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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?”
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