One dimension of the role of editors is that we have permission to set the terms of engagement, both with regards to framing how readers might approach an assemblage of materials via an editorial such as this one, and by inviting a particular set of contributions and responses in the first instance. Through the editing process, we permit certain deviations that we think are productive and allow the impetus of the edition to be developed, contested and expanded. We grant permission for the terms to be changed.
When we initially set out to work together on this issue of Interventions in June 2016, we first imagined that it would be grounded more directly in shared and established research interests, questions to do with curation, documentation and an expanded sense of performance practice. However, as we met to discuss the scope of the edition, immediately after the UK’s European referendum, we found ourselves preoccupied with the unsettling political events directly to hand. In the following weeks, at other sites and meetings where people gathered to watch and talk and think about theatre, discussions turned not to what we had just seen and heard but rather to the coeval ‘current events’ which necessarily intervened in what we felt could be said. We granted ourselves a vital permission, here and in those conversations, to attend to these inescapable political contexts.
Around the same time, a book on the work of the late performance artist Adrian Howells came out. The title of this book, It’s All Allowed, was a sort of slogan for Howells, and characterized the tone of his intimate, often one-to-one performance work.1 Talking about that book and the kind of work such a publication might do, a certain vocabulary of ‘allowance’ and ‘permissibility’ stayed with us. These associated terms seemed to offer a language in which we might begin to address a whole range of urgent and complex issues. The permissions and allowances associated with the movement of bodies and capital around Europe were of course very present in our minds, and these have been joined by other, sometimes related, questions as the scholars and artists we invited to respond to these terms pressed on and posed them in their respective engagements and texts.
In an exchange between PA Skantze and Laure Fernandez, scholars and makers who work between the UK and another European country (for Skantze, Italy and for Fernandez, France) consider how the EU referendum has affected their sense of ‘permissibility’ and ‘allowance’ in their own lives and work. This correspondence is personal and poetic, and at the same time situates those hard-felt experiences in relation to an expansive context.
Emma Cox contributes a critical and powerful provocation charting different kinds of cultural permission emerging in the wake of Brexit. Inverting liberal ideas of permissibility and allowance, this piece offers subtle re-readings of those key terms in the context of legal systems for asylum and speaks particularly to communities who are conjuring for themselves permissions to exclude without feeling the need for the cushioning of excuses.
Olive McKeon reflects on how permission is negotiated in real time in the ad hoc, improvised arenas of both the art event and the street protest. These negotiations are sometimes subtle – to be found in a raised eyebrow or a cold reception or a joke that falls flat – and sometimes dramatic or violent. McKeon focuses particularly on practices of policing, and the complex, often contradictory, structures of legitimacy that underlie them.
Finally, artist Owen G. Parry returns to the questions of intimate performance staged in the Howells book by reflecting on his own series of one-to-one pieces. This work is particularly attuned to the emotional consequences that can result from creating a space wherein ‘it’s all allowed’, from nourishing connection to sexual excitement to complex experiences of shame. Further, Parry reflects on what it means to write about these fleeting and inter-subjective performance encounters, and what it means, as a reader, to be allowed a glimpse inside.
As we finish writing this editorial, the US presidential election has just concluded, a political event that had everything to do with what is permitted and who is allowed to do it, from hateful speech and racial privilege to economic mobility and national defense. As one of a sequence of recent shifts in North America and Europe towards right-wing, populist governance, this event has leant further urgency to our conviction that we must be alert to contemporary configurations of permissibility and allowance, and be increasingly prepared to intervene where these configurations serve powerful and exclusionary interests.
– Johanna Linsley & Georgina Guy
- Deirdre Heddon and Dominic Johnson, eds. It’s All Allowed: The Performances of Adrian Howells (Bristol: Intellect: 2016). ↩