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Live art videos preserved for the future

Manuel Vason and Anne Seagrave 'Collaboration' #2 London 2005

Manuel Vason and Anne Seagrave 'Collaboration' #2 London 2005 Manuel Vason and Anne Seagrave

Press release issued: 10 December 2008

A collection of unique videos documenting over twenty years of performance art in the UK has been saved by the University of Bristol.

The videos were filmed at the National Review of Live Art, an annual festival of performance, installation and video art that has been running since the late 1970s.  They document the work of major British and international artists such as Bobby Baker, Franko B., Forced Entertainment and Stelarc. Taken together, the collection offers a representative selection of some of the most challenging and beautiful work in performance of recent decades.

Amongst the collection’s highlights are a rare live installation about AIDS and discriminatory legislation by the film-maker Derek Jarman, early work by the respected DV8 Physical Theatre company, and extensive documentation of the global art collective Black Market International’s extraordinary large-scale transformations of spaces.  Bristol-based artists are well represented too, with work by Kira O’Reilly, Deer Park, Bodies in Flight, and The Special Guests featured in the collection.

Videotape is a fragile medium, and the collection was in danger of being lost to a combination of wear, physical degradation and increasing obsolescence.  Because of this, an Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project, entitled ‘Capturing the Past, Preserving the Future’, was initiated by Professor Barry Smith.  The innovative project, led by Dr Barry Parsons, involved transferring the entire archive to high-quality digital format using a combination of reconditioned video players and state-of-the-art capture equipment.

The videos are part of the Live Art Archives, a collection of materials relating to contemporary performance which were acquired by Bristol University’s Theatre Collection in 2006.  The digitised collection is available to view by appointment with the Theatre Collection.  Next year’s National Review of Live Art takes place at the Arches in Glasgow, from 11 to 15 February.

The Live Art Archives include the Record of Live Art Practice, the National Review of Live Art Archive, the Digital Performance Archive, the Arts Council England Live Art and Performance Archive and Performance magazine Archive.  In addition, the Archives hold the original tapes from the queerupnorth Video Archive, together with DVD copies for viewing.

The Archives' holdings also contain a number of smaller collections of Live Art related material in various formats, such as full sets of Hybrid and LiveArt magazine, and a complete set of DVDs by the artist Reza Abdoh. Additional Live Art resources, include Liveartwork DVDs, and books to support research into Live Art, which are held in the Theatre Collection library.

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