National Review of Live Art

The time I reach the National Review of Live Art, Ron Athey’s Self Obliterations performance of the previous night is already part legend. Of the rumours floating through the foyer and out towards Hope Street, witnesses agree to disagree about pretty much everything: the quantities of blood spilled, whether it was deliberate or accidental, the number of punters who fainted, the exact range and trajectory of the crimson parabola that spurted from a wound in his scalp (or forehead or eyes). Whispers, some of them silly, seem to grow and shrink exponentially in the fecund microclimate of the Arches – something went wrong, he was in danger, an ambulance was called. No, not really and no, as it turns out. But the scorching mental images that remain – not to mention the (unnecessary) fear of HIV infection – stir the subterranean air in powerful ways. Meanwhile, Athey’s absence – slipped away in the Glasgow night – only adds further fuel to the fire.

The National Review of Live Art, curated by the irrepressible Nikki Milican and this year in its 30th and final edition, is tailor-made for stories of this kind. The warren of converted railway arches and interlocking basement spaces at the Arches, as well as the cavernous halls of Tramway, provide an environment in which all manner of half-truths can flourish. Even time itself seemed to be in flux here this year, with artists drawn from the NRLA’s 30-year career popping up in the corridors, their faces and costumes transformed (and in some cases pulverised) by the steady and brutal passage of years. As if this alone weren’t enough to throw you off balance, the programme also aimed to create a sense of unreality. Business as usual, then. You hear tell that somewhere downstairs Marcia Farquhar has been talking non-stop for 29 hours, or that in another space Oreet Ashery is transforming herself into Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, senior member of Hamas, using makeup, facial prosthetics and home-made hairpieces. Or that Lisa Wesley and Andrew Blackwood are creating an architect’s model of a future derelict Glasgow in a variety of scales.