Keep it live

Nigel Rolfe has recently performed and featured in art festivals, galleries and museums in many countries including Ireland, Britain, Spain, France, Italy, Netherlands and Sweden and Poland, China, Czech Republic, Ukraine and USA. Since 2008 he has worked primarily in performance however he also works with the photographic process as well as installation and sculpture.

Keep it live

Find only what is essential to do,

that the work is about something and not just itself,

seek always an interior life, what lies underneath,

excavation, digging, turning ground over,

not what you can do, but what you must,

make this doing conversation between you and yourself,

this is the primary route, if others are watching

or not watching

the sense of live for me

carries some risk

that processes may, and can, change,

right there in the moment,

make plans in your head but be prepared to truly abandon

in an instant, this is not improvisation, though, but instinct,

rehearsal is redundant,

repetition may be productive,

rounds and unseen rhythms are inherent

everything is important and consequent,

then not,

entry and exit, timing and correspondence,

the materials used, the body and belief,

the space and place, both architectural and political

there is no bad space and no good space, either,

speed and slowness

what you wear or don’t

be very very present and, at the same time, somehow not

you are freezing images in time,

powerful pictures will be remembered

This writing comes from my practice as a visual artist, which has spanned more than four decades of making images, often with me as a living engine inside the production and presentation of the work.

All art-making is a live endeavour, but performance artists make live images their focus.

Images are made and witnessed before their audience and not in some previous time and space.

For me, this challenges art as a commercial product and the trade of art as its central value, but it is also urgent and direct, taking risks.When done well, this is vital.

The job of good work is to be remembered and the job of great work is to contribute to the subject and to the wider world.

The long breath:

I’ve been shown in many museums and retrospectives, but, in recent years, I am performing outside, returning to first principles, putting my body and self into the work, live and present.

Why do this?

Some ground rules for myself to share: be direct, don’t rely on habit, stay fresh, live firsthand, always make work about something.

Fast media and slow knowledge:

So much imagery today is mediated by fast-moving, digital reprographics, so we consume pictures and turn the page and speed on.

The knowledge in art-making is perhaps slower and hard-won: touch and the body, concepts and the mind, and the correspondences of both, brought together — as doing and being are ancient and slow, but still always urgent and present. As artists, we must both dig deep within ourselves and look long outside, working through something from inside us, but in the here-and-now.

Keep experience live a reminder:

Some while ago, it became better to stand in the cold, winter nights, watching football in the rain, rather than in the comfort of the living room on a flat-screen TV. First-hand, before your eyes, is better than second-hand reprographics.

We live, therefore we are; keep life ‘live’, and art along with it.

The problem of permission:

When I was younger, what I wanted to make was not allowed or encouraged, and I was always fighting those conservative limits. Young artists should be endorsed and supported to do new and different things, things unknown to them and just out of reach.

A climate of intelligence and freedom endorses the young and allows strength in growth.

Repressive, controlling parenting inhibits and damages the child’s possibilities and this is just the same in making art.

Then and now:

Whatever you call it, from mime and pose to body art to action art, performance has a very long history and many cultural coincidences, from tribal rites to indigenous body-painting beliefs.

Not surprisingly, it still ruffles feathers and raises hackles, as if for the first time.

The genuine question, “what are you doing?”, is most often qualified by “what do you think you are doing?”

The moment is:

Economies are like Felix Baumgartner: beyond limits and in complete free-fall.

Art can no longer remain as luxury goods for the very few, and possibly this is why there is a surge in interest in ‘the moment’. Networks and linkages are created by the participants and open up on a global scale, with live artists active on all continents, from Mexico to China. Festivals and gatherings proliferate and interest in taking part expands.

The time is now.

Nigel Rolfe will be taking part in the Dublin Live Art Festival from the 25th to the 29th of September at The Back Loft, Saint Augustine St, Dublin 8

More in this section

ieParenting Logo
Writers ieParenting

Our team of experts are on hand to offer advice and answer your questions here

Your digital cookbook

ieStyle Live 2021 Logo
ieStyle Live 2021 Logo

IE Logo
Outdoor Trails

Discover the great outdoors on Ireland's best walking trails

IE Logo
Outdoor Trails


The best food, health, entertainment and lifestyle content from the Irish Examiner, direct to your inbox.

Sign up
Cookie Policy Privacy Policy FAQ Help Contact Us Terms and Conditions

© Irish Examiner Ltd