Where is the Artist: Affective Labour in Live Performance

A paper on affective labour in contemporary art practice and global presentation.

Since the advent of the solo performance artist in the 1970s, the notion of performance has continued to evolve beyond the use of the artist’s own body as the sole medium. The body as gesture has come to play an increasing role in audience activation, through which the relationship between artist and viewer has grown increasingly complex. When an artist is no longer the central agent of their own work, but operates through a range of individuals, communities and surrogatese, questions of authorship, instrumentality, ethics, labour and representation come to the fore.

In 2014, Arts House in Melbourne presented their first sustainable performance programme Going Nowhere. The event explored how artists, communities and audiences can sustainably generate international creative experiences without getting on a plane. Based in Sydney, and working with London artist Joshua Sofaer between 2012 and 2014, the performance Reach Out Touch Faith was developed for this programme. Considering Australia’s tyranny of distance and cultural fear of missing out, Reach Out Touch Faith addresses the presence of the live body in performance and its relationship to audience – how do you create a work without travelling when the artist’s presence is supposedly so crucial to the live art?

Through the writings of Shannon Jackson, Dorothea Von Hantelmann and a close reading of Reach Out Touch Faith and Going Nowhere, this paper considers the complexity of outsourcing authenticity in the expanded field performance.