chapter  1
Background
Pages 32

This book is about cultural provocation, its purposes, its methods and its wider significance. Cultural provocation is the art of using cultural artefacts or events to stimulate processes of transformation in individuals, organisations or social groupings. Because of my background, I use performance as a means to approach this substantial area. Specifically I am choosing to focus on an area that combines a political agenda with populist entertainment, but which is neither political performance with aspects of popular entertainment, in the tradition of agit-prop, say, nor entertainment that simply aims to shock. I am interested in this area because it is more than a set of practices designed to have a transformative effect in specific contexts; it also provides a perspective on wider questions of cultural and social transformation. I approach the subject through an exploration of the relationship between play and risk, and their role in transformative processes. This relationship can be examined through the work of a selection of artists who work with high levels of risk and extreme forms of play. Play is a key topic not only because all art can be considered as forms of play, but also because it offers a useful perspective to consider aesthetic structure, mood, reception and function. Risk is included because it is a major component of some forms of play and provides insight into the experience of provocation. As well as being a study of provocative practice the book also draws on chaos/complexity theories to examine how they might offer comparators to wider processes within social/ cultural groupings. I aim to indicate the potential of provocation to help maintain the cultural health of a society. That is to say, to engender a facility in individuals and organisations to communicate easily, and adapt imaginatively, to shifts in the internal or external environment. In a fractured post-modernist world of multiple ideologies, in which values are relative, it is not always clear how artists can apply morality within a progressive agenda. In part, the subject provides a model for artistic practice that addresses this question. The book is an amplification and development of the brief descriptions of

provocative street performance that I wrote in the early 1990s.1 It has become part of a longer process of developing a deeper understanding of the bouffon style that I was introduced to at the Ecole Jacques Lecoq. Because Lecoq’s method of discovering knowledge was through practice, there was very little theoretical or historical explanation provided of the roots of this style and so

I remained curious about how it could be applied. This interest was developed through exploring Mummer’s plays with my circus-theatre company Mummer & Dada (1985-91), jesters and clowns in a wide variety of solo work (1978-1994) and Mediaeval carnival practices with my indoor and outdoor theatre companies, The Joy Society and The Bigheads (1999-2007). My teaching work at Fool Time and Circomedia (1986-present) has also provided hundreds of opportunities to experiment with different approaches to group dynamics and practices in the style of Grotesque. In addition, my involvement with artform development and cultural strategy, both locally and nationally, has provided insight into the development of cultural groupings on a wider scale. The different roles in my work: as performer, as director, as writer, as teacher and as strategist, have provided me with a useful variety of perspectives. This is further helped by the distance in time from some of the events that I have been involved with. However, I have chosen to focus most of this book on other practitioners rather than my own work, not only because it enables greater objectivity, but also because the distance from my practice to another facilitates a greater understanding of the relative positions of the practitioners to each other.