What's Welsh for Performance?

Award Information

AHRC ref: AH/G012369/1
Discipline: Drama and Theatre Studies
Funding opportunity: Research Grant
Areas of Impact: Creative Industries; Culture and Heritage; Museums and Collections; Policy Influence; Tourism
Lead RO: University of Aberystwyth
Region: Wales

What’s Welsh for Performance? (WsWfP) was initiated in 2005 by Professor Heike Roms of Aberystwyth University. The aim was to track the emergence and development of performance art and related avant-garde art activities in Wales during the latter part of the 20th century. Following the award of an AHRC Research Grant in 2009, the project focused on the formative years of performance art between 1965 and 1979, under the title “It was forty years ago today…” - Locating the Early History of Performance Art in Wales.

The project comprised in-depth research of over fifty archives and personal collections. This enabled the researchers to locate and digitize nearly 5,000 documents related to performance art in Wales. These archives were made freely available in an online database on the project’s website. The research was complemented by an extensive oral history programme, featuring fifty interviews with artists, administrators and past audience members. For these, WsWfP pioneered innovative approaches including group and ‘in-situ’ oral history conversations, and participatory memory installations and re-enactment formats, many of which were publicly staged.

Through on-going partnerships with three major organisations, Arts Council of Wales, National Museum Wales (Amgueddfa Cymru) and Chapter Arts Centre, WsWfP has been able to inform how performance art in Wales today is funded, administered, conserved and exhibited. David Alston, the Arts Director of the Arts Council of Wales, says that the research has “…stimulated public institutions to engage in important new exhibitions and presentation of material in the public domain. This has been true for the National Museum in particular with displays in its new wing springing from Heike Roms’ research”.

The partnerships formed as a result of the project meant that the WsWfP team was able to shape the professional practices of Welsh arts practitioners, including artists engaged in live art, past and present. The project has given the first generation of performance artists a renewed stake in Welsh history, and according to Alston, The Arts Council of Wales’ Arts Director, “…has provided the encouraging context for a new generation to see this work as possible and realizable in Wales”.

Performance work is now routinely considered for inclusion in exhibitions, publications and media coverage devoted to Welsh contemporary art. Professor Roms is also regularly invited to consult on aspects of Welsh artistic history, for example, for BBC Wales; Wales at the Venice Biennale; the National Eisteddfod’s Visual Arts Committee; and the Vale of Glamorgan Council. Outside of Wales, a major European 50th anniversary touring exhibition of Fluxus, the influential international art movement, features Roms’ research on Fluxus in Wales.

WsWfP also helped to enhance significantly public awareness of and engagement with performance history in Wales. WsWfP and the National Museum Wales collaborated on a major retrospective of Welsh artist Ivor Davies in the context of Destruction in Art, supported by an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award. Nicholas Thornton, the Museum’s Head of Contemporary Art, has called the partnership “a model for the way academic research can reach wider audiences”.

For more information on the project visit: www.performance-wales.org

Gateway to Research Project Links: 'It was forty years ago today...': Locating the Early History of Performance Art in Wales 1965-1979, Apr 2011 – Mar 2011