Bringing together contributors from dance, theater, visual studies, and art history, Perform, Repeat, Record addresses the conundrum of how live art is positioned within history. Set apart from other art forms in that it may never be performed in precisely the same way twice, ephemeral artwork exists both at the time of its staging and long after in the memories of its spectators and their testimonies, as well as in material objects, visual media, and text, all of which offer new critical possibilities. Among the artists, theorists, and historians who contributed to this volume are Marina Abramovic, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Rebecca Schneider, Boris Groys, Jane Blocker, Carolee Schneemann, Tehching Hsieh, Orlan, Tilda Swinton, and Jean-Luc Nancy.
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About the Author
Amelia Jones is an art theorist, curator, and researcher. She is the author of several books, including Seeing Differently: A History and Theory of Identification and the Visual Arts. Adrian Heathfield is a writer, curator, and professor of performance and visual culture at the University of Roehampton, London. He is the author of Live: Art and Performance and Out of Now, among others.
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Perform, Repeat, Record
Live Art in History
By Amelia Jones, Adrian Heathfield
Intellect LtdCopyright © 2012 Amelia Jones and Adrian Heathfield
All rights reserved.
The Performativity of Performance Documentation
Consider two familiar images from the history of performance and body art: the documentation of Chris Burden's Shoot (1971), the notorious piece for which the artist had a friend shoot him in a gallery, and Yves Klein's famous Leap into the Void (1960), which shows the artist jumping out of a second-story window into the street below. It is generally accepted that the first image is a piece of performance documentation, but what is the second? Burden really was shot in the arm during Shoot, but Klein did not really jump unprotected out of the window, the ostensible performance documented in his equally iconic image. What difference does it make to our understanding of these images in relation to the concept of performance documentation that one documents a performance that "really" happened while the other does not? I shall return to this question below.
As a point of departure for my analysis here, I propose that performance documentation has been understood to encompass two categories, which I shall call the documentary and the theatrical. The documentary category represents the traditional way in which the relationship between performance art and its documentation is conceived. It is assumed that the documentation of the performance event provides both a record of it through which it can be reconstructed (though, as Kathy O'Dell points out, the reconstruction is bound to be fragmentary and incomplete) and evidence that it actually occurred. The connection between performance and document is thus thought to be ontological, with the event preceding and authorizing its documentation. Burden's performance documentation, as well most of the documentation of classic performance and body art from the 1960s and 1970s, belongs to this category.
Although it is generally taken for granted, the presumption of an ontological relationship between performance and document in this first model is ideological. The idea of the documentary photograph as a means of accessing the reality of the performance derives from the general ideology of photography, as described by Helen Gilbert, glossing Roland Barthes and Don Slater:
Through its trivial realism, photography creates the illusion of such exact correspondence between the signifier and the signified that it appears to be the perfect instance of Barthes' "message without a code" The "sense of the photograph as not only representationally accurate but ontologically connected to the real world allows it to be treated as a piece of the real world, then as a substitute for it"
(In relation to Slater's notion that the photograph ultimately substitutes for reality, it is worth considering whether performance recreations based on documentation actually recreate the underlying performances or perform the documentation. Poor Theatre, in which the Wooster Group recreates performances by Jerzy Grotowski and William Forsythe, and Marina Abramovic's re-enactments of other artists' performances in Seven Easy Pieces are recent examples of work that clearly plays with this slippery question.)
Jon Erickson suggests that the use of black and white photography in classic performance documentation enhances photography's reality-effect (for Erickson, color photographs assert themselves more strongly as objects in their own right).
There is a sense of mere utility in black-and-white, which points to the idea that documentation is really only a supplement to a performance having to do with context, space, action, ideas, of which the photograph is primarily a reminder.
Amelia Jones takes up the idea of the documentary photograph as a supplement to the performance to challenge the ontological priority of the live performance. She offers a sophisticated analysis of "the mutual supplementarity of [...] performance or body art and the photographic document. (The body art event needs the photograph to confirm its having happened; the photograph needs the body art event as an ontological 'anchor' of its indexicality.)" While this formulation questions the performance's status as the originary event by suggesting the mutual dependence of performance and document (the performance is originary only insofar as it is documented), it also reaffirms the status of the photograph as an access point to the reality of the performance, a position on which Jones must insist since she argues it to defend her own practice of writing about performances she never saw in the flesh (a situation with which I am in complete sympathy).
In the theatrical category, I would place a host of artworks of the kind sometimes called "performed photography," ranging from Marcel Duchamp's photos of himself as Rose Selavy (1920-1) to Cindy Sherman's photographs of herself in various guises to Matthew Barney's Cremaster films. (Other recent examples include the work of Gregory Crewdson and Nikki Lee.) These are cases in which performances were staged solely to be photographed or filmed and had no meaningful prior existence as autonomous events presented to audiences. The space of the document (whether visual or audiovisual) thus becomes the only space in which the performance occurs. Klein's Leap belongs to this category. Klein had no audience apart from "close friends and photographers" when he jumped (which he did several times, "attempting to get the desired transcendent expression on his face") and used a protective net that does not appear in the photograph, which is actually a composite of two different shots unified in the darkroom. (It is an open question whether the friends were there to witness a performance or a photo shoot – in either case, they did not see the event depicted in the photograph.) The image we see thus records an event that never took place except in the photograph itself.
From a traditional perspective, the documentary and theatrical categories are mutually exclusive. If one insists upon the ontological relationship by demanding that to qualify as a performance, an event must have an autonomous existence prior to its documentation, then the events underlying the works in the second category are not performances at all and the images are not documents, but something else, another kind of artwork perhaps (the phrase "performed photography," for instance, suggests that such works be understood as a kind of photograph rather than as performances). Erickson gestures toward such a position (without actually adopting it) in his review of RoseLee Goldberg's book Performance: Live Art Since 1960 when he poses the question: "[D]oes [the book] defeat its own premise when it includes the 'performed photography' of Cindy Sherman, video, film stills (Matthew Barney's Cremaster), and even the drawings and sculptures of Robert Longo?" Since these are all recordings of one sort or another, how can they qualify as "live" art?
From a different perspective, however, the two categories appear to have much in common. Although it is true that the theatrical images in the second category either had no significant audience other than the camera or could have had no such audience (because they never took place in real space), it is equally true that the images in both categories were staged for the camera. Although some of the early documentation of performance and body art was not carefully planned or conceived as such, performance artists who were interested in preserving their work quickly became fully conscious of the need to stage it for the camera as much as for an immediately present audience, if not more so. They were well aware of what Jones describes as performance's "dependence on documentation to attain symbolic status within the realm of culture." Burden, for example,
carefully staged each performance and had it photographed and sometimes also filmed; he selected usually one or two photographs of each event for display in exhibitions and catalogs. [...] In this way, Burden produced himself for posterity through meticulously orchestrated textual and visual representations.
As another example, the European body artist Gina Pane describes the role of photography in her work in the following terms:
It creates the work the audience will be seeing afterwards. So the photographer is not an external factor, he is positioned inside the action space with me, just a few centimeters away. There were times when he obstructed the [audience's] view!
It is clear, then, that such archetypal works of performance and body art as Burden's and Pane's were not autonomous performances whose documentation supplements and provides access to an originary event. Rather, the events were staged to be documented at least as much as to be seen by an audience; as Pane observes, sometimes the process of documentation actually interfered with the initial audience's ability to perceive the performance. In this respect, no documented piece is performed solely as an end in itself: the performance is always at one level raw material for documentation, the final product through which it will be circulated and with which it will inevitably become identified, justifying Slater's claim that the photograph ultimately replaces the reality it documents (or, as O'Dell puts it, "performance art is the virtual equivalent of its representations"). In the end, the only significant difference between the documentary and theatrical modes of performance documentation is ideological: the assumption that in the former mode, the event is staged primarily for an immediately present audience and that the documentation is a secondary, supplementary record of an event that has its own prior integrity. As I have shown here, this belief has little relation to the actual circumstances under which performances are made and documented.
Before drawing conclusions about these issues, I shall place one more piece of evidence into the mix: a performance by Vito Acconci titled Blinks (1969) that raises some trenchant questions about the relationship between performance and documentation. Acconci's verbal description of the performance is simple:
Holding a camera, aimed away from me and ready to shoot, while walking a continuous line down a city street.
Try not to blink.
Each time I blink: snap a photo.
The documentation of the piece displays a grid of twelve black and white photographs of a fairly desolate stretch of Greenwich Street in New York City above the verbal instruction. Like many of Acconci's performances of this time, Blinks was premised on failure, since it is obviously impossible that Acconci could walk down a street for any length of time without blinking. It also has to do with achieving a high level of self-consciousness in mundane circumstances, as Acconci must become hyper-aware of an autonomic function (and perhaps equally aware of his surroundings) as he walks. Furthermore, as artist Seth Price suggested to me, Acconci was making art out of nothing, an art without content.
This performance confounds the already shaky distinction between the categories of documentary and theatrical images. On the one hand, the photos Acconci produced serve the traditional functions of performance documentation: they provide evidence that he actually performed the piece and allow us to reconstruct his performance. They do not do so in the traditional manner, however, because they do not actually show Acconci performing: they are photographs by Acconci, taken while performing, not photographs of Acconci performing. They partake of the traditional ontology of performance documentation nevertheless. Since the action of the piece consisted of taking photographs, the existence of the photographs serves as the primary evidence that Acconci executed his own instructions: because the photographs were produced as (or perhaps by) the performance (rather than of the performance), the ontological connection between performance and document seems exceptionally tight in this case.
On the other hand, Acconci's performance was also very like those in the theatrical category inasmuch as it was not available to an audience in any form apart from its documentation. A look at the photographs shows that the street was deserted - there were no bystanders to serve as audience. More important, the only thing bystanders would have seen was a man walking and taking pictures: they would have had no way of understanding they were witnessing a performance. Acconci's photographs thus are more theatrical than documentary, for it is only through his documentation that his performance exists qua performance.
Acconci's Blinks points toward a central issue: the performativity of documentation itself. I am using the term performative in J. L. Austin's most basic sense. Speaking of language, Austin calls statements whose utterance constitutes action in itself performatives (e.g., saying "I do" in a marriage ceremony). Distinguishing performative utterances from constative utterances, Austin argues that "to utter [a performative sentence] is not to describe my doing of what I should be said in so uttering to be doing or to state that I am doing it: it is to do it." If I may analogize the images that document performances with verbal statements, the traditional view sees performance documents as constatives that describe performances and state that they occurred. I am suggesting that performance documents are not analogous to constatives, but to performatives: in other words, the act of documenting an event as a performance is what constitutes it as such. Documentation does not simply generate image/statements that describe an autonomous performance and state that it occurred: it produces an event as a performance and, as Frazer Ward suggests, the performer as "artist."
Excerpted from Perform, Repeat, Record by Amelia Jones, Adrian Heathfield. Copyright © 2012 Amelia Jones and Adrian Heathfield. Excerpted by permission of Intellect Ltd.
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Table of Contents
The Now and the Has Been: Paradoxes of Live Art in History
Theories and Histories
1. The Performativity of Performance Documentation
2. Dead Mannequin Walking: Fluxus and the Politics of Reception
Hannah B. Higgins
3. The Viral Ontology of Performance
4. Can Photographs Make It So? Repeated Outbreaks of VALIE EXPORT's Genital Panic Since 1969
5. Macular Degeneration: Some Peculiar Aspects of Performance Art Documentation
6. History and Precariousness: In Search of a Performative Historiography
7. Performance Remains
8. Not as Before, but Simply: Again
9. The Prosthetic Present Tense: Documenting Chinese Time-based Art
10. Progressive Striptease
11. Repetition: A Skin which Unravels
12. Art in the Age of Biopolitics: From Artwork to Art Documentation
13. The Interstices of History
Angela Harutyunyan, et al
An Unofficial Timeline of Socialist and Post-Socialist Performance
Angela Harutyunyan, et al
14. A Text on 20 years with 66 footnotes
15. Faith Wilding, Waiting and Wait-With
16. Lynn Hershman and/as Roberta Breitmore
17. We Are Formatted Memories
18. Franko B and Kamal Ackarie, Don't Leave Me This Way
19. Make Me Stop Smoking
20. The Personal Evolution of the Performance Object (Or, What to Do with Leftovers)
21. Cai Yuan and J.J. Xi, Mad for Real
22. Hayley Newman, MiniFlux
23. Daniel Joseph Martinez, Call Me Ishmael or The Fully Enlightened Earth Radiates Disaster Triumphant
24. Multiple Journeys: A Performance Chronology
25. Attending to Anthony McCall's Long Film for Ambient Light
26. ReCut Project
Ming-Yuen S. Ma
27. Assuming a Migrant Woman's Identity
28. Barbara Smith, Intimations of Immortality
29. Santiago Sierra and the "Contexts" of History
31. Documents of Chinese Time-based Art: Three Impressions from Three Fragments
32. Both Sitting Duet and Cheap Lecture
Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion
33. Aftermath: The Performance / Installation Nexus
Timeline of Ideas: Live Art in (Art) History, A Primarily European-US-based Trajectory of Debates and Exhibitions Relating to Performance Documentation and Re-enactments
34. Interior Squirrel and the Vicissitudes of History
Carolee Schneemann and Amelia Jones
35. I Just Go in Life
Tehching Hsieh and Adrian Heathfield
36. The Maybe: Modes of Performance and the "Live"
Tilda Swinton and Joanna Scanlan
37. Photography as a Performative Act
Shezad Dawood and Amelia Jones
38. Do it Again, Do it Again (Turn Around, Go Back)
Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, with Andrew Renton
39. Touching Remains
Janine Antoni and Adrian Heathfield
40. Reverse Martyrologies
Ron Athey and Dominic Johnson
41. The Live Artist as Archaeologist
Marina Abramović and Amelia Jones
42. Every House Has a Door
Lin Hixson and Mathew Goulish
Mathilde Monnier and Jean-Luc Nancy
Introduction and Translation: Noémie Solomon
Hugo Glendinning, Adrian Heathfield, and Tim Etchells