30 July 2014
Katherine Araniello first presented The Dinner Party in 2011. A development of that work, The Dinner Party Revisited, has been commissioned for 2014’s Unlimited Festival - a commission that confirms Katherine as one of the most significant Live Artists in the UK. So what does it mean to be a 'Live Artist'? Lois Keidan, Director of the Live Art Development Agency (LADA) explains
Katherine Araniello's solo work, and her collaborations with Aaron Williamson as The Disabled Avant-Garde (DAG) test the limits of performance and the possibilities of disability art in provocative and exciting ways.
LADA has been working with Katherine, Aaron and DAG for a number of years to raise the profile of artists working with challenging art and ideas, and develop new contexts for Live Art and Disability.
Katherine and Aaron were central to the development and realisation of Access All Areas, a LADA project that showcased the ways artists are working with Live Art practices to explore representations of disability.
Through public programmes and a landmark publication, Access All Areas was a catalytic moment for Live Art and Disability in the UK and its impact continues to resonate.
In March 2014 British Council USA and Abrons Arts Centre invited LADA to present a New York edition of the programme, and US audiences were blown away by the work they saw coming out of the UK, especially the witty, subversive, and taboo busting films by DAG and Katherine Araniello.
“Live art offers a mechanism to process and make art, which has assisted me in thinking 'avant-garde'. In utilising my own physicality as a positive and unique tool I continue to create fresh representations of disability.” Katherine Araniello
The following is a short essay written in response to the original performance of The Dinner Party in 2011, published, alongside essays by Marcia Farquhar and Ella Finer, by Artsadmin.
Let’s pretend: A few words about authenticity in response to the performance work of Katherine Araniello
What’s the difference between performance art and theatre? Sadly, this isn’t actually a joke, or, if it is, I don’t know the punchline. No, the question about the difference between performance art and theatre is an old favourite in Live Art debates and one that put in a headline appearance in 2013 when the legendary director Robert Wilson collaborated with Marina Abramovic to create The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic for the Manchester International Festival.
In the many TV interviews Abramovic gave during this production she repeated her distain for the ‘pretence’ of theatre and her discomfort at having to ‘fake’ significant moments from her performance career for the stage – most notably the use of a fake block of ice.
I had the pleasure of seeing an Abramovic performance with blocks of ice (and snakes) in the 1990s at Museum of Modern Art Oxford and have to agree with Abramovic that it was plain weird to see her sitting on what was clearly a Perspex cube pretending it was ice.
I mention this because the question about the difference between performance art and theatre – the distinction between pretence and authenticity - also came up on several occasions in relation to the work of Katherine Araniello. Firstly at the Hunterian Museum where Katherine was one of four artists commissioned by SHAPE and Arts Catalyst to create a site specific performance within the Museum’s displays of the history of medicine. Katherine’s performance, Bipap I (Living Experiment) saw her installed in one of the galleries in a pantomime guinea pig costume.
It was a great piece, but I did comment to Katherine at the time that I didn’t think her guinea pig noises were right (I think guinea pigs chunder rather than squeak). I was of course being facetious and the point was that Katherine was not pretending to be, or acting as, a guinea pig, but was being the artist in a guinea pig costume making a point about scientific experimentation and how the medical profession sometimes treat patients as infantile especially if they have an obvious disability.
And so to The Dinner Party. This was another great Araniello piece and one of the many, many things that made it for me was again its authenticity – its lack of pretence – as beautifully illustrated in her collaboration with the artist Ernst Fisher in the role of the butler.
Whilst theatre tends towards a tightly structured, heavily rehearsed rendition of a narrative or set of ideas that is often repeated verbatim night after night, Live Art/Performance Art is more of a concept or framework in which ideas are explored and possibilities can unfold.
And within the concept and framework of The Dinner Party Ernst drank every drop of every drink he poured for Katherine’s dinner guests (appearing on monitors)*. His descent into a drunken stupor throughout the performance was as authentic as it gets, and something that simply wouldn’t have worked (for me at least) if there hadn’t been real alcohol in the bottles and if he’d only ‘acted’ drunk.
In fact the piece’s intentional collapse of all kinds of rules and roles was extraordinary, particularly the moment when Marja Commandeur, Katherine’s PA who was there simply to facilitate, started drinking along with Ernst, despite Katherine’s protestations - a sublime moment of controlled performance chaos.
So one of the answers to the question of the difference between performance art and theatre could be “go and have a look at the work of Katherine Araniello”.
* Katherine also genuinely drank every drop that came her way, but didn’t knock them back as quickly as Ernst!
Katherine Araniello will be hosting two simultaneous performances of The Dinner Party Revisited at the Southbank Centre in the Purcell Room and at Toynbee Studios as part of Unlimited on Tuesday 2nd September 2014 at 7.30pm.