Student Rafael Tsantes shares his experience as Research Artist in Residence at Present Futures 2021

The multi-disciplinary arts festival Present Futures 2021 (Glasgow) returns for its fourth edition on Friday 5th February. The programme, curated by Colette Sadler and produced by Feral, will feature work operating within and between performance, film, visual art, and sound. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the festival has been reimagined as a virtual space to explore posthumanism and human/non-human relationships.

We sat down with third year Contemporary Performance Practice student Rafael Tsantes who is completing a placement at the festival as Research Artist in Residence.

Amid Covid-19 restrictions, Rafael was struggling to find a placement that aligned with his interests when his level coordinator and the Interim Head of Contemporary Performance Practice Dr Laura Bissell suggested Present Futures. With its focus on post-humanism and the digital approach to performance, Rafael felt the festival was “very Covid-19”. What resonated with him was the prospect of seeing how a festival which had previously been live would be translated into a digital festival. What sacrifices would be made? What benefits could there be? As part of his residency, Rafael will be reflecting on the work and themes of the festival in a blog. He tells us, “I tried to find a way to get involved through my lens as an artist as well.” Indeed, this virtual festival aligns neatly with his dissertation exploring performance in the pandemic.

Rafael’s dissertation grew out of an interest in personal and public space, and, with the onset of the pandemic, soon developed into an exploration of Covid-19’s impact on performance. Laura directed him to this article from performance maker Claire Cunningham, which he references in a recent blog entry. He tells us that this piece opened his mind to what can be achieved despite, or perhaps because of, the pandemic. When asked if he believes that we will make positive improvements to the accessibility of theatre and performance after Covid-19, he says emphatically, “I hope we do”. Rafael feels that the shift to online performance has not only allowed those who may otherwise have been excluded to participate in theatre but has changed the perspective and expectations of the theatre-going audience about what performance can be. It has planted the seed in their minds, that “when I’m going to go and see a performance, I can also do it online – even after the pandemic”.

Rafael’s path to Contemporary Performance Practice at RCS was not straightforward. Though interested in theatre from a young age, he initially studied biology at university in his native Greece. He then spent a year at drama school, before leaving in order to work and save money to move to London. All the while, he continued to take theatre classes – including contemporary performance, which he had approached out of curiosity but which he says immediately felt like the right fit for him. Rafael was working as a children’s educator at a refugee camp when he met two RCS Contemporary Performance Practice alumni. They began talking about contemporary performance, he shared videos of his work, and soon he was researching the course. His first application was unsuccessful, but this did not deter him – he smiles, “in general, I don’t give up easily”. The following year, he applied again and was accepted. Remarking on the serendipity of this all, Rafael says, “I think it was meant to be.”

“I consider myself a visual artist.” Rafael is fascinated by the visual aspects of performance and uses these to explore materiality and space, as well as how these concepts interact. His performance has fine art elements, which reflect his interest in sculpture and architecture, video art and installation art. Recently, he has been exploring graphic design through performance. He says that the classes he took before he arrived at RCS shaped his practice, revealing to him a world where he could take elements from different artforms and put them together under the umbrella of performance art.

As he prepares for the beginning of the festival, Rafael is excited to learn about the processes of the artists involved, and to see their new work. He is looking forward to Wong Ping’s Dear, can I give you a hand?, having previously seen some of the artist’s “mesmerizing and intriguing” animations on YouTube. Carrion performer Justin Shoulder’s visually stimulating performances, he says thoughtfully, “look like paintings”.

Rafael is not the only artist representing RCS at the festival. Interim Head of Contemporary Performance Practice Dr Laura Bissell will chair two panel events: Performance in a Pandemic with co-editor Dr Lucy Weir and authors from their upcoming book, and Artist to Artist Conversation: Rejecting the Species Binary with Soojin Chang and Hamshya Rajkumar. Contemporary Performance Practice alum and dance artist Laura Fisher was awarded one of three Present Futures Associateships and will deliver their research presentation Hot & Bothered: Utilising Thermostatic Imaging Technology in the Choreographic Process.

So, what is to come for Rafael? In five years’ time, “I would like to have something on my own,” whether that be his own company or something else. He is still interested in education and tells us that he wants to give back to the community. For now, he is focusing on his next project: a documentary, for which he made a successful application to the Equality and Diversity Creative Fund, which will draw comparisons between the respective stigmas experienced by Covid-19 patients and people living with HIV.

Present Futures 2021 runs from 5th – 7th February 2021. The festival is supported by Creative Scotland, The Work Room, Centre for Contemporary Art, Goethe-Institut Glasgow, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and Tramway.

You can read Rafael’s blog on our Portal. Learn more about the BA (Hons) Contemporary Performance Practice programme.

Image © Elisa Larvego.

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