Clifford Owens, Better the Rebel You Know, Cornerhouse, Manchester

This summer Cornerhouse in Manchester will host the first major European show by American conceptual artist Clifford Owens, across all three of its galleries. Owens’ work explores the intersection of photography, video, text and performance. His practice seeks to challenge the boundaries of performance, and the possibilities of interaction between artist and audience.

Noticing a lack of evidence as to black artists’ involvement in performance art since the 1950s, Owens decided to correct this historical oversight with his piece Anthology. For the work’s first presentation in New York’s MoMA in 2011, he solicited 28 performance scores from a selection of African American artists detailing short and diverse sets of instructions for the interaction between artist and audience.

The exhibition at Cornerhouse will represent the first time that Anthology has been undertaken outside the USA. This time Owens has gathered scores from 20 British artists across the generations whose work considers ideas of race, class, difference, marginalisation, multiculturalism and Diaspora in the UK since the 1950s.

The artists include 2013 Turner Prize-nominated Lynette Yiadom-Boakye; London-based artist and filmmaker John Akomfrah OBE; Sonia Boyce MBE and Godfried Donkor amongst others. Donkor’s score encourages Owens to investigate the 18th century American phenomenon of “battle royal”, a bare-knuckle fight between blindfolded slaves staged as entertainment, and then perform the battle royal with the involvement of the audience.

The interaction between artist and audience is at the heart of Owens’ work and in addition to spending a fortnight at Cornerhouse performing the work, Better the Rebel You Know will feature still and moving images of the performances as well as the full set of scores. Videos and installations from the earlier incarnation of Anthology (2011, New York) will also be displayed, along with the first UK iteration of Photographs with an Audience.

This project involved recruiting audience members to take part in a photographic series of portraits reflecting the interpersonal dynamics and personal experiences of members of the audience. Some of the resulting images are simple portraits while others capture Owens’ prompts and directives; presented in a series of diptychs and sequences, they seek to question the relationship between action and image.

Clifford Owens, Better the Rebel You Know, until 17 August, Cornerhouse, 70 Oxford St, Manchester, M1 5NH,

1. Clifford Owen, Anthology (Nsenga Knight), 2011.

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