Bbeyond Symposium Belfast April 3-8 2017

“I beg you….let us begin anew by doubting everything we assume has been proven.” (Giordano Bruno,1548 -1600)

Open Space Book of Proceedings FINAL

The 80 pages of documents produced by the Symposium in Belfast is illegible in parts because it is handwritten by many hands, it is oceanic, it is subjective, it is a ball of confusion. On the other hand it is brilliantly honest, works in the cracks of established perceived wisdom, asks big questions, and is seriously inspirational.

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.
Wallace Stevens: Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, V, 1954

Mindful of Giacometti’s admission “…I cannot simultaneously see the eyes, the hands, and the feet of a person standing two or three yards in front of me, but the only part that I do look at entails a sensation of the existence of everything…”I noted current research, still  in agreement with that:

“We project the focus of our attention onto others.Assuming other people are focused on the same thing we are is at the root of many kinds of miscommunication

We all have a tendency to egocentrically ascribe our own perspective to others. That doesn’t make us selfish or bad. But it’s worth keeping in mind that everyone’s attention illuminates the world in a particular way, and what gets spotlighted differs from person to person.
Most of the time, when you’re minding your own business and feeling relatively inconspicuous, you’re being watched much more than you realize. My colleagues and I demonstrated this in several studies whose findings we published in this month’s issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Bbeyond organised the Symposium as a trilogy:

1. Wednesday at the University of Ulster, lecture and panel contributions. Rule Academia!

2. Thursday + Friday: Open Space.

3. Saturday Noon to 2pm: Bbeyond  Performance Monthly, Custom House Square.

Part 1:Welcomed by Rainer Pagel and Lord Mayor  while Siobhan Mullan looked after the hospitality, the participants moved into the lecture theatre  invited by the University of Ulster ,  Dr Cherie Driver becoming the Symposium’s patron.  It was her excellent suggestion to employ the Open Space method and Girdwood Community Hub as a site for the Symposium.  Following lecture by Kim Gurney from South Africa  the uneventful first evening  closed by  a group panel consisting of Alissa Kleist, Sandra Johnston, Marita Bulmann, James Hennessy, Chumpon Apisuk and Guy Siouri Durand.

The last two activated  the audience  not only  by vivacious delivery – interestingly both connected deeply with ancestors and nature in their respective take on public space.  Both pointed out that every   “public space” is already  peopled  – before an artist approaches it. The Canadian wilderness demands and revives the survival skills of  the ancestors.

Guy Siouri  Durand ( above in red)  and Chumpon Apisuk (Below -during the Bbeyond Monthly).  In Thailand   the public space is harshly contested – it is more of a tug of war between the power and creative thought.

Both speakers issued an invitation for each of us to imagine/recall  “our own (individual) public space”… I find that revealing – as it echoes  at least two beliefs of our ancestors:

Nicholas de Cusa(1401 – 1464) enveloped his in theology:  “There will be a machina mundi whose centre, so to speak, is everywhere, whose circumference is nowhere, for God is its circumference and centre and he is everywhere and nowhere. ”

Giordano Bruno ( 1548 – 1600)  focuses it thus: ” the observer is always at the centre of things.”

Every encounter with art proposes individual response, experience as valid.  Even before Immanuel Kant’s  submitted validity of subjective aesthetic judgement to an expectation/hope that another will “agree”.  One of the images from the Saturday Performance make that thought visual.

Siobhan Mullen

In this one stage of her performance her prostrate body  looks relaxed.   Daily bread, gesture similar to a cross, borderlines  of the  contested space follow the uneven outline of the protective garment, orange dust…   those oppose the calm repose so well that the  image skids to a “crucifixion”, bread to a need for bread, space shrivels to the size of the irregular outline of the garment that started as a protection, but now cannot protect.

 Part 2

On Thursday  6th and Friday 7th  of April  the  Symposium  provided a time and place for the gathering of all participants, some of whom already took part in one of the workshops that started on the previous Monday. One was given by Marilyn Arsem , the other by the duo Ali Al Fatlawi  and Within Al Ameri.(group image below)


Girdwood Community Hub – a pleasant and efficient architecture – offered flexible spaces to open Open Space.  It meant freedom of association and participation in any of the self- organised groups.  The only condition was that the theme would be proposed in advance and pinned to the wall, someone will second it, and others will join for the duration or a part of it.

The tenor of the Symposium was this question:



This question was cut, skinned, boned, recycled, re-worded, split up, rejoined, deformed, reformed, subjected to exchanges, debates, additions, returns and repeats. All is in

Open Space Book of Proceedings FINAL

The  discussions  were rooted in the desire to learn, with respect for the other was not only of respect for the other while staying curious how others saw each relevant or less relevant issue.   As simultaneous group discussions appeared in different parts of connected rooms  with the open invitation to  join or leave at any time.  I reached one group  in a full swing debating the concept of a “stranger”, offering a sub-question of when a stranger stops being a stranger. (see Open Space Book etc,  pages 4,4A, 4B)

Leann Herily

Artists are supposed to be great observers – yet, it is hard to come up against one’s own blindness. The choice of Open Space  as a structure mitigated  the aspect blindness in two ways: free thought and flexible gate to it. Invited to write up their own sub- question and posted it on the wall to attract opponents and supporters the participants produced 17   discussion groups.  Mixture of confessions, curiosity and intellectual honesty  often moved to the periphery of the theme, to delightful breaks into different persons conscious  standpoints.

Imagining various ways of using bodies, memories, knowledge, political viewpoints hang in the air, some noted on paper, but importantly entering each persons  “experience” of the similarities and differences with their own  imagining.  The fluidity of attention and  observation was not curtailed by a demand to come up with ” a solution” – one size fits all was politely and cheerfully abandonned.  There is a massive amount of notes in the final document on many aspects of art practices,  at all times focusing on performance art: is the artist’s personal development separate from the citizen’s need for art – or not? Is  the  ephemeral  performance  benefiting from preparatory notes/statements/ comments and documentation ?  Is all political? Are there any preferred modes of communication with the public?  Is the strangeness of Performance art the  able to embrace  both the private and the public  concerns? Will it still “serve” the community if  the previous question is answered in negative? (Well – that seems to me little bit like the Scholastics’ preoccupation with the question How many angels fit on the tip of a needle.?)

One group (4) entertained briefly an idea that the artist exchanges with a viewer  a part of themselves.  Osmosis? ( see appendix  below)

Christiane Oppermann

( I associate the ball of yarns with traditional way of keeping our hands warm during the winter times… I am not aware that it is used outside central and northern Europe… it laso connects to the aesthetics of Arte povera)

Rob Ireson

Arte Povera could tolerate humour as well as cold technology.


The debating  groups   shared one belief: when times are dire that’s exactly when art is needed.  Art is meant to stir us into action/urgency/ reckoning/responsibility – and also point to the fluency between   enlarging our freedom and our tendency to egocentrically ascribe our own perspective to others.  ( a concern shared by Giordano Bruno  over 400 years ago)

The  Friday session contained a call for projects  to be carried out  wherever is your centre of the universe.  ( some parallel to Lucy Cotter project held in 6 cities in 2006 – 2008 “Here as the Centre of the World.” )


Part 3

Bbeyond Monthly

While the 80 pages of the Open Space Book  (link above) allows you to scan the groups verbal  testimony – the Saturday simultaneous performances in the Custom House Square were a free play.

These performances were and were not a part of the Symposium. The Open Space was pronounced “closed” at the end of the Friday’s session.  Bbeyond simply invited all to join their regular “Monthly”.  These rarely carry  one theme (the last time at Helen’s Bay when those who turned up were invited to work with  a word in sign language given to each of them  by Amanda Coogan), instead, they are free play in response to the site as Bbeyond Monthly meet every time in a different place.

Christoff Gillen on the right with Benedicte Esperi

For example :   assuming that there is a social  contract of sorts, that art depends on the viewer’s suspension of ordinary beliefs, one group asked:” calling it art what does it allow me to do?” One answer was offered by  dressing up as if for a carneval  to protest against imposition of a belief (the Bible) over individuals who do not fit that belief.

From left: Keike Twisselmann, Guy Siouri Durand, Leann Herily, Thomas Reul, Pavanna Reid, Sandra Johnston, Wathiq Al Ameri, Brian Connolly

As a follow up to the obvious concern for meaningful tolerance and its limits ensuing debate turned to integrity and the moments “…when you fall out of performance…” Some suggested a “direct eye contact” with the audience if they become alarmed.  Caroline Murphy turned the tables, by writing down some of the comments people passing through spontaneously offered:


Is it OK to dance in the street? Apparently not in Sweden, one participant said. So – there it is perhaps wise to avoid confrontation.

Christoff Gillen and Alastair MacLennan

Even without dancing in the street the sheer appearance of a performance artist may evoke aggression – you look crazy/mad/autistic – or milder form of rejection – I turned away when offered two animal hearts …  The boundaries are slippery and flexible – in one group they accepted that there are “many ethical ways to enlarge freedom” ( Part 7 and 7b in the Open Space Book of proceedings – Final, see link above)

The rainbow colours are signature of the equal rights for homosexual persons.   The glasses entangled in the net over the seat of the brain (mind?) may work as a metaphor for “aspect blindness”

John Boehme’s reading as loud as possible an entry after an entry  – in my mind deviously connected with the last Venice Biennale ( reading of the text by Karl Marx)  and that famous Documenta predecessor, and also Una Walker’s  “history” of Arts Council…  and  -well I do not doubt you can add your own memory.  Perhaps the role call is universal…

I don’t know what Keike Twisselman (above) was using her voice for…. her  use of nursing uniform could have been connected with the never ending litany of the NHS shortcomings. Her choice, nevertheless, connected her performance to the discussion of the role playing, of  becoming “the other” – which earlier performance artists ( e.g.  Suzanne Lacy) called “personages”.


One of the groups zoomed on that, then asked: how to open an image that gives space for other people to use it in their own way/ for their own needs?

Olga Dziubak, Jennifer Hanley, Kerry Morrison, Christoff Gillen, Karin Meiner, Stanislav Baldyga, Richard James Hall, Thomas Reul ( in the air) Wathiq Al Ameri (seated)


Karine Talec (in front), Hori Izhaki, Benedicte Esperi. James King, Chumpon Apisuk

The answer is the same as with any visual art – a work of art  tolerates  contradictory meanings constructed by different persons.

Pavana Reid and Elvira Santamaria

Karl Popper supports that by his structure of the World – it is the World Two,  the tacit personal knowledge and experience


Elvira Santamaria

A “market stall performance”  was singled out as a healthy model (Open Space Book etc  part 11b)  offering tolerance to strangeness  and simultaneity  of personal and social borders. Exit and entrance were easily agreed.

From the left: Jagoda Kiciak, Jayne Cherry

Front: Ilka Theurich,Wathiq Al Ameri, Sandra Johnston, Thomas Reul; background from the left: Brian Connolly, Marita Bullman, Colm Clarke; then Anette Friedrich Johannessen, Siobhan Mullen, Sandra Corrigan Breathnach

Tree growing from the head is an ancient religious image across the world.  The Tree of Life – rooted in the earth –  it reaches up – reminder that we are a part of the universe. Growing from the head the tree becomes a link between ordinary and  “reaching the stars”


Thomas Reul

– for example in Yggdrasil, represented in the Icelandic Prose Edda by Oluf Olufsen Bagge:


Thomas Reul. On the ground:Sandra Johnston and Wathiq Al Ameri with the tree. Seated in the background: Marilyn Arsem

Marilyn Arsem and Guy Siouri Durand. Jagoda Kiciak with the umbrella and balloons.

The fleeting meeting of the above  trio offers potent  dose of harmony in silence – of freedom  to suggest  an exchange that may or may not happen.   The carnival of unmasked  people still masks the normal with surreal  vesting poetry where none was before.  Before this meeting,  Arsem was seated  in silence reminiscent of  images of deities, without their decor.  She broke her isolation to exchange what she held  steadily all the time – for something that may or may not be equivalent.  Oh – that freedom of abandonment and trust we remember from childhood –  and how we lost it.

Enlarging freedom  includes courage to rely on spontaneity.  Painting against another painting  calls also for a certain kind of blindness – to the marks on the opposite side.  It is not that divorced from the ordinary, practical focusing of attention: e.g. driving a car safely depends on our  attention focused on the outside, on the other.

Helmut Lemke and Kerry Morrison


While their painting is a bona fide painting, it is also a performance art. Both disciplines  hold – in this case-  to the aura of the object  with its aura of  uniqueness and authorship.   The precious object has its attractiveness rooted in trust and tradition.  And – at times- in greed.

It surprised me with what ease the “greed” was forbidden an entrance. Even when the leaf of gold  was allowed in.

Hori Izhaki

Each gold leaf was sent into the world – lifted by wind, descending in a neighbouring street or on a high up roof…  the stasis and silence  embraced the patient hand and eye, to peal off just one leaf after another …  art is not reducible to external determinants and contexts – it is an autonomous mutation of forms “living in the artist’s mind”. I borrowed the quote from Henri Focillon  (La Vie des Forms , 1934/5)  who proposes:

“The most attentive study of the most homogenous milieu, of the most closely woven concatenation of circumstances, will not serve to give us the design of the towers of Laon.”[


Sinead O’Donnell

Even in this view the bunch of sameness (paper bags for garments)  flips over to difference – each object gives up its original function – empties itself of it quite literally – and appears as a giant white flower – especially, when the artist held it in the air while walking.  Even if she did not intend that change, it happened.

In the background a group of motorcycling charity supporters who forged a comparison with  Clarke’s performance.

Colm Clarke on a bicycle

Unplanned, the silent and noisy vehicles  shifted the disinterested slow cycling around a square into a choice of preference.

The motor bikes drove around gathering at one end of the square.   While breaking somewhat the  integrity of “performance zone” – it constructed another one, directed into environmental concerns like polluted air. Instantly the art skidded into life.

In between taking numerous photographs Artur Tajber  held a line so high as to making it  not surmountable.  Numerous possible meanings – so much in today’s life everywhere is determined by so called “red lines” – demands held so valuable as other’s life and freedom.  The garland easily slips into a yoke. The colour resists, the shape decides.  There is a lot more about the slippage  of images, memory, understanding in 239 pages  of Tajber’s book. (see more on

About Slavka Sverakova

writer on art
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