GFANA is a series of experimental collaborations, workshops and events curated by Brendan Fox drawing on Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) techniques and the practice of Brazilian dramatic practitioner and activist Augusto Boal.
It is a hybrid platform where visual art meets theatre practice. GFANA may manifest in many capacities from performative actions, socially inclusive projects, protest or visual expressions. It is a supportive active intersection for artists and the community.
Where did the idea come from?
I have worked as an artist and a curator for many years and have directed theatre. I also began facilitating TO workshops 15 years ago and I found myself wondering if it may be possible to synergise these 3 distinct practices. When I started researching during my MA Art in the Contemporary World at NCAD in 2019 I initiated a series of experimental workshops using Boal’s techniques to engage with artists.
Throughout these workshops, I witnessed artists open up about their practices and reimagine their themes and points of enquiry through physical exercises, gestures and expressions. Concepts and ideas that may have been originally conceived in paint, sculpture or video were being explored through the participant’s collective bodies and manifesting in dynamic scenarios. One of the most beneficial aspects of these workshops was the shedding of our dependency on language as the primary means of discourse around contemporary art practice. Rather than continual lengthy debate, we confronted issues through physical manifestations and micro-performances and innately always tended toward the visual.
I realised that within this hybrid terrain there was scope for artists to openly collaborate and engage with each other’s practices through Boals methods. Since January 2020 over 60 Irish and international artists including Aideen Barry, Alan Phelan, Kerry Guinan, Avril Corroon, Harry Walsh Foreman, Elaine Grainger, Ciarna & Duc Pham, Евгения Лаптева, Child Naming Ceremony and Gum Collective have taken part in either physical workshops hosted at IMMA or Digital GFANA producing over 170 artworks that speak to and of the coronavirus pandemic.
Where does GFANA take place?
GFANA as a practice and concept has no fixed abode but rather aims to occupy the territory of cracks between participation and art practice, between the institution and the community. It doesn’t rely on the tree of the institution but may climb it as a vantage point. Workshops to date have taken place at the Goethe Institute, Temple Bar Gallery + Studios and at the RHA.
Prior to COVID restrictions, the project was accommodated at IMMA and interacted with the staff, artists and exhibitions there. We workshopped around the Derek Jarman Protest! exhibition curated by Sean Kissane which had some truly fascinating moments.
You mention Digital GFANA, what does that mean?
When the pandemic hit Ireland and we all withdrew to our caves of isolation I had to figure out a strategy to redefine the project, so I developed an experimental series of online interactions with artists and art collectives.
I used Instagram as a platform to connect with the participating artists and to display the project’s progress. There have been numerous interpretations of these exchanges manifesting in moving image, drawing, photography, painting and live Zoom performances.
How do theatre workshops work for artists?
TO has many manifestations. I often take a meditative approach, no-one is put on the spot as that would be counter-productive. The workshops are very much process focused. They are malleable and are centered around the participants and their practices. I often bastardize Boal’s methods specifically his Image Theatre techniques in order to better relate the process to visual arts practice.
In addition to Boal’s methods, I encouraged the use of video and photography throughout many of the exercises not only as a means of documentation for the artists but also as a conscious mechanism that consolidates each collaborative exercise into a considered unified visual artistic expression. The workshops are essentially an extension of the artist’s studio practice pulled through the filter of TO.
Who are Non-Artists?
Essentially an individual who doesn’t identify as an artist. The project has two distinct facets interconnected through a collaborative active research approach. Beyond working with artists GFANA will engage with a broad scope of groups, extending community-led interactions and centering non-artists and their narratives through collaboration.
The project offers a platform for shared usership and an exchange of knowledge through active participation. The aim is to create a model that encourages engagement in contemporary art as praxis between artists & the community.
What’s next for the project?
GFANA are excited about a new collaboration with Creative Ireland and Offaly Arts Office called The Museum of Everyone which we launch on Culture Night with an open call for artists to head up a project with us and receive funding of up to €3000. I am also liaising with a number of educational institutions that are interested in the project from a pedagogical perspective.
We are probably most excited about our upcoming project that will create a platform for artists and asylum seekers to develop work. An exhibition of GFANA is in the works due to take place in 2021, climate permitting.
Image with Elaine Grainger and Helen MacMahon by artist Sarah Edmondson composed during GAFANA at IMMA.
Artists Dominique Crowley, Maria Del Buey, Orlaith Phelan and Eimear Regan at a GFANA workshop at IMMA.
Ella Bertilsson of Child Naming Ceremony performing on Zoom as part of GFANA (2020).