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Block Universe: London's Leading International Performance Art Festival Announces 2019 Programme

ViewZine Admin
 Block Universe: London's Leading International Performance Art Festival Announces 2019 Programme

Block Universe, London’s leading performance art festival and international commissioning body, returns to London from 18 May to 2 June 2019, with a newly expanded 14 day programme, the festival’s largest yet. Marking half a decade of curating and commissioning, Block Universe brings to the capital a festival of new work, premieres, talks, screenings and workshops, from a wide range of emerging and established artists; from those creating locally to those presenting internationally.

Events will span collaborations with many institutions across the city and will use familiar spaces in unusual ways. Block Universe will work with Tate deliver to a ‘Post-dance’ conference, with the Imperial War Museum to activate their upper atrium with an ongoing action for the course of a week, with LADA and Whitechapel, with The Swiss Church, and to present a futuristic opera at The Albany.  Cork Street Galleries will act as a festival hub and bring an installation and exhibition to the UK for the first time for the full two weeks. Projects will come from artists, academics, writers, performers and producers including: Ravioli Me Away, Michael Portnoy & Claire Bishop, Paul Maheke, Nkisi, Sophie Jung, and Alexandra Pirici, amongst others.

Curated by Louise O’Kelly and Katharina Worf, Block Universe has expanded internationally for this 5th anniversary year, with events in London, Berlin and Venice. The festival will now take place across London in May and Berlin in September in a former East German coal factory reborn as an arts institution, whilst a major new commission is set to open at the 58th Venice Biennale, reflecting on the politics of inclusion and exclusion at the event.

Fittingly for a programme that spans both Europe and the UK in the current European political context, Block Universe’s 2019 curatorial theme and expanded programme explores the concept of internal and external ‘world-making’ by looking at the diverse environments we create for ourselves to exist within, whether those be mental, physical or virtual spaces.


Ravioli Me Away (UK) at The Albany: 1 June. will present their brand new opera, which will have its London premiere within the festival, marking the final date of a national tour. The View From Behind The Futuristic Rose Trellis is a work about freedom, individual and collective aspiration and the cycle of life, taking the audience through a multidimensional journey as ‘the trapped soul of humanity’ searches for a body that can give it meaning. Ravioli Me Away – Sian Dorrer, Rosie Ridgway and Alice Theobald – have been a band since 2013. They are a high energy collective, undefined by genre, dangerously ambitious, and working with stylistically schizophrenic motifs spanning all-known past, present and future human cultures and sub-cultures. Only London tour date and selling fast.

Michael Portnoy (USA) & Claire Bishop (UK/USA) at The Swiss Church: 24 May. Renowned performance artist Michael Portnoy has also revealed the shocking news that he is 35 years older than he has claimed and has been disguising his true age with prosthetic makeup throughout his career. At the festival, in Portnoy (Born 1936) Improvises, he reveals himself for the first time without a mask, improvising and confusing us in his inimitable way with the collision of movement, language and alien logics. Art historian Claire Bishop (CUNY) will give an introductory lecture on Portnoy’s newly discovered early history in New York in the late 1950s, discussing his influences and antagonisms within the avant-garde communities of dance, poetry and visual art.

Paul Maheke (FR) and Melika Ngombe Kolongo (Nkisi) (BE) at Hoxton Hall: 30 and 31 May. The two artists will collaborate to produce a performance using African cosmology from the Bantu-Kongo and creation stories as its source material. A collaboration of music, design and performance, music producer Nkisi will provide the soundtrack and Ariel Efraim Ashbel the lighting design, within which Maheke will perform. This work is developed in collaboration with Performa in New York, where it will tour after its presentation in London, as well as the official closing performance programme for the 58th Venice Biennale, curated by Aaron Cezar and Ralph Rugoff.

Sophie Jung (LX, CH, UK) at Cork Street Galleries: 18 May-2 June. Jung will present a major installation combined with performances over the full two weeks of the of the festival. Combining spoken word and sculpture to draw out the fundamental ambiguity of language using words, gestures and found objects, her practice addresses representation and its pitfalls, both culturally as a system of disguised and shifting signs and personally as a way to track and record life.

Alexandra Pirici (RO) at Imperial War Museum: 22-28 May. Pirici brings the ongoing action Leaking Territories (2017), to London for the first time. Originally made for the decennial art exhibition Skulptur Projekte Münster 2017, the work took as its point of departure the historic town hall’s “Friedensaal” where the Westphalian Peace Treaty was signed in 1684, marking the beginning of diplomatic solutions to large-scale conflicts and introducing key concepts for modern international law, such as state sovereignty. Shown now on the top floor of the Imperial War Museum, Leaking Territories rethinks the very concept of territory in relation to place but also to bodies, identities and flux. It remediates existing political world events and objects with live bodies, imagines new ones - such as a human Google search engine, conjuring and linking together actions from different times and spatial realities, revealing the concept of a well delimited, well enclosed horizontal territory and stable identity as a fiction.

The expanded public programme will feature talks with key industry professionals, film screenings and participatory workshops.

These include:

Tate Modern: Post Dance Conference: 3-6pm, 26 May

Block Universe have curated a conference set to take place at Tate Modern. Speakers will include artists Paul Maheke, Florence Peake, Eve Stainton, Malik Nashad Sharpe plus Cédric Fauq, curator for Nottingham Contemporary. The conference will be followed by a ‘caj collab’ with artists Eleanor Sikorski and Lindsey Mendick.

Whitechapel Gallery: Words that we share: 3-5pm, 18 May

An afternoon of poetry readings by artists and writers whose work reveal the performativity of language.   The playful relationship between experimental writing practices and performance is enacted as words are transposed across formats, from the page, through the digital and in live utterances. Current Whitechapel Gallery Writer in Residence Rachel Pimm is joined by Iphgenia Baal, Himali Singh Soin and Abbas Zahedi.

LADA: Edge of an Era and Block Universe - 1980s Performance Art and Now: 7-8:30pm, 20 May

This event brings together a panel of artists and curators from the 1980s and now to look at the context that performance festival EDGE 88 operated in during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and how that compares with the current landscape in which Block Universe presents its work. Featuring Rob La Frenais (original director of EDGE and co-curator of Edge of an Era), Helena Goldwater (artist and co-curator of Edge of an Era), Phoebe Patey Ferguson (academic, artist and curator of VFD, London), Louise O’Kelly (Founding Director and Curator of Block Universe) and Alex Eisenberg (LADA and co-curator of Edge of an Era).

Goldsmiths, University of London: Symposium on performance of the self in digital space: 7-9pm, 23 May. This symposium, created in partnership with Goldsmiths Visual Cultures Student Society, will reflect upon contemporary performance practices, looking at the relation of self, identity politics and digital space in the realisation of live work in the UK.

“Block Universe grew up and developed in London over the past five years and we are thrilled to present our largest and most ambitious programme in the city as we mark half a decade of commissioning and curating.

This edition of Block Universe provides an opportunity to reflect upon the achievements of the last few years of acting as a launch pad and platform for a new generation of artists, as well as promoting a new appreciation for and understanding of performance in London.

We are honoured to be able to continue to collaborate with some of the most visionary artists working today, and to partner with a range of major institutions and unique spaces building on our successes of the last four years. This year we will showcase ambitious new commissions, site-specific installations and premieres but also expand our remit to present works both regionally and internationally.

Block Universe look forward to sharing many more unforgettable ideas, conversations and performances in this new international facing chapter of our future.”

Follow and tag @blockuniverse on Instagram and Twitter. #blockuniverse2019

IMAGE: Sophie Jung, The Bigger Sleep, photograph by Julian Salinas