Arcade2023: Never in your life…

The word ‘arcade’ likely conjures up images of a large, loud, flashy, bright room filled with digital gaming consols for children and teenagers. A place of entertainment and stimulation many of us enjoyed when younger, or possibly still. This is, of course, the amusement arcade, familiar to all who grew up in an urban environment. Architects may initially think of a covered passage with arches along either side.

Either way, ‘arcade’ generally conjures a sense of fun and perhaps more importantly, freedom. Freedom to play. Along with the shouts, squeals, and growls that accompany abandon and enjoyment.

The Live Art Arcade 2023 taking place in the Makhanda Monument this coming Saturday (24 March), holds similar promise, except for adults. Instead of interacting with digital consols, you’ll interact with ideas, provocations, and, possibly, artists. You’ll also be entertained, no doubt. You may also be alarmed, shocked, unsettled, made to laugh, awed, perhaps even inspired.

For unlike the amusement arcade at the mall where we may as children have been deposited while our parents did their shopping as good consumers in service of Capitalism, the Live Art Arcade, curated by last year’s Standard Bank Award-winning artist Gavin Krastin, undermines notions of Capitalism. To begin with, the experience is free of charge. All you have to do is arrive and participate. The Live Art Arcade also undermines all the other colonnades that support inequality and bigotry in our society: sexism, racism, ableism, ageism, poverty, pollution. Subversion is after all the current nature of Live Art – or Performance Art as it is often known – still a young enough discipline to be the choice of the avant-garde.

As anyone who has seen Krastin’s astoundingly liberating work can testify, it is the rigour and discipline in his art that allows the transmission of its full creative expression. In other words, when it comes to performance art, Krastin knows what its about. And here, in Arcade 2023, he has given space – literally and figuratively – to 11 artists presenting eight different performances in the two basement floors of the Monument. With the weight of its colonial 1820 settlers history, the venue itself gives substance to performing arts’ penchant for undermining the foundations of establishment structures.

But beyond that, Arcade2023 is a feast of provocative performances all happening at the same time for six hours, allowing you to wander in and out and back and forth at will.

The nature of performances in Arcade (this is the sixth since the first one in Cape Town in 2018) is that they are durational, which means they don’t have a distinct beginning, middle, and end; you can enter at any point and equally, leave at any point. They are not looped though, there’s no beginning to go back to, and what has been created remains so.

Participating artist Martinique Kotze’s performance illustrates this. Kotze, a Rhodes University Master’s student, explores the idea of memory and the process of remembering, and her performance involves the act of making something; what she makes remains, it does not ‘start again’, yet at any point you can observe the act of making. By observing, you also participate, of course, by your own memories being conjured by the actions and objects Kotze presents. Unless you wish to argue performance can exist without an audience? Which is exactly the type of question performance art may pose.

Counterpoint to what Kotze says is a quiet and meditative space of her making, elsewhere in Arcade will be Obusitswe ‘Birdking’ Seage, loudly ‘Untrashing the Future’ with his ‘Theatre in the Muck’.

Where an artists such as Kotze seems to invite you in, Seage seems to grab you by the arm and take you on a journey to reveal a new world of possibilities within the detritus of our culture. A Hip-Hop poet riffing off rubbish, he’s hauled trash into the Monument from all over Makhanda – plastics, bedsprings, old TVs – which becomes muse for interrogations of identity, environment, politics, all the -tics and -isms, to recycle our perceptions.

Wander further along the labyrinth and there’s black trans multi-disciplinary artist Carbon seeming to channel Sysiphus as they combine a wheelbarrow filled with rocks, animation, and poetry in contemplation of the concepts of endurance and enduring. There’s Axl Forder inhabiting the nightmare of a maladjusted young (white?) man with a high-speed internet connection and too many toys. Bring incel to mind, anyone?

You can encounter the living sculpture of Luke Rudman, find Qondiswa James on a soap box, Rafé Luke Green discovering alternative means of healing our damaged psyches, and the Base/Ment collective building new foundations for play and our means of making monuments.

In what order you choose to experience these cutting-edge performances, how long you choose to participate in each, or whether you try catch part of all or six hours of one, is up to you. It is your journey, your space in which to play. But of one thing you can be assured: it will never happen like this again.

Live Art Arcade 2023 takes place on 24 March at the Makhanda Monument from 2pm to 8pm. Entrance is free of charge, recommended for people aged 16 and older.

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