BY Liv Fontaine in Opinion | 10 SEP 20
Featured in
Issue 214

How to Be a Performance Artist

Glasgow-based performer Liv Fontaine’s top tips

BY Liv Fontaine in Opinion | 10 SEP 20

The closure of art spaces and venues during lockdown has exacerbated the challenges faced by artists operating in a live sphere. Here, Liv Fontaine offers ten pearls of wisdom for surviving the minefield of working as a freelance performer.

1. Keep performing

After almost ten years of performing in galleries, I now feel much happier doing my act at punk shows in fringe venues. Art spaces are great, but it’s in the pubs that I feel I can really get down to business. If no one wants to programme you, programme yourself.  

2. Safety first

I have learned a lot from getting heckled or even threatened in the middle of a set, but it can very quickly become uncomfortable. Spectators often see performers’ bodies as public property, so be clear about your boundaries with organizers and audiences. There can be pressure to respond wittily to an onstage interruption, but I find the classic ‘Get to fuck you chicken-livered shit!’ works for me.

Liv Fontaine, Narcissus, 2018. Courtesy: the artist
Liv Fontaine, Narcissus, 2018. Courtesy: the artist

3. Know who you are and keep telling everyone

Performance teases people. In this sense, although it can be draining, it’s a good idea to use social media. Performance relies on the artist’s presence and social media offers the illusion of presence, even if the reality is: self-doubt, crippling debt and spiralling spotlight syndrome. 

4. Be aware of the post-performance ‘come down’

I have been through multiple episodes of madness, wondering where the performance stops and I start. It is a state of incongruence that you could spend many hours and much money exploring with a therapist. It has led me to do completely unimaginable and very unusual things, including rebranding myself as a landscape photographer and confessing to crimes I did not commit. Ignored, this can take a toll on your health and relationships, so it’s good to keep considering.

5. Be really clear about what you want to do

There is still a general judgement that performers are a bit wild and all over the place, which is true. When working with producers and curators, be practical about what you want to achieve and state why it’s absolutely necessary that you do it. If your work relies on turning the stage into a scale reconstruction of the unstoppable bus in the 1994 action thriller Speed, don’t compromise.  

Liv Fontaine, Narcissus, 2018. Courtesy: the artist
Liv Fontaine, People Pleaser, 2019. Courtesy: the artist and Catalina Barroso-Luque; photograph: Isobel Lutz-Smith

6. Be friends with other performers

Surround yourself with people who understand the seething cauldron of your mind and don’t consider you to be just egotistical. Most people assume performers are very sure of themselves but, to a performer, performance is just a medium or, sometimes, an erratic, unstable compulsion.

7. Only do work that you really believe in

You must have complete conviction in what you do because there is an element of sacrifice to performance, so it’s got to be worth it. I realize this might sound a bit dramatic but, if I ever wanted to become prime minister, I wouldn’t be able to because there’s footage of me all over the internet tit-wanking bananas and screaming about my cheating ex-husband.

8. If the feeling stops, stop

To me, there is nothing more exhilarating than performing live: it’s an out-of-body experience that can leave me with extreme emotions for days. If that ever ended, I would stop performing.

Liv Fontaine, Narcissus, 2018. Courtesy: the artist
Liv Fontaine, 2019. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Heather Glazzard

9. Don’t pigeonhole your performative self

Performance is the basis of my whole practice, but I don’t feel completely defined by it because my process also involves writing, drawing and video work. Sometimes, live work is exhausting; it’s good to take a break, take a breath and come back with a BANG!

10. Keep going

I receive less than one acceptance for every 20 applications I make. It can be lonely, and the rejection is incredibly hard to process. I persevere because people keep coming to the shows, I can’t keep my mouth closed and we have to keep challenging the absolute shite that is being thrown at us. I may be biased but, when I watch live work, my mind is often totally blown. I rarely feel like that at the National Portrait Gallery 

Main image: Liv Fontaine, This type of thing won’t keep you warm at night, 2018, photograph. Courtesy: the artist 

Liv Fontaine is an artist. In 2021, her work will be included in Glasgow International, UK. She lives in Glasgow.

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