Jamie Eastman, Director of Live at LICA, tells us who has inspired him most throughout his career.
Herbert Read was a gold-mine of influence for me – he was an art critic and poet informed by anarchism whose output during the halcyon days of modernism is rich with ideas. I first heard of Read when I joined the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in 2003. Along with artist, collector and fellow poet Roland Penrose, he founded the ICA in 1947. They envisaged it as a laboratory for the arts, promoting exchange between artforms against a backdrop of critical thinking – concepts that inspired Jeremy Rees and others to found Arnolfini (my most recent employer) in 1961.
At the ICA I worked with many inspirational colleagues, one of whom was Emma-Jane Taylor who ushered in a minor revolution at the time by embedding the more inclusive approach to contemporary art presentation that was greatly needed at the institution. Such approaches help to bridge the gap between art practitioners and scholars, and museum and gallery visitors who simply have a general curiosity in the arts, without the knowledge of the in-crowd. Under her direction the ICA became instantly more accessible and infinitely stronger as an arts educator but without compromising its integrity.
Another ex-ICA colleague of mine, Richard led on the curated project ‘0-60’ (2008) which featured 60 projects from artists emergent in visual art circles. As well as a regular changing pattern of exhibitions, the season featured an event every Monday evening without fail for six months. Many of these were performative, gave Mondays a social flavour and provided a shared journey for those ‘regulars’ who experienced them. Collective experience was something Richard was actively pursuing at that time, and I’ve been keen to pursue ever since. Fast-forward to 2013 and the ICA once again is promoting itself as a type of artists’ club – but ‘0-60’ surmounted the feeling of a peer-to-peer art school. This was largely down to Richard and the Head of Exhibitions at the time, Mark Sladen, and their interest in welcoming anyone into their community.
I worked with Nigel at the YTouring Theatre Company in 2011. It was the first time I’d really worked in the context of theatre making outside of visual arts and it had a profound effect on me. YTouring make theatre under the name ‘Theatre of Debate’, creating plays designed to inform secondary school audiences about the latest in scientific research. As developments in neuroscience permeate society, and diabetes and obesity become increasingly realities for young people, YTouring’s plays explore the morality of these issues in such a way that the subsequent workshop (and debate with the actors in character) affects the way the audience thinks about things afterwards. Nigel founded YTouring with the view that there’s no point asking people what they want or what they think if they haven’t been helped to form an opinion. He taught me the valuable lesson that instrumentalism isn’t the ‘ogre of choice’ culture that some have suggested post liberalism.
At Arnolfini I invited the artist Georgia Sagri to present a performance work in one of our gallery spaces. 'Owen' – a title that refers to the changed name of a soldier who had met with the artist to tell of experiences in the Iraq war – reminded me of the extent to which artists bid to transform experience. It’s a common outcome when the public observe feats of sheer physical and mental endurance as they did with Georgia's efforts here. Inviting the public to help her learn by heart a lengthy text of the soldier's words in English until she could repeat it word for word in a single monologue, Sagri – for whom English is a second language – referenced otherness , togetherness, public space, theatricality, the vagaries of war and the subjective/objective context of the gallery space all at once. On subsequent days she invited volunteers to try their hands at performing 'Owen' themselves, a logical step in her mission to elicit public investment.
Jamie Eastman takes the post as Director of Live at LICA from 11 November.