those encountering it. I imagine the work on this occasion to affect emotional change quite instantly for anyone hearing or seeing it as they walk into the building on Sunday 20th January. For ‘l’espirit d’escalier’ volunteers don’t need to have any previous experience of projecting their voice or ‘singing’ in any shape or form, and again there’s the opportunity to perform something unique at Arnolfini at the end of the session so if you like the sound of taking part then please follow this link. Both ‘Gals with Guitars’ and ‘l’espirit d’escalier’ illustrate the potential for participation to be collectively empowering and distinctly resonant as an experience for the individual when acting as part of a group. I think they will be excellent experiences and encourage you to take part, so do have a look at the information on Arnolfini’s website, and if you have any questions at all then by all means email

Elsewhere in January’s edition of 4 Days Emma Smith has opted to transform Arnolfini’s Gallery One more knowingly into a laboratory style space to host a number of experiments for visitors to take part in. Based on ideas informed by quantum physics or mechanics, spatial harmonics and energy generation Emma’s ‘ΔE=W’ (change in energy = the work) commences on Friday 18th January with a schedule of practical exercises led by invited experts in tai chi, phonetics and atomic theory, and continues into Saturday 19th with more experiments and opportunities for visitor’s to play a game designed by Emma herself. The game explores the artist’s thinking on (as she describes it)‘energetic relations’ and was previously presented at Tate Modern. This time around the game will be led by a core group of volunteers that met at Arnolfini in December 2012 - pictures of which are featured here on the right.

Like Sharon Gal’s works mentioned above Emma’s game is a proposition that explores collective possibility, illustrating how through interaction with each other we can gain an insight into the interaction between energy and matter that’s also going on in the world about us all the time. Emma’s laboratory of gameplay, experiments, workshops and lectures spotlights the use of performance as a strategy for the exchange of ideas and also takes up 4 Days informal theme of ‘coming together’, (along with other works featured in this January edition). It also takes the white walls of the gallery at its most radical, donning the room’s lab coat colour alongside the associated history of experimentation synonymous with conceptual art. Further details on the workshop times and schedule for ‘ΔE=W’ Change will be posted soon.

Of course the white walls of Arnolfini’s gallery spaces are not a pre-requisite to foster this context of question and experimentation when presenting live and performance art. This is possible anywhere in Arnolfini thanks to the legacy of the organisation’s founders, the historical association of conceptual and performance art past and the many artists who have presented live and performance art, contemporary dance and contemporary music already at Arnolfini during its 51 year existence. Presenting performance outside of Arnolfini’s auditorium however does enhance the process based/unfinished nature of the work featured during January’s edition of 4 Days or at any other time. Live works rooted in process, unfinishedness and experimentation sit well against the blank canvas of the gallery context and associated laboratory like conditions, matched by visitors’ own awareness of contemporary art’s enquiry into all things cultural. Arnolfini’s next exhibition Version Control will also present a number of performances in the galleries in keeping with such an outlook. This time with a focus on ‘performativity’ itself in relation to the object, the image, manipulation and appropriation and where performance ‘is at’ through the prism of current visual art practice.

I mentioned above some of the traditional performer/audience set ups featured in 4 Days where solo performers are ‘in front’ of audiences in routine ways. I also mentioned that these performers when presenting ideas will do so alongside an experimental context enhanced by the distinction of a gallery location and its inherited enquiry. These solo performances for between 20 to 60 persons at a time fall into two categories. Evening presentations by Philipp Gehmacher, Mette Edvardsen and Nils Bech and daytime presentations from Sarah Vanhee, Laure Prouvost, Mikhail Karikis and Edwin Burdis where each artist is physically present in a space communicating through action and utterance to an assembled audience. All of these solo presentations will take place in Galleries One, Four and Five. Plus in the case of Mette Edvardsen and Sarah Vanhee their performances will alternate between the white backdrop of the gallery and the black box of Arnolfini’s Dark Studio, which will be a fascinating chance to experience the difference. Edvardsen (an artist whose practice is rooted in dance and choreography) will suggest a world of objects through movement for spectators to imagine and invest themselves in, once in the gallery and half an hour later, again in the Dark Studio. Vanhee meanwhile will speak ‘ahead of her thoughts’ focusing on rhythm and verbalised synchronisation alternating performance scenarios between the intimacy of Gallery Five (where she will be able to ‘see’ the audience) and the Dark Studio (where thanks the lighting she has asked for, she won’t be able to see the audience).

The performances from Laure Prouvost (presenting three short works, one of which includes accompaniment from electric guitar), Mikhail Karikis and Edwin Burdis I’ve grouped together under the title ‘works in progress’ taking place on the afternoon of Saturday 19th January. I’m really looking forward to experiencing these ‘unfinished’ works in Gallery Four as they will have an’anything goes’ type quality to them. Edwin’s performance will also be his second as part of January’s 4 Days, as he will also take part in Heather Phillipson’s PRESSURIZATION, a work that we’ll focus on in the next post on this blog.

On Thursday and Saturday evenings 4 Days presents key performances from Nils Bech and Philipp Gehmacher which I urge you not to miss. Gehmacher (another artist like Edvardsen, who trained primarily as a dancer and choreographer) presents a speech whilst simultaneously ‘moving’ expressively in ‘walk and talk 13’ - a rudimentary but hugely rewarding format opening up the territory between spectator and performer and our pre-conceptions of dance. Gehmacher is a sublime master of movement interested in touch, gesture and space. He often considers notions of embodiment in his work and regularly questions formal conventions in a range of contexts. ‘walk and talk’ is a great example of this being at once mesmeric, deconstructionist and unforgettable for those fortunate enough to experience it. In 2011 Philipp asked ten of his contemporaries to also perform ‘walk and talks’ including Antonia Baehr and Boris Charmatz at Tanzquartier Wien.

Nils Bech meanwhile will tell a story about love, loss and liberation in the form of a concert accompanied by multi instrumentalist and composer Julian Skar. Bech’s range as a performer, performance artist and vocalist is extraordinary and he also incorporates movement in his practice which as a result has seen him perform in galleries, arts spaces and biennales around the world as often as concert halls. His collaborations with contemporaries such as visual artist Ida Ekblad are well documented and at 4 Days he will perform alongside imagery from Eirik Sæther.

As mentioned a key trope of 4 days is human interactivity, and the options for ‘activeness’ on the part of the spectator. The question of when a spectator, experiencing a performance ceases to be ‘passive’ or ‘peaceable’ in their reception of art and ideas and becomes ‘active’ is regularly raised in live and performance art. Not because spectator’s are (as many would argue) already active in their processing of what’s happening on stage or whilst walking around a gallery, but because performance - at its more socially engaged (aka social practice) - can take the exchange of ideas and the ‘making of meaning’ toward new and uncharted territories, not to mention collaborative potential. And this is true of everything presented during 4 Days even in the more traditional set ups. So whether working with Mette Edvardsen to believe in her world of objects or imagining scenarios via active and collective listening to Nil Bech’s lyricism there will be plenty for the visitor to ‘actively’ engage with during 4 Days even in the more traditionally ‘passive’ formats.

Activeness via ‘taking part’ is also an important idea that the 4 Days platform will take up. The durational works mentioned above from Emma Smith, Georgia Sagri and Sharon Gal fundamentally require participation to flourish and develop. Elsewhere in the Reading Room and Foyer in January’s edition of 4 Days Project Boondock will look at both interaction and participation, specifically from the point of view of those experiencing the event. With the goal of forming ‘a snapshot’ of 4 Days (i.e. ‘the story of’‘) Boondock will seek the assistance of local opinion to gauge how performance and the personal experiences therein are shaping the experience of 4 Days. The artist collective will canvas opinion onsite to create a collaborative conversation between visitors and 4 Days artists in the same way that the collective often generate new live work in their own practice in London. All the artists presenting performance works during 4 Days will be invited to share their stories following their invitation and arrival in the South West region, and visitors will be invited to share their own views on attending 4 Days. Boondock’s ‘You Are Here’forum will form the heartbeat of 4 Days, producing a live discourse in situ, on the occasion of the moment itself ably assisted by the documentation of Young Arnolfini. Central to the forum will be Project Boondock’s believe in co-creation - the hypothesis that great art can be produced when artists and audiences exchange ideas. When all parties are ‘active’. 4 Days will propose varying ways of engaging audiences through collaborative processes and in doing so, provide some captivating performative experiences for those involved.

4 Days runs Thu 17 - Sun 20 Jan, 11am - 8pm Full programme here

Many events are free entry, some are limited capacity and require booking in advance. Evening events are £5. A 4 Days year pass is available at £30

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