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Sara Jane Bailes: Shared Failures

Open Invitation to Performers from Sara Jane Bailes

Glasshouse – Failure Pot Luck Dinner Event
Sunday April 20 – 5-9pm @ Glasshouse


“The discourse of failure as reflected in western art and literature seems to counter the very ideas of progress and victory that simultaneously dominate historical narratives. Failure undermines the perceived stability of mainstream capitalist ideology’s preferred aspiration to achieve, succeed or win, and the accumulation of material wealth as proof and effect arranged by those aims. Failure challenges the cultural dominance of instrumental rationality and the fictions of continuity that bind the way we imagine and manufacture the world.”
(p. 2, Performance Theatre and the Poetics of Failure, Bailes)

“A poetics of failure speaks to the value of attending to brokeness as a structural motif. It acknowledges structural and semantic weakness and the appearance of the vulnerable, gesturing towards the incorporation of the redundant and the poorly conceived; towards subversion, diversion, difference, dissonance, dispersal, boredom, slipperiness, ineptitude, contagion, negotiation, corruptibility, uncertainty, and breakdown. It can be voiced through incompetent delivery, as tiredness, weariness, exhaustion, loss of purpose, and stage(d) disaster; through the repetition of the attempt (as a repeating “end” in itself) followed by mistakes, accidents (and the repetition of mistakes and accidents); and through stuttering, stumbling, bumbling, bungling, and wrongfooting. It shows up in the guise of unconvincing acting, coping (or not), awkwardness, and inability; as misfire, disorientation, miscalculation, mistiming, and often irresolvable misunderstanding. With failure we can assume that one is in the midst of an architecture of ruin, a paradoxical state where work that appears completed remains unfinished, and where fragmentation persists not as part of a whole but, like chance, as a method of production.” (p.22, Performance Theatre and the Poetics of Failure, Bailes)

NO to spectacle no to virtuosity no to transformations and magic and make- believe no to the glamour and transcendency of the star image no to the heroic no to the anti-heroic no to trash imagery no to involvement of performer or spectator no to style no to camp no to seduction of spectator by the wiles of the performer no to eccentricity no to moving or being moved.
(Yvonne Rainer, No manifesto, 1965)

I’ve been interested in failure for a long time, failure in relation to representation – the failure of representation (it intrinsically fails to do the thing it sets out to do), and failure within performance and theatre practice. I’m interested in it because of its productive and anti-capitalist imperative and the resistance it can provide in aesthetic and imaginative practice.

Considered as a structural motif, as an objective or as a generative if unpredictable outcome, as an organizing concept, as an underlying informative non-ambition, as non-event, as a mode of address, and as a poetics that informs the act of creativity itself, the performed event and the relationship between object/event and spectator, failure occupied artists and writers for much of the 20th century and continues to provide modes of practice in which strategies of resistance are able to oppose mainstream values. I’m interested in the many diverse ways that artists, writers, practitioners of all kinds, discover ways in which to make failure become productive in their work – whether that’s economic failure (no space, no time, no materials); or principles and propositions guiding practice that do not ‘expect’ or demand a particular outcome; or ways in which skill and virtuosity can be rejected and/or reinvented in order to expand our understanding of value.

You are invited to come to Glasshouse and bring an idea, a project, a piece of writing, a performance score, the beginnings of something, the documentation of a thing already done/made, the project you are currently working on or worked on or will be working on, that connects or responds to the above ideas and thematics. You should come with two things:

• You will present and share your project, and speak to the way it connects to the topic and ideas of failure as discussed in the above extracts. Or, perhaps the idea of failure now enables you to think through your project in a particular way or articulate your practice in response to this field of thought. Have about 7-10 minutes of material.

• Bring food! This is a pot luck gathering where a group of (possibly interdisciplinary) artists who may or may not know each other will first of all gather to talk about and share practices and then eat and drink together. Choose to make or bring something that you know is easy to share with others.

We will meet for about three hours, and during the evening we will work towards proposing something that continues from and responds to the work we share this evening and which (hopefully) extends or expands your practice. We hope to return to this with a performance event on Tuesday 6th May which you are invited to become part of.


Sara Jane Bailes
Researcher in Residence
Glasshouse, April 16th – May 7th


Earlier Event: March 28
Fan (Of Violence) by Lital Dotan