SPILL Festival of Performance opens at The Barbican today under the curatorship of Robert Pacitti and this time the programme is pinned around the theme of 'infection'. With artist talks, contaminated salons and paranoid film, the festival is a battleground for performance that challenges and confronts whilst harnessing moments of human beauty and transcendence. Japanese composer and artist Ryoji Ikeda's Datamatics 2.0 Audio Visual concert sees fast frame rates and variable bit depths explore sound as sensation whilst UK artist Harminder Judge presents a 60-minute immersive installation taking as it's core the first ever sound recorded mass produced by 60s psychedelic rock bank Coven and rare recordings of Aleister Crowley.
First mounted in 2007 by Pacitti Company, SPILL balances international artists with UK based makers, this year incorporating the likes of the very established Romeo Castellucci and Ron Athey to younger practitioners that are making waves such as Sylvia Rimat and Lauren Barri Holstein. Robert took a moment out from his many schedules to chat to us…
Dazed Digital: You're an Artist / Curator / Artistic Director; how do your various roles interrelate?
Robert Pacitti: First and foremost I am an activist. My practice has always been larger than just my own individual artistic output. So, to me the different tasks and roles that I play are all part of the same thing: my life and work as action. An example of this is the SPILL Tarot – as an artist I spent many years researching the making of a tarot pack, then with my SPILL hat on invited lots of other people to make cards for a new deck. The result is a working tarot pack and limited edition art object - a truly amazing mass collaboration. I am card number 13: Death.
DD: As a practitioner from a Fine Art background how do you feel that this has affected your sensibilities in the world of theatre and live performance?
Robert Pacitti: Any differentiation between the two is useless to me. There are more urgent concerns in the world than whether the walls should be black or white.
DD: How did Pacitti Company come into being?
Robert Pacitti: I set up a company to get taken seriously. After a few years of scraping by I came off the dole and stopped getting housing benefit and made a choice; to try and make something out of this difficult performance art or walk away and do something else with my life. That was a massive personal risk, as I don’t come from a family with money to fall back on, so I had to give it my all.
DD: Do you see the programming for SPILL as intrinsic to your practice?
Robert Pacitti: I make SPILL as a tactic because I feel I have to. SPILL is about being in service to other artists and raising the profile of experimental work in a high profile, sustainable way. It’s about serving large audiences with new forms and radical ideas that are meaningful and urgent, but which aren’t niche or elitist.
DD: What is important, or different, for you about the work you programme?
Robert Pacitti: SPILL is properly artist led, because it is a direct offshoot of my practice. This means that I am curating ‘sideways’, in dialogue with the artists that SPILL presents. I never go shopping for work and really dislike that model. As for what I select; I mix up artists that I admire with practices that I feel are important and represent what is happening in territories I’m interested in: the body, identity politics, radical thinking, new forms, science, counter culture, sex, death, belief, the occult. This volume of activity exploring what performance can do or achieve is democratic and accessible. It challenges hierarchies of knowledge that exist even in so-called radical realms, and asserts audiences as valid experts too.
DD: Technology has become an important tool for liveness to use and experiment with - is now a crucial moment in the marrying of art and technology?
Robert Pacitti: History shows us that art and technology have always thrived through one another, but what I think is exciting now is a new form of literacy that has emerged across the past 15 years. What’s changed so dramatically now is that there are already 2 generations for whom being online is second nature. So for those of us that have spent years making work that doesn’t unfold through narrative (or at least in straight lines) this is thrilling – we now have new audiences that know how to collect multiple strings of information as they go (just as clicking through a website is different to reading a book).
I once heard Genesis P’Orridge of Psychic TV speaking of ‘them who point in one direction at any one time, and them who point in all’. The one direction types have traditional lives, up in the morning, work all day, go to bed when it gets dark, and who basically play the standard hetro-normative capitalist game by the book. They who point in all directions are artists, dreamers, drifters, thinkers, and others who don’t subscribe to ‘straight’ society. These people are often more active at night and are far more likely to create revolutionary change. Well I believe that younger audiences now have the capacity to tip the balance between the two - through harnessing the non-linear power of new technologies! That will be a battleground for future activism, and certainly the frontline of future art. I wish I could be around to see it in 100 years!