Agency (Book)

A Partial History of Live Art

Edited by Theron Schmidt

Including almost 50 contributing artists and scholars, this collection of essays, conversations, provocations and archival images takes the twentieth anniversary of the founding of one of the sector's most committed champions, the Live Art Development Agency in London, as an opportunity to consider not only what Live Art has been against, but also what it has been for. Through the work of this particular 'agency', the book explores the idea of agency more generally: how Live Art has enabled the possibility for new kinds of thoughts, actions and alliances for diverse individuals and groups.  


Notoriously difficult to define as a genre, Live Art is commonly positioned as a challenge to received artistic, social and political categories: not theatre, not dance, not visual art... and often wilfully anti-mainstream and anti-establishment. But as it has become an increasingly prevalent category in international festivals, major art galleries, diverse publications and higher education streams, it is time for a reassessment.

This collection of essays, conversations, provocations and archival images takes the twentieth anniversary of the founding of one of the sector’s most committed champions, the Live Art Development Agency (LADA) in London, as an opportunity to consider not only what Live Art has been against, but also what it has been for. Rather than defining the practices in oppositional terms – what they might be seeking to critique, reject or disrupt – this collection reframes these practices in terms of the relations and commitments they might be used to model or advocate.  What kinds of care and recovery do they enable?  What do they connect as well as reject?  What do they make possible as they test the impossible?  What ideas of success do they stand for as they risk failure?  In this way, the central theme of the collection, and to which all contributors were invited to respond, is the idea of agency: the capacity for new kinds of thoughts, actions and energies as enacted by individual artists and groups. It seems appropriate that this question would be considered in relation to the history of one particular ‘agency’: LADA itself.

These questions are explored in a unique conversational format, bringing together a diverse range of emerging and established practitioners, curators and leading figures in the field, each paired with another practitioner for a live conversation that has been sensitively edited for the page. Curated within a structure of five overlapping themes – Bodies, Spaces, Institutions, Communities and Actions – this format produces unexpected insights and accounts of the development of the field. Each theme also contains two provocative essays by leading scholars, thinkers and makers, exploring the conceptual frames in more detail. The result is a collection that is as heterogeneous, ambitious, contradictory and inspiring as the field of Live Art itself.

Contributors: Aaron Williamson, Adrian Heathfield, Alan Read, Alastair MacLennan, Alexandrina Hemsley, Amelia Jones, Andrew Mottershead, Andy Field, Anne Bean, Barby Asante, Bryan Biggs, Cassils, Catherine Wood, David A. Bailey, Dominic Johnson, Gary Anderson, George Chakravarthi, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Hayley Newman, Heike Roms, Helen Paris, James Leadbitter, Jamila Johnson-Small, Jane Trowell, Jen Harvie, Johanna Tuukkanen, John Jordan, John McGrath, Jordan McKenzie, Joshua Sofaer, Katherine Araniello, Kira O'Reilly, Lena Šimić, Leslie Hill, Lois Keidan, Lois Weaver, Manuel Vason, Martin O'Brien, Mary Paterson, Rajni Shah, Rebecca French, Richard Dedomenici, Ron Athey, RoseLee Goldberg, Selina Thompson, Simon Casson and Tim Etchells.

Theron Schmidt works internationally as a writer, teacher and performer. He is a founding co-convener of the international Performance Philosophy network, founding co-editor of the journal Performance Philosophy and associate editor of Performance Research. In addition to his academic research, he has written widely about contemporary performance and Live Art for a variety of publications, including magazines and artist books, and also as part of innovative critical writing projects that foster interaction between scholars, artists and publics.




Kira O’Reilly and Martin O’ Brien

George Chakravarthi and Manuel Vason

Alexandrina Hemsley and Jamila Johnson-Small (Project 0) and Selina Thompson


Those who have suffered understand suffering: Notes on the body (in pain)

Dominic Johnson

Agency, habitus, embodiment

Amelia Jones


Spaces and Places


Tim Etchells and Andy Field

Leslie Hill and Helen Paris (Curious) and Johanna Tukkanen

Rebecca French and Andrew Mottershead (French & Mottershead) and Hayley Newman


From a distance

Heike Roms

The gift of place

John E. McGrath




Mary Paterson and Joshua Sofaer

RoseLee Goldberg and Catherine Wood

Gary Anderson and Lena Šimić (The Institute for the Art and Practice of Dissent at Home) and Bryan Briggs


Still live: The Free University of Liverpool (2010–13)

Jane Trowell

Institutional celebration

Jen Harvie




Simon Casson and James Leadbitter

Jordan McKenzie and Rajni Shah

Anne Bean and Alastair MacLennan


Performed communities: Imagining some research worth doing

Alan Read

Community – a case study in four acts: The brewery, the circus, the wick and the green

Lois Weaver




Katherine Araniello and Aaron Williamson (Disabled Avant-Garde) and Richard DeDomenici

Barby Asante and David A. Bailey

Ron Athey and Cassils


Performing utopias: For a Live Art that lives and lets live

John Jordan

‘Philosophical tantrum’ #10: On art, imagination, democracy, censorship, hope, etc.

Guillermo Gómez-Peña






Works Cited



'Agency offers one of the clearest explanations in plain English of exactly what constitutes Live Art, what sets it apart from theatre or other practices in the creative industries and why that matters. As a reference book it offers an intelligent and rigorous interrogation of Live Art its guts and gore, its shock tactics and disruptions, its raw energy, risk taking and ingenuity.'

Julie McNamara, Disability Arts Online, June 2019
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