Cooper Gallery Dundee

“It is not enough to merely co-exist. This project is truly collaborative — it has developed through dialogue and co-authorship”

Publicly deploying an ethics of collaboration David Barnett, Sam Belinfante and Bruce McLean undertook a performance project that combined opera, comedy, drawings, sculpture and moving images. Working across three different sites in Dundee, the Cooper Gallery at DJCAD, the City Square and the Botanic Gardens, A CUT A SCRATCH A SCORE deliberately sought to stage a work that in the words of the early Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, was a chance to “See the music and hear the image”.

Described as “as a stage for the city and its people”, the performance was a catalyst for a range of wider activities that fore-grounded critical debate and examined ideas of what an engaged audience could be and its relationship to the art work as collaborators. In addition to commissioning David Barnett, Sam Belinfante and Bruce McLean to make this new work, the curator Sophia Hao set in place a programme of text based events that opened up vital spaces for debate and dialogue. Key to this approach was Hao’s invitation to three writers to work in residence during A CUT A SCRATCH A SCORE. This live writing initiative; An Action of Words involved myself, Ajay AS Hothi and Christina Manning Lebek in a close interrogation of the publicly stated ethic of collaboration that lay at the heart of A CUT A SCRATCH A SCORE. Working alongside MFA students from DJCAD, the three writers led a daily meet the writers’ event and one of 5 salon events, all of which performed as an immediate critical environment for the performance and the curatorial vision initiated by Hao. Open to members of the public the Salon and the meet the writers’ sessions were instrumental in generating a substantial body of writing, reflections and questions, which is still ongoing.

Embedded in this rich and fertile ground of debate A CUT A SCRATCH A SCORE became material in a much deeper event, which gathered to itself an active cast of characters, each with their own improvised script. Although not visibly present on the red stage of A CUT A SCRATCH A SCORE, this expanded cast did not ‘perform’ in a conventional sense; instead they ‘performed’ a curatorial vision that placed the art work as only one entity amongst many in the production and presentation of a performance and exhibition. It is this aspect, perhaps missed by the audience for the final performance that enacted the ‘manifesto’ of David Barnett, Sam Belinfante and Bruce McLean; “It is not enough to merely co-exist”.

The politics put into play by this multi faceted event were devoutly non-hierarchical. Whilst A CUT A SCRATCH A SCORE could be viewed as a conventional parade of technical skill, for instance the presence of renowned Mezzo-soprano Lore Lixenberg and Cantiones Sacrae a vocal ensemble that specialises in polyphonic choral music of the Renaissance period, or as a digitally driven spectacle, Barnett, Belinfante and McLean made thorough use of video projectors and live digital editing. A CUT A SCRATCH A SCORE was instead essentially a prologue to a considered and thoughtful event that reflected upon the potential inherent in contemporary curation.

To view the work of Barnett, Belinfante and McLean as the only show in town is to miss the meat of this expanded project. The joy and success of this project, after a decade of relational and participatory public art practice that sought to ‘engage’ the viewer through didactic and pedagogical methods, is that Sophia Hao has provided a template that reinvigorates and replenishes the staid rhetoric of public art. By addressing the usually ephemeral debate and dialogue that always surrounds a live event, Hao has expanded the circle of what constitutes an author and crucially developed a curatorial practice that places this debate and dialogue on an equal footing with the art work itself.

A CUT A SCRATCH A SCORE, these words imply leaving a mark. After an intensive 5 days for everyone involved, the mark left behind is an arrow that points assuredly at the necessity and value of “dialogue and co-authorship” in contemporary art practice and curation.