Live art drops its anchor at Edinburgh's Ocean Terminal

IT'S THE first weekend of February. Surrounded by the glow of high-street window displays, you enter Transit Station through a small door inside the buzzing Ocean Terminal shopping centre. In sharp contrast to the complex of escalators and cinema screens, the event takes place in the very guts of the building, a pillared industrial space dramatically backlit by a long plate-glass window overlooking the Forth.

Already in full flow, a man moulds a large lump of clay with his hands, destroying and remaking shapes in the light from a video projector. Textures spill across his torso, animating the musculature of both clay and man, while simultaneously another performance plays in another part of the room, challenging the autonomy of the clay-modeller.

The place could be compared to a building site; works are in the process of construction, finding form amid the towering blocks of scaffolding, which comprise the main artwork and compose the space. Literally and metaphorically, the skeletal structures become vehicles for performances or spectator vantage points.

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The theme of travelling is integral to the experience, the audience pick their own perspective and move through fashion shows, films, classical music or sit on the sculptures scattered around in various pools of light. It's initially disorientating, but over the passage of time the mind settles in the chaos and begins constructing narrative.

The night is chilly but with hot soup, curries and free beers on the go, the atmosphere here is warm and it feels like being in a local pub. The shared experience is given weight by the arrival of spectators drawn in by curiosity on their way to the cinema. Reassuringly they stay, and laugh heartily throughout an anarchic performance where a man in a pink fright wig and ludicrous make up sings karaoke and plays jazz trumpet improvising around the objects in the room.

The sheer scale of the event is invigorating. In the 24 hours that Transit Station occupied the Ocean Terminal, more than 40 international artists, from the accomplished to the emerging, collaborated to create a two-day event of innovative performance and experience, curated by Total Kunst's Rosemary Strang and Aaron McCloskey.

Despite having big names on its bill, artistic directors Dagmar Glausnitzer-Smith and Charles Ryder insist that Transit Station is purposefully free of programme notes or biographies. No names and no histories are announced, nothing canonised before it has taken place. It works, and audiences experience the event on their own terms with no histories, no introductions, no instructions, no in-jokes and certainly no pretension.

If you discover it out of context, then it belongs to you. Designed to generate the experience of community and discovery without prejudice, Transit Station communicates no matter what your knowledge of the artform.

And these kind of experiences are growing in popularity and number - Body Parts at the Royal Scottish Academy, the CCA's live art festival, even club nights such as Death Disco and Club Noir. Live art has arrived as a recognised and followed art form in Scotland.

If you missed Transit Station, you should get to the Tramway in Glasgow this week for the National Review of Live Art, where you can see moving and thought provoking performances from DJ Franko B, La Ribot, FrenchMottershead, Ron Athey, one-man subversive thinktank Richard Dedomenici, and Scotland based artists Sarah Potter and Kate Stannard.

You probably won't find Crazy Frog blaring over the tannoy, or surreal window shopping, but perhaps you might give in to the lure of discovery and experience the taste of live art for yourself, without any concern for validation from art historians.

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The National Review of Live Art is at Tramway, Glasgow, today until 12 February.