Tables of dance

Jan 23 2017 | By More

Dance artist chronicles lifetime’s work in City Art Centre

★★★★☆    Immersive exhibit

1973 Archiving the Live. City Art Centre: 18 – 26 Jan 2017
Review by Thom Dibdin

Dance, perhaps the most ephemeral of the live arts, is given a fresh sense of history in an exhibition from dance artist Janice Parker at the City Art Centre.

Dance is on – and then it’s gone, leaving no more trace than a memory, visible only to the imaginations of those who have the knowledge to interpret the complex notations which dancers use to write down the moves of their art. There’s no universally visible script as there is in theatre, for example.

Janice Parker in 2015. Photo: Niall Walker

There has always been a bit more surrounding the performance itself, of course. The pieces of ephemera that any performance creates – the listings, scraps of costume, programmes, reviews and notes.

And it is these which Edinburgh-based Janice Parker is turning in her performative exhibition, 1973 Archiving the Live, at the City Art Centre, Edinburgh until January 26, then at the Glasgow Women’s Library until February 11.

The collecting together of Parker’s ephemera started in 2014, when she was working with disability arts commissioning company, Unlimited. Producer, Jo Verrent, asked her two questions – What is it you do? and Why is your work so invisible?

“We embarked on a journey together to map out how and why my work started and how and why it has gone on the route that it has taken both artistically and politically,” says Parker.


“It was a revelatory process for me, to have this time to reflect and consider, to probe, to look back that far and it resulted in me discovering that I’ve kept an awful lot of ‘stuff’ over the years to do with my work!

“When you put it all together, currently covering 10 trestle tables, it becomes a kind of map, a timeline, a visual history that tells the story of a dance practice and some of the social and disability politics of the last 40 years.”


Visiting those memories laid out over the tables on the fifth floor of the City Art Centre, is to begin an adventure into the history of Janice Parker. And visiting is the right word here, its not the sort of exhibition that you go and baldly look at, it is there to go and interrogate, to bring your own memories to, as well as find out Parker’s.

This is mostly from the analogue era. From the time when there was no instant digital dump to make sure everything was kept. If you wanted a permanent copy, you went out to the photocopier or made a note in a post-it bedecked notebook.

The great thing about this, is that they are all there, books to pick up, folders of letters to leaf through, photos to hold up the light to get a better look and even the odd award to ogle.

Janice Parker’s work is of particular interest because of her own interest in working with artists of varying abilities. Not just choreographing dance either. With professional theatre companies she has provided movement advice or choreography to the NTS – The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart is one of her’s – to Lung Ha’s, Catherine Wheels and Birds of Paradise, with the reviews and notes on a separate table in the exhibition.


But it is her community work which proves the most revelatory – proving that while there is a feeling that creating artistic work with people who have disabilities is a new thing, it has been going of for a long time. For seven years from 1980 she was the dance and movement practitioner for Borders Health Board and in 1987 she took up an arts and disability residency: with The Arts in Fife (now OnFife), the first post of its kind in Scotland.

Janice Parker Projects 1973

It is all there, the Herald Angel from 2009, the Creative Scotland Award from 2005, a letter from the PRS about performing music live during the fringe, right back to her first ever review, from 1973, a feature in the The Cumnock Chronicle: “Midsummer Daydream in Glaisnock Wood”.

Even if Janice Parker’s work was not so interesting, this would be a fascinating exhibition just for its own aesthetic. The idea of having all this ephemera, the analogue details of a life lived, and then getting the slightly prurient opportunity to rifle through them, to seek out those threads and connections which run through their lives. Getting to understand not just the “what happened” of a life, but the why, and the background details that gave it colour.

This is a work which has come out ofJanice Parker’s own body of work. But that should not stop the City Art Centre from considering more of this kind of exhibit. It is an extension of the concept of a people’s museum, giving a fascinating glimpse of a life being lived and the time through which it was lived. There must be hundreds of people living in this multi-faceted city of ours who deserve such a recognition, and whose such exposure would help open up understanding.

Janice Parker: 1973 – Archiving The Live
City Art Centre 2 Market Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1DE
Weds 18 – Thurs 26 January 2017.
Sun 22, Wed 25/Thurs 26: 11am-4.30pm.

Glasgow Women’s Library, 23 Landressy Street, Glasgow G40 1BP
Mon 30 Jan – Sat 11 Feb 2017
Daily (not Sat/Sun): 11am–4pm; Sat: 12pm-4pm; Sun: closed

Janice Parker Projects website:

Special Events @ City Arts Centre

In Conversation: Jackie Kay
Sun 22 Jan. 3-4.30pm

1973: A Day of Conversations
Thurs 26 Jan.
The Memories of Things (11am-12.30pm) Why do people collect things? Do we hold onto objects because we cannot hold onto time? Diana Morton of Edinburgh Museums & Galleries will discuss this topic, and how museums keep and maintain collections.
Relearning the Archive (1-2.30pm) Drawing from radical archival histories and 1973 as stimulus, visual artist Emmie McLuskey discusses current models of archiving and non-linear, embodied and felt forms of memory.
People and Perspectives (3-4.30pm) Adele Patrick from Glasgow Women’s Library talks about how the meaning of a personal collection changes when seen from different perspectives.

Special Events @ Glasgow Women’s Library

Reflecting on Working in Public (Thurs 2 Feb: 6-7.30pm). Influential feminist artist Suzanne Lacy visited Scotland in 2007, and invited sixteen artists, theorists and curators to form an intense, unique learning space entitled Working in Public. Records of this gathering found in Janice’s archive are the starting point of a discussion between Adele Patrick (GWL), Janice and other Working in Public participants about creative legacies and feminist archiving, as Glasgow Women’s Library marks its 25th anniversary.

1973: The Workshop (Sat 4 Feb: 1.30-3pm) Part performance, part participation, this intimate introduction to Janice’s collection will focus on the stories held within treasured and incidental objects and materials.

Think Tank (Wed 8/Thu 9 Feb: 11am-4pm). A number of thinkers, doers and dance-makers join Janice and collaborator Luke Pell to think intensively about some of the threads that run through 1973.

1973: In Conversation (Thu 9 Feb: 6-7.30pm) Join Janice Parker, Luke Pell, Jak Soroka and other guests artists for an illuminating conversation about their time with 1973 in the library.

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