'It was forty years ago today...': Locating the Early History of Performance Art in Wales 1965-1979

Lead Research Organisation: Aberystwyth University
Department Name: Theatre Film and Television Studies

Abstract

Performance art scholarship and practice are currently experiencing a resurgence of interest in the origins and early years of the art form in the 1960s and 1970s, a time of great artistic creativity and political radicalism. This urges us to re-examine our conventional understanding of this crucial period. Traditionally, histories of performance art have tended to concentrate on a well-documented (mostly US-based) canon of works, neglecting local scenes outside of the centres of art production. This project aims to chart the manner in which performance art as an international artistic movement was negotiated in response to the particularities of specific cultural situations during its formative years - here examined in the context of Wales between 1965 and 1979.
The emergence in Wales of what came to be called 'performance art' dates back to the mid-1960s, when artists joined in the international movement away from the production of art objects toward the creation of events. In 1965 art instructors at Barry Summer School staged happenings to test new teaching approaches; one of the first festivals of Fluxus art in Britain occurred in Aberystwyth in 1968, six months after Fluxus' most famous artist, Yoko Ono, had made a piece for Cardiff; that same year Ivor Davies brought destruction in art to Wales by responding to the era's violence with timed explosions; throughout the 1970s, from their base in Swansea, sculptor Shirley Cameron and drama-graduate Roland Miller explored the field between fine art and experimental theatre; and the National Eisteddfod, the major Welsh-speaking cultural festival, in Wrexham 1977 included a controversial performance art programme involving European artists such as Joseph Beuys and Mario Merz, whose contributions were overshadowed by local artist Paul Davies' performative protests against the suppression of the Welsh language. A context characterized by traditions of political radicalism, a lack of art institutions, a small and multidisciplinary artistic scene and a growing activism around issues of language and identity became a model breeding ground for an art form that was ephemeral, interdisciplinary, engaged and direct in its address to audiences. In this, Wales both mirrored and refracted developments elsewhere in the art world.
The project proposes to reveal this hitherto neglected aspect of performance art history by compiling as comprehensive a record as possible of events that were created in Wales by local and visiting artists between 1965 and 1979. It will undertake extensive research into extant documentary material held in institutional archives and scattered across the private collections of artists and organisations. Complementing this research, the project will draw on oral history approaches to solicit the recollections of key figures who shaped the development of performance art in Wales during this period, a generation that is slowly disappearing. Analysing the documents and testimonials alongside one other, the project will also examine the complex manner in which memory interacts with documentary remains to constitute our knowledge of past performance events.
The project will make freely available to other researchers in the field not just the analysis of the research findings (published in journal articles and conference papers) but these additional resources: a fully searchable online database of performance art events in Wales 1965-1979, which also indexes the current location of available documentation on these events; and a range of oral history recordings and transcripts, to be deposited in key archives. The resources will be accessible also to a non-academic audience interested in performance art, among them the current community of performance artists, for whom the project hopes to provide a sense of its history - the now over forty year long tradition of an art form that once originated through a forcefully asserted break with tradition.
 
Title "The lunatics are on the loose "- European Fluxus Festivals 1962-1977 - Exhibitions, Conferences, Actions, Publications 
Description Major European exhibition series in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Fluxus. Chief Curator: Petra Stegman, Potsdam. Exhibition Venues have included: Berlin Akademie der Künste; Budapest University of Fine Arts (MKE); Kunsthallen Nikolaj Copenhangen; MOCAK Museum of Contemporary Art Kraków; Circulo de Bellas Artes Madrid; Goethe Institute Paris; University of Arts in Poznan; Contemporary Art Centre Vilnius; Staatsgalerie Stuttgart; National Gallery Prague. Still touring. Funded by Haupstadtkulturfonds Berlin. Heike Roms is a member of the curatorial board of art historians. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2012 
Impact Contributions to exhibition catalogues: Heike Roms (2012) 'Fluxus in Great Britain'; 'Festival of Misfits (London 1962)'; 'Fluxconcert by and for Fluxus' (Aberystwyth 1968), in Petra Stegmann (ed.) The Lunatics are on the loose: European Fluxus Festivals 1962-1977 (exhibition catalogue), Berlin: DOWN WITH ART! (ISBN 9783981557909) 
URL http://thelunaticsareontheloose.tumblr.com/post/7079556257/the-lunatics-are-on-the-loose-european-fl...
 
Title How to Build an Arts Centre? A Guided Audio-Tour 
Description A guided audio tour through Chapter Arts Centre, featuring the memories of three protagonists of Chapter's early history - co-founder Christine Kinsey, performance maker Mike Pearson and technical manager Dave Hutton, recorded at site. Presented at Experimentica 1.1 2011, Chapter Arts Centre Cardiff 12-16 October 2011. Conceived and realized by Heike Roms. For an 8 min documentary about the work see: http://www.culturecolony.com/videos?id=7434 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2011 
Impact AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award (2012-2015) with Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff Project: Historical perspectives on engaging local audiences with innovative performance practice: Cardiff's Chapter Arts Centre in the 1970s 
URL http://www.performance-wales.org/events/chapteraudioguide.html
 
Title Marking Time - a journey into Cardiff's performance pasts 
Description A performative guided coach tour to sites in Cardiff where experimental performance was 'born' in the city in the 1970s. On the model of natural history, geology and archaeology visits, the event took the form of a field trip to places in Splott, Adamsdown and Cathays. It highlighted the work of former Cardiff-based theatre companies such as Transitions, Cardiff Laboratory Theatre and The Keith Wood Group; visiting groups such as The People Show and the Pip Simmons Group and of performance artists John Gingell, Shirley Cameron, Roland Miller and Yoko Ono. Commissioned by Chapter Arts Centre Cardiff; presented at Experimentica 13, 9 November 2011, Cardiff. Conceived and performed by Mike Pearson and Heike Roms; with the participation of Kerrie Reading. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact Joint book chapter: Mike Pearson and Heike Roms (2014) 'Performing Cardiff: Six Approaches to a City and Its Performance Pasts', in Nicolas Whybrow (ed) Performing Cities, Houndsmills, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 120-138. 
URL http://www.chapter.org/mike-pearson-heike-roms
 
Title Silent Explosion: Ivor Davies and Destruction in Art (exhibition) 
Description The biggest exhibition by a solo artist ever staged by Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales. The exhibition took place over 6 galleries (600sqm) at National Museum Cardiff (19 November 2015-20 March 2016). The first exhibition at the Museum presenting historical performance as multimedia installation using the conservation/curatorial method of remediation. The exhibition included the presentation of the entirety of a rare personal archive of the internationally renowned 1966 Destruction in Art Symposium, comprising more than 350 items. Heike Roms acted as research advisor on the exhibition; also supervisor Judit Bodor, who was both co-curator and doctoral researcher on the exhibition, financed by an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award with Amgueddfa Cymru. An accompanying publication of the same title was edited by Heike Roms and published in 2016 by Occasional Papers. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2015 
Impact The exhibition made Davies's private archive of Destruction in Art public for the duration of six months, thus enabling researchers to engage with the documents. The exhibition led to the cataloguing of the entirety of Davies's Destruction in Art Archive by Judit Bodor (curator/researcher). The catalogue was published as an insert in the publication accompanying the exhibition project and as such will facilitate future research of the archival material. The exhibition led to internal discussions about developing new policies around the acquisition and future presentation of media art in the Museum. The exhibition led to the artist Ivor Davies securing further funding from Arts Council Wales for making new work with explosives for the first time since the 1960 (performed as part of 'Silent Explosion' on 27 February 2016). 
URL http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/cardiff/whatson/8579/Silent-Explosion-Ivor-Davies-and-Destruction-in-Ar...
 
Title The Avant-garde in the Classroom: reenacting - learning - performing (workshop) 
Description A reconstruction of early pedagogic approaches to performance art as pioneered by Cardiff College of Art in the early 1970s. In collaboration with John Danvers. Commissioned by Chapter Arts Centre. Presented at Experimentica 12, 15 October 2011, Cardiff. Conceived and performed by Heike Roms. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2011 
Impact Research material for a future research enquiry: The Avant-garde in the Classroom - The History of Learning and Teaching (as) Performance Art in Britain 
URL http://www.performance-wales.org/events/avant-gardeclassroom.html
 
Description Happenings in Cardiff in 1965, Fluxus in Aberystwyth in 1968, Destruction in Art in Swansea in 1969, improvised music in Anglesey in 1970, learning and teaching as performance at Cardiff School of Art in 1974, performance art at the Wrexham National Eisteddfod in 1977...

This research project studied some of the major international developments in artistic experimentation during the latter half of the twentieth century as they touched a vibrant but comparatively marginal cultural context: that of Wales between 1965 and 1979. 'It was forty years ago today...' produced a comprehensive record of performance art practice in Wales between 1965 and 1979, thereby demonstrating that such work was not limited to singular events in London, Paris or New York but impacted on art making more widely and deeply. By paying close attention to the emergence of performance art and related art practices (happenings, performance poetry, body art, physical theatre, new music, expanded cinema, etc) within a specific context, the research also found that performance making did not just produce ephemeral events but often resulted in tangible infrastructures: networks, festivals, venues, educational programmes, funding schemes and publications, many of which still play a role in the arts in Wales today.

The project compiled information on nearly 650 performance events made in Wales during the period. The team spent two years undertaking extensive research in over 55 archives and private collections, digitizing more than 4,500 documents in the process. This was complemented by forty oral history conversations with artists, administrators and audience members, which used a variety of formats such as life-story approaches, group conversations and guided tours to significant locations. New findings included examples of early performance experimentation dating back to the late 1950s, the important role university art festivals played for experimental art in the 1960s, the emergence of a dedicated performance pedagogy in the 1970s and the centrality of artistic collaborations for the British scene of the period.

The outcomes of this research are being made freely available to other researchers. They include a fully searchable online database of performance art events in Wales 1965-1979, which also indexes the current location of available documentation; and the full range of its oral history recordings and transcripts, which have been deposited in key archives. The hope is that the information will be used to gain a better insight into the manner in which performance art, as an artistic movement of trans-national reach, and its affiliated networks and institutions emerged and developed within specific local contexts, in Wales, the UK and beyond.

The bilingual website for the project (www.performance-wales.org) features extracts from all interviews, transcripts and access to the database, addressing itself also to a non-academic audience with an interest in performance art and art in Wales.
Exploitation Route Since the completion of the research in 2011, the project's findings have already been taken forward in academic and in non-academic settings.
By focusing on long-term developments in a defined geographical area, the research has brought to light several neglected features of the early history of performance art: the activities of neo-avant-garde networks; the emergence of innovative teaching approaches; the role of university patronage; the formation of a support system of venues, festivals, platforms and funding schemes. These findings are receiving increasing attention among historians of performance and live art (see, for example, Heddon and Klein 2012).
The research has also been generating considerable interest in its methodologies, which have included publicly staged oral history interviews, group conversations, participatory memory installations and re-enactment formats. Its approaches have been adopted by performance researchers in locations as diverse as Israel, Singapore and Switzerland. Roms's accompanying historiographic writings on performance archiving, performing memory and performative evidence have been cited by scholars interested in documentation, marginalised performance histories and applied performance, but also by oral historians, art archivists and scholars with an interest in practice-based research methodologies.
Furthermore, the project's findings on the history of performance art in Wales have been taken up by artists engaged in live art, past and present in the creation of new work; and by art curators and policy makers who have responsibility for the presentation, conservation and funding of contemporary art in Wales. For more information on this aspect please refer to the section on "Narrative Impact".
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://www.performance-wales.org
 
Description 'It was forty years ago today...': Locating the Early History of Performance Art in Wales 1965-1979 (IWFYAT)'s research into the history of performance art in Wales has achieved its most significant and sustained impact through informing the professional practices of Welsh arts practitioners. These fall into two groups: artists engaged in live art, past and present; and art curators and policy makers who have responsibility for the presentation, conservation and funding of contemporary art in Wales. In uncovering, documenting and making publicly accessible Wales's rich but underappreciated heritage of performance art, IWFYAT has given the first generation of performance artists a renewed stake in its history; inspired younger artists in the creation of new work; and helped to raise the public profile of the artform to the extent that performance work is now routinely included in exhibitions, publications and media coverage devoted to Welsh contemporary art. Three partnerships with major organisations allow IWFYAT to inform directly how performance art in Wales is funded, administered, exhibited and conserved. The National Museum Wales Amgueddfa Cymru (NMW-AC) first worked with IWFYAT on the inaugural displays for its new National Museum of Art in 2011, which was informed directly by the research. NMW-AC and IWFYAT currently collaborate on a major retrospective of Ivor Davies's performance in the context of Destruction in Art, supported by an AHRC-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award (CDA, 2013-16). NMW-AC's Head of Contemporary Art has called the partnership 'a model for the way academic research can reach wider audiences'. In response to the research the Museum has also begun to consider how it will collect and conserve Wales's performance legacy. IWFYAT collaborates on a further AHRC-CDA (2012-2015) with Chapter Arts Centre, which is informing the art centre's directions in audience development and innovative programming through a re-evaluation of its early history in the 1970s. And the Arts Council of Wales (ACW) hosted an exhibition which drew on IWFYAT's research at the National Eisteddfod 2011, thus enhancing the project's profile among Welsh-speakers. The ACW has furthermore taken an active interest in the project through the presence of its Arts Director on IWFYAT's steering group. In 2012 Roms was appointed a National Advisor to ACW to advise on its support for a variety of performance companies and projects.
First Year Of Impact 2009
Sector Creative Economy,Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural

 
Description AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award
Amount £54,504 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/J010685/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2012 
End 09/2015
 
Description AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award
Amount £55,128 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/L003198/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2013 
End 09/2016
 
Title 'It was forty years ago today...' Performance Art in Wales 1965-1979 - Database 
Description Fully searchable online database containing as complete a record as possible of performance art events in Wales from 1965 to 1979 (currently 633 individual events). The database combines: a record of factual details (names of artists, titles of works, dates and venues), sample documentation and a comprehensive index of available documentary materials (photographic records, audio-visual documentation, publications, ephemera, oral history). The index also lists locations for all documentary materials, including the relevant holdings of over 55 archives and private collections. The off-line version of the database also contains comprehensive descriptive material in relation to each event, including extracts from artists' accounts and reviews. Due to copyright restrictions, this material is currently not fully available online, but extracts can be requested by contacting the research project. The database is designed to permit online searches across all materials, including the index of documentation and archival holdings. Database front-end is bilingual (English/Welsh). Current size: 240 MB. Database went online 17 June 2011. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Database has won praise for its 'complex but information-rich interface that allows users to explore an expansive range of metadata in a relatively intuitive manner' (MIT HyperStudio 2010). 
URL http://www.performance-wales.org/it-was-40-years-ago-today/database-introduction.htm
 
Description Collaboration with Amgueddfa Cymru on Silent Explosion: Ivor Davies and Destruction in Art (exhibition) 
Organisation National Museum Wales
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Principal Investigator of AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award in support of exhibition; research advisor for exhibition; editor of accompanying publication; supervisor of doctoral student, financed by AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award, on a research project in association with the exhibition.
Collaborator Contribution Staging of major retrospective of Ivor Davies at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales 2015-16; professional supervisor of doctoral student, financed by AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award, on a research project in association with the exhibition. Collaborator for Amgueddfa Cymru: Nicholas Thornton, Head of Fine Art
Impact 1. 'Silent Explosion' Exhibition staged at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales (November 2015 - March 2016) 2. 'Silent Explosion' Publication published by Occasional Papers
Start Year 2013