IN MEXICO, they call it arte accion. A pleasingly feisty-sounding way of saying ''live art''. And live art currently flourishes in Mexico, tracing its development from a group of 1920s poets and writers called the Estridentistas. There's a particularly strong showing of work by Mexican women artists in the National Review of Live Art that opens in Glasgow tomorrow night.

The street children of Dakar possibly don't know that the term, live art, exists. But they engage with it, turning the daily grind and squalor

of their lives into an offering for our eyes and conscience - Jean Michel Bruyere's film, Odes to Filth, focuses not just on their actuality, but on the imaginary worlds they create for themselves. Laurie Anderson recites the poems that underpin the images - you'll find this, too, at the NRLA

during its sojourn at the Arches.

Music - other than the Arches' own signature tune of occasionally rumbling trains - is featured in various forms and contexts. Nikki Milican, curator - guardian angel, more like - of NRLA recalls going swimming, at her local gym, in a bid to unknot the tensions of gathering funds for an artform that it still misunderstood, misrepresented, and marginalised . . . despite its increasing influences on mainstream output across diverse genres. ''I'd gone there, basically, to relax,'' say Milican. ''No chance. Everywhere you went, even in the water, there was this awful Muzak churning away.'' Inevitably, it set her thinking. By the time she was back on the street, the idea had a shape and a name. ''I commissioned Glyn Perrin to make his own Muzak tape - and we're going to play it in the loos.

''We're also lucky to have Alistair MacDonald (who is director of the Electroacoustic Studios at the RSAMD) coming in to lead a discussion called Where Music Exists. And that's really about looking at context, at how we use music, access music, what musicians are using now as instruments, the place of technology and the internet - and that's going to be a chance, too, for members of the public to meet and engage

with the composers who are in the national review.''

These are just some of the names and events contained in five packed days of activity that culminate, not underneath the Arches, but onboard the Tall Ship - once we're aboard the lugger, Scottish dance artist and performer extraordinaire Iona Kewney will round off the review in a site-

specific collaborative work with film-maker Gina Czarnecki. It should prove a buoyant finale to what is the 15th NRLA across a 20-year period.

Two decades . . . time enough surely, for the national review to work clear of the ''wild'n'wacky'' image that many people - including journalists - attach to it. Milican can be heard to grit her teeth in preparation for those previews and reviews that ignore all but the most sensational aspects of her varied programme. So Emily Heath is crawling on her hands and knees from Central Station to the Arches . . . at least she's got a camera, not a can of lager in her hand.

Why is it that a young artist attracts so much - largely amused - comment, when a weekend drunk doing much the same thing is ignored as part of scenery? It's a question that will doubtless crop up in formal and informal discussions during the five days as experienced practitioners and emerging artists (of which Heath is one) come together in what is essentially a ''safe'' environment - safe because here artists are free to take risks, push personal and artistic boundaries just that bit further, in an atmosphere devoid of commercial pressures or funders' criteria.

For some, yes, this means engaging with controversy. Challenging concepts of art, humanity, gender polit-ics, by using their own flesh to explore/explode taboos - perhaps by performing naked, or by blood-

letting. It's more than two years since I saw Kira O'Reilly sit, exquisitely impassive, as two leeches gorged themselves into fat, black satiety on her naked alabaster back. That image - and the ensuing long, slow trickles of blood that followed their dropping off - has remained very much in the forefront of my mind since.

The initial impact has been mediated by time: but the ripples of association and provocation that were stirred by her performance have deepened and widened. O'Reilly is back this NRLA, specially commissioned,

like Kevin Daisley and George Chakravarthi, whom I also remember as outstanding Platform artists from the last review, in 1998.

Chakravarthi's work is, in many ways, a cogent example of what Robert Ayers (performer and prof-essor) describes in his foreword to

the NRLA catalogue as ''rooted in

the real''. Born in New Delhi, Chakravarthi was raised and educated as a Catholic - but in a household where he also absorbed tenets of Buddhist and Hindu philosophies. At the age of 10, he moved to England - and entered into a kind of mirror-maze, where he found himself searching for a sense of who he was.

In time, that quest for identity has embraced issues of iconography, sexuality, race, and gender - all framed, as it were, within a personal reconstruction of familiar fine art. Shakti, his NRLA commission, is video-installation that sees Chakravarthi introduce his personal reality into the enigma of the Mona Lisa.

Other cultures, other realities - enter the Mexican Performance Warriorettes! This is the catalogue title for Monica Mayer's introductory talk on Mexico's women artists - some of whom will present work in NRLA. ''There is so much strong work coming out of Mexico, and the women are especially interesting,'' says Milican. ''I felt we

needed to bring that in. I don't sit down and decide to programme themes or strands, but when I look at the work I've selected, there are these connections. And strong, challenging work by women - such as Anne Seagrave, Lorena Wolffer, La Ribot, Kira O'Reilly - is one of them.

''But that's what happens when you programme work according to your instincts, your own taste, rather than picking up on what's trendy or

what's pushed at you by promoters who usually haven't been around as long as I have.'' (She half-laughs as she says this.)

''But it's important to me that I have direct contact with the work. It's why I go out on the road so much, why I have to see the new work by young artists in Cardiff, Glasgow, Manchester, Europe, wherever. It's why there's so much music in the national review - I like working with exciting composers. It's why we have established artists, like Robert Ayers and Richard Layzell, performing alongside people who are just emerging from college courses. It's because I do have this personal overview that stretches back over 20 years. And because the work does effect me, and move me - that's why I keep fighting for it to happen.''

Suddenly, arte accion sounds like a rallying cry - you can join the many-faceted forces of live art at the Arches from tomorrow until Sunday.

Look out for . . .


l 8pm: Stevie Wishart (Australia/UK). Mix one hurdy-gurdy, some cutting-edge electronics, and vocals and you get ''an imposing sonic edifice'' exploring music and technology that goes back to c1000 . . . and fast forwards into new and futuristic soundworlds.

l 9.15pm: If she is Mexico, who beat her up? sees Lorena Wolffer forge challenging links between a battered fashion model and a battered nation that still insists on presenting itself as ''fashionable, attractive'' to tourists and corporate investors.


l 9pm: Bloom. Danielle Brazell (US) uses video, text, and earth to explore issues of survival, globalisation, and genetic manipulation, all set a-buzzing through the metaphor of the killer bee hysteria that swarmed in the 1960s and 1970s.


l 1pm-10.30pm: Repeated showings of 7 Night Stand, Kevin Daisley's series of seven video monologues that admit, with poignant honesty, the elations and despair of casual sex between strangers - ''keep an ear open for the things that have happened to you''.

l 7pm: A Quiet Word is, in fact, a collaboration among Pete Brooks, Alison Andrews, and Steve Littman who present the mesh of possibilities in one woman's story, as occasionally revealed in Shift/Shaft


l 9.30pm: Scanner and David Shea (UK/US) pick up indiscriminate signals from the ether

and, together, create a kind of sound-Polaroid of the night city around us.


l Noon-6pm: Paul Joseph (of Glasgow-based Kultyer Dance) creates a sound installation that draws on his major influences: his Dominican origins, street dance culture, his life in Glasgow, and fatherhood.

l 5.30pm: La Ribot (Spain/UK), pictured, offers Mas Distinguidas, a series of short solos in which her body becomes a living canvas on to which ideas, objects, movements, obsessions, are attached. One moment she is a mobile poem, the next - an image hung out to dry. Expect the unexpected.

l A five-day season ticket costs #25 (#20 concessions), a three-day pass is #15 (#12) and a single all-day ticket is #7.50 (#5.50).