It Was 40 Years Ago Today

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Winner of the David Bradby TaPRA Award for Research in International Theatre and Performance 2011.

postcard project


If you have any information on performance in Wales that could be of use to the project, please get in touch!

Whether you are an artist who has made performance work in Wales, or an audience member who once witnessed a performance (voluntarily or involuntarily!), we would be pleased to hear from you.
Any material will be of interest - from actual pieces of documentation to vague memories of events caught out of the corner of one's eye.


Project Director:
Heike Roms
Research Assistant (2009-2011):
Rebecca Edwards
Dept Theatre, Film and Television Studies, Aberystwyth University

Professor Heike Roms
Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies
Aberystwyth University
Parry-Williams Building, Penglais Campus
Aberystwyth SY23 3AJ, UK
phone: (+44) 1970 - 621911 (direct)
departmental secretariat: (+44) 1970 - 622828
fax: (+44) 1970 - 622831

Steering Committee:
David Alston, Arts Council of Wales
Ifor Davies, Cardiff
Sioned Davies, Cardiff University
Arwel Jones, The National Library of Wales
Adrian Kear, Aberystwyth University
Mike Pearson, Aberystwyth University
André Stitt, University of Wales Institute, Cardiff

Funded by:

AHRC logo with link to website

Each year the AHRC provides funding from the Government to support research and postgraduate study in the arts and humanities, from archaeology and English literature to design and dance. Only applications of the highest quality and excellence are funded and the range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK. For further information on the AHRC, please see our website

Aberystwyth University Logo and link to website

Copyright © 2011 All Rights Reserved
All content within this web site is protected by copyright pursuant to international conventions, and other copyright laws as a collective work and/or compilation. No part of this web site including text, coding, layout and graphics may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form without the prior written permission of 'What's Welsh for performance?'.

Images on this site are reproduced for the purposes of research and study only. Whilst every effort has been made to trace the Copyright holders, we would be grateful for any information concerning Copyright of the images and we will withdraw them immediately on Copyright holder's request.

What's Welsh for Performance? Beth yw 'performance' yn Gymraeg?

"It was forty years ago today...":
Locating the early history of performance art in Wales

What and Why

Happenings in Cardiff in 1965, Fluxus in Aberystwyth in 1968, Destruction in Art in Swansea in 1969, improvised music in Anglesey in 1970, learning and teaching as performance at Cardiff School of Art in 1974, performance art at the Wrexham National Eisteddfod in 1977...

This major research project charts the emergence and development in Wales of those time-based, neo-avant-garde art practices we have come to associate with the catchall term ‘performance art’. It begins this history in 1965, when the first-ever Welsh ‘Happening’ was staged in the capital city Cardiff, and goes on to track its numerous manifestations across many different events at many different sites. It ends the history in 1979, when considerable shifts in the aesthetics, discourses and infrastructures that had defined the wider scene in Britain up to that point began to occur (eventually leading to the coinage of a new term, ‘live art’).

Performance art scholarship is experiencing a resurgence of interest in the 1960s and 1970s, a time of considerable artistic creativity and political radicalism, occasioning a re-examination of our common understanding of this crucial period. Traditionally, histories of performance art have tended to concentrate on a well-documented canon of works, neglecting local scenes outside of the centres of art production. "It was forty years ago today..." has produced a comprehensive record of performance art practice in Wales between 1965 and 1979, thereby demonstrating that such work was not limited to singular events in London, Paris or New York but impacted on art making more widely and deeply. By paying close attention to the emergence of performance art and related art practices (happenings, performance poetry, body art, physical theatre, new music, expanded cinema, etc) within a specific context, the research has also found that performance making did not just produce ephemeral events but often resulted in tangible infrastructures: networks, festivals, venues, educational programmes, funding schemes and publications, many of which still play a role in the arts in Wales today.

The project has compiled information on nearly 650 performance events made in Wales during the period. Works by well-known international artists - including Yoko Ono, Joseph Beuys and Jean-Jacques Lebel - feature in this history alongside those of Welsh artists Ivor Davies, Paul Davies and Robert Conybear and of artists like Marty St James, Shirley Cameron and Roland Miller, who settled in Wales for a substantial period in their careers. The team spent two years (2009-2011) undertaking extensive research in over 55 archives and private collections (including the Tate Archive, the National Arts Education Archive, the V&A and the National Library of Wales), digitizing more than 4,500 documents in the process. This was complemented by forty oral history conversations with artists, administrators and audience members, which used a variety of formats such as life-story approaches, group conversations and guided tours to significant locations. Findings include examples of early performance experimentation dating back to the late 1950s, the vital role university art festivals played for experimental art in the 1960s, the development of a dedicated performance pedagogy in the 1970s, the importance of artistic collaborations for the British scene of the period and the emergence of Welsh identity as a central concern in performance work of the late 1970s.

The outcomes of this research are being made freely available to other researchers. They include a fully searchable online database of performance art events in Wales 1965-1979, which also indexes the current location of available documentation; and the full range of its oral history recordings and transcripts, which have been deposited in key archives (British Library Sound Archive, National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales, Live Art Archives). The hope is that the information will be used to gain a better insight into the manner in which performance art, as an artistic movement of trans-national reach, and its affiliated networks and institutions emerged and developed within specific local contexts, in Wales, the UK and beyond.

The website features extracts from all interviews, transcripts and access to the database.

Supported by a Large Research Grant (Standard) (worth £165,779) from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) (2009–2011). For more information on the grant click here.

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Research Questions

  • How might a detailed scrutiny of performance art events made in Wales between 1965 and 1979 further our understanding of an important aspect of Welsh art and theatre history, and the manner in which performance art as an international artistic movement was realized in localized cultural contexts during its formative years?

  • In contrast to conventional historiographic approaches that focus on canonical works, what new knowledge about the development of performance art will be revealed through the close attention to a particular and geographically defined scene, using a range of archival and testimonial sources in context-sensitive research?

  • How might a comparative reading of archival documentation and oral testimonials advance our appreciation of the usefulness of such evidence for an understanding of past performance practice?

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Winner of The David BradbyTaPRA Award for Research in International Theatre and Performance 2011, awarded for outstanding research in any area of theatre and performance studies.

The work was commended by the judges as follows: 'This is a very significant research project'; 'Most original and far-reaching'; 'This project is exemplary in the level of engagement over time with a specific topic.'

For more information on TaPRA and the award click here - for information on the work of David Bradby click here.