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Sie sind hier: Startseite MAP I "Beweglicher Zugang" (2010) II. ARCHIV_PRAXIS LOST & FOUND: Archiving Performance

LOST & FOUND: Archiving Performance

Barbara Büscher (Leipzig/Cologne)

 

 

 

A remarkable number of exhibitions and performances in recent years have dealt with recalling and revisiting the performative arts of the 1960s and 1970s. They indicate a newly heightened interest in the historicity of these artworks and ask how access to this history can be gained.

Interest focuses on early performance art, from the first Happenings and Fluxus to their connection with post-modern dance, illustrated by the work of the Judson Dance Group and other performers/choreographers of the 1960s. It also lies in the relationship between performance practices and the camera, as first emerged in early video art. It is not only the temporal coincidence of the first phase of performance art with the development of video art that is relevant for current ventures in archiving. The historiography of both performance and video art is concerned with eventfulness, diverse forms of performance and presentation, the breaking up of the artwork into processes and public participation.

While on the one hand exhibitions and re-enactments signify the institutionalisation and preserving of past events as well as their exploitation on the art market [1], their renewed staging and contextualisation also constitute new forms of appropriation. They represent a fluid approach to archives. They make the question of the nature of the artefacts on which old and new accounts of performances and their histories are based newly relevant and examine their readability in new contexts.

 

 

Performative Work on the Performance Archive

Which documents and statements, traces and media artefacts can the history (and histories) of the performance arts use? What are the guides – scenarios, notes, musical scores, photographs and moving images, descriptions and reviews – on which re-enactments can (and would choose to) be based?

With her project Seven Easy Pieces, first shown in the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2005, Marina Abramovic proposed a way to interpret this history anew and differently. She perceives her re-enactments of earlier performances by Bruce Nauman, Vito Acconci, VALIE EXPORT, Gina Pane, Joseph Beuys and herself as a form of re-appropriation which should follow certain rules.

 

I feel the need not just to personally re-experience some performances from the past, but also to think about how they can be re-performed today in front of a public that never saw them. In this manner, I can open a discussion about wether we can approach performance art in the same way as a musical composition. Can we treat the instructions of the performance like a musical score – something that anyone who is properly trained can re-play? I also want to open a discussion about how performance can be preserved. What is the right way of documenting it? How can it be shown in museums after the event? And in what kind of conditions can performance be repeated?
[…]
By performing 'Seven Easy Pieces', I would like to propose a model for re-enacting other artists’ performance pieces in the future:
Conditions
Ask the artist for permission.
Pay the artist for copyright.
Perform a new interpretation of the piece.
Exhibit the original material: photographs, video, relics.
Exhibit a new interpretation of the piece.
This proposed new model could give performance art, which started as a transitory movement, a stable grounding in art history. It would lead to better dialogue between different generations of performance artists and would guarantee a clearer position for performance as a more artistic discipline. [Abramovic 2007: 3]


Yet the question remains of how to take up re-enactments in the performance art archive. Babette Mangolte composed a 95-minute film from Abramovic’s seven, seven-hour long performances, which will now circulate the art world both as a secondary archival artefact and as an artwork in its own right. The method borrowed from oral history of recording interviews with eyewitnesses and artists can also be regarded as a form of performative work on the archive, i.e. on a collection of statements and archival artefacts. Heike Roms makes reference to this in connection with her project on the history of performance art in Wales.[2] In her work she highlighted this performative aspect:

What distinguishes my oral history from other, similar projects is that the conversations were staged as public events in front of a live audience, often involving witnesses of the works in question […]. By doing so, I also wanted to call attention to the particular manner in which oral history produces historical evidence, and how it performs itself as a scene of evidence. [Roms 2008: 75]

 

 

Current Considerations for (Future) Performance Archives

What points do curators consider when presenting their view of a fragment of performance history in an exhibition? Some relevant questions can be gleaned from the six chapters of the catalogue of the 2003 Liverpool exhibition Art, Lies and Videotape. Exposing Performance [George 2003]. This centres on visual strategies for representing performances and related issues addressed by the author.

Under the heading Lost Histories, the catalogue begins by asking a fundamental question: Is the history of performance art one of systematic withdrawal; of the denial of traces and documents? And is this the source of its subversive energy and current appeal? Carrie Lambert-Beatty draws attention to a category of ‘lost works of art’ to which performance art also belongs:

To understand performance art of the past is to grapple with the fact that this art was designed to be lost. That is to say, it purposefully aspired to the condition of the lost work of art. […] Their traces in literature, drawing, or photographs describe a negative space. Documents bracket off a place for the work; its traces hold open a site which is both empty and full of meaning. Indeed, it is the traces of a work in text and image that make it a ‘lost work of art’. Without them the art-work would only be lost. [Lambert-Beatty 2007/2000: 95]

Image as Icon refers primarily to the emblematic function of individual photographs for the history of performance art. The public reception of performance and its historiography has been profoundly influenced by the selection and publication strategies of artists and journalists. Perceived as pars pro toto portrayals, photographs play a significant role in the construction and visualisation of historical accounts. They also contain an abundance of evidence relating to cultural, aesthetic and social contexts of a certain point in time. Lambert-Beatty has frequently re-visited photos and films of the 1960s with this in mind [Lambert 1999; Lambert 2004; Lambert-Beatty 2006]. Looking at past events and their visual representation from a contemporary perspective reveals hitherto disregarded layers of meaning and order in the images. Lambert-Beatty finds, for example, on renewed inspection of a photo [photographer: Robert McElroy] of Jim Dine’s 1960 performance Car Crash, that the combination of perspectives contain a universal meaning: “(…) the erased signs of viewing suggest something about the impossibility of maintaining, even at the event itself, the kind of unmediated contact with the performer’s presence that is so often stressed in discussions of performance.” [Lambert-Beatty 2007: 99]

The question of the relationship between image and event and the resultant strategies of authentication is also raised in connection with the emblematic function of single photographs: Did the event really take place (fact or fiction), did it simply take place in front of the camera or is it the pre-arranged illusion of a real action? Are these questions relevant at all for today’s viewer of past or supposed events? American performance theorist Philip Auslander has propounded the theory that for the observer of visual artefacts which in some way refer to performance history, it is unimportant in which form the event took place historically. They see something separate, different. [Auslander 2006: 30-31]

In the same text, Auslander raises the question of where the public’s share in the performances has gone in the pictures of these events. Both this question and the aspect stressed by Aaron Williamson in the catalogue can be subsumed under the heading Unconscious Performance:

One strategy (…) is for an artist to incorporate literally unconscious participation into a performance; that is, to make unwitting members of the public ‘perform’ in some way, or even to make them and their responses the subject of the work. [Williamson 2003: 57]

Me and My Camera/Person addresses another set of issues, placing the focus on the dual-authorship relation and the question of controlling re-presentation (and archiving). The section titled Artist as Director takes this aspect further and highlights the fact that parallel to their actual performances, performance artists today produce and provide media transformations of them on film or video themselves.

Alice Maude-Roxby took up this line of debate with regard to photographic practices in another exhibition which was shown in Southampton in 2007 under the title Live Art on Camera. Performance and Photography.

All in all, these fields of inquiry make it clear that it can no longer be the re-calling (or irrevocable loss) of performative authenticity that is the focus of discussion. The programmatic lack of traces, which for a long time was regarded as a defining feature of performance and its subversive qualities, is being called into question in and through the artists’ own archives. Eyewitness accounts can (now) not be regarded as the only source of future knowledge of past events. The relationship between performance and its remains can not be perceived as that of original and replicable document but as a medial transformation.

Performance’s only life is in the present. Performance cannot be saved, recorded, documented, or otherwise participate in the circulation of representations of representations: once it does so it becomes something other than performance. To the degree that performance attempts to enter the economy of reproduction it betrays and lessens the promise of its own ontology. Performance’s being, like the ontology of subjectivity proposed here, becomes itself through disappearance. (…) To attempt to write about the undocumentable event of performance is to invoke the rules of the written document and thereby alter the event itself. Just as quantum physics discovered that macro-instruments cannot measure microscopic particles without transforming those particles, so too must performance critics realize that the labor to write about performance (and thus to ‘preserve’ it ) is also a labor that fundamentally alters the event. It does no good, however, to simply refuse to write about performance because of this inescapable transformation. The challenge raised by ontological claims of performance for writing is to remark again the performative possibilities of writing itself. The act of writing toward disappearance, rather than the act of writing toward preservation, must remember that the after-effect of disappearance is the experience of subjectivity itself. (…) Performance honors the idea that a limited number of people in a specific time/space frame can have an experience of value which leaves no visible trace afterward. Writing about it necessarily cancels the ‘tracelessness’ inaugurated within this performative promise. [Phelan 1996: 147-149]


The work of the performance (art) archive transforms this process of disappearance into manifest media artefacts of varying provenance. Writing about performance as a way of preventing its traceless disappearance gives rise to transformations, says Peggy Phelan, in which the subjective experience can be read by third parties. But what about the images – photographs and films? And other material traces – relics and objects? [3]

 

 

Archive Discourse and Mediality

Which documents and statements, traces and medial artefacts can the history (or histories) of the performative arts in general use? This fundamental question is asked with considerations of archive practice – collecting, organising and storing – in the age of digital media in mind. It recalls a concept of archiving developed by Michel Foucault. His vision of archive was not the state institution with its legal task but as the basic prerequisite for historiography in a system of discursive practices.

The archive is firstly the rule of what can be said (the system that governs the appearance of statements as individual events). But the archive is also that which ensures that all these things which have been said do not accumulate eternally and become part of an amorphous multitude or a seamless, linear continuation (…); but that they are arranged in distinct figures, connected on the basis of diverse relationships, assert themselves or become blurred according to specific regularities (…) [Foucault 1981/1969: 187]

In Foucault’s archaeological concept, the archive’s role as an aspect of discursive practices is extended to become a special kind of historiography, a characteristic of which it is to be constantly re-written:

Archaeology does not try to repeat what has been said by reaching it in its identity. It does not claim to become itself void in the ambiguous description of something read (…). It is no more and no less than a new account. [ibid. 199-200]

Current reflections on the archive combine demands for ‘fluid access’ to past events with questions of media theory. The authentication strategies that denote statements and images as documents are questioned and supplemented by aspects of contemporary practices in and on the archive. The documents or traces – both terms must be more precisely defined in the light of media theory – of performances are perceived as medial transformations, and the technical, aesthetic and discursive circumstances under which they take place must be considered. Their medial nature is no longer overlooked as simply the necessary premise for use but is perceived as the very precondition for making contemporary interpretations and contextualisation.

Reflecting on mediality in this way goes beyond the specifics of archives for performance art or dance (or other forms of performance) and relates to far-reaching questions of the possibility of and circumstances under which movement can be stored in various media. What is stored as movement (and in what way) in photographs, film and digital media? What are the resulting artefacts and what distinguishes them from the texts and musical scores which audiovisual media have followed, but by no means replaced, as forms of data storage?

Treatment of the audiovisual ‘recordings’ of a performance archive – both in work on and in the archive – should take into account the discourse of the documentary or the photographic as reflections on the relationship between object and image.

 

 

Documentation as Strategy – Photography and Archive

The photographic image has always been closely connected to the concept of the archive. Since the 19th century, photographs have been used as media data carriers in various fields of study including medicine, anthropology, history, meteorology and geology. As a (new) form of visualisation, photography was used for measuring and classifying, making inventories and presenting evidence. In Pencil of Nature (1844), Henry Fox Talbot envisioned the possibilities of the new visual medium: “The spectrum ranged from the time-saving reproduction of illustrations, botanical collections and documents to archiving and inventory-making functions and speculation over the photographic image as a ‘new kind of evidence’, as a ‘silent testimony’ in court.” [Geimer 2002: 8]

Collecting, recording, measuring and cataloguing are the central functions that have linked archival with photographic practices since the emergence of the medium and were applied to construct information systems [see Geimer 2002; Wolf 2002; Wolf 1996] [4]. They concur with the view that mechanically produced photographic images are recordings in which the phenomena themselves are inscribed. Despite the significance for historical discourse of the mode of recording and the limitations of the respective technology [see Wolf 1996: 248-251], the basic idea of the relationship between object and image remains. As technology has become increasingly sophisticated, the idea that photographs provide true images – in so far as phenomena and things are inscribed on to them – has become supplemented by the observation that photographs can make movements perceptible which are not directly accessible to the human eye, as in chronophotography.

With these few references to the early history of the link between photography and archive I would like to outline a field in which the artefacts of the performance archive can (and should) be contextualised. Both the appearance of simple readability, accessible by direct viewing, and the presumed value of visual artefacts as evidence point to the special relationship between image and object in the case of photography (and film) which is also described as ‘indexical’.

The ‘index’ is another context which the relics of experience can be placed in by photography. In so far as the photograph belongs to the class of sign with a physical connection to the subject, it is part of the same system as print, symptoms, traces, clues. In this sense, the photograph differs fundamentally from the semiological conditions of other forms of created image, described as ‘icons’. Due to their function as signs, photographs therefore serve as the theoretical object enabling artworks to be seen. (…)
(…) This (specific aspect of the complex nature of the photographic sign) is concerned with the technical fact that photographs form a different, procedural relationship with their subjects than paintings, drawings or other forms of representation. While paintings can be created from memory or imagination, a photograph – as a photo-chemically produced trace – can only arise from an initially physical connection with the subject. The process of reference takes place along this axis, which Charles Sanders Peirce refers to when he discusses photography as another element in the class of signs that he calls indexical. “Photographs,” he writes, “especially instantaneous photographs, are very instructive because we know that they are in certain respects exactly like the objects they represent. But this resemblance is due to the photographs having been produced under such circumstances that they were physically forced to correspond point by point to nature. In that aspect then, they belong then to the second class of signs, those by physical connection.” [Pierce 1955, 106]. Peirce calls this class of sign ‘index’. [Krauss 1998a: 15 and 1998b: 79]

 

Peirce developed the index sign type in his three-part sign system at a time when photography was just becoming established as a pictorial medium. For this reason the medium of photography is an essential part of his codification [Lunenfeld 2002: 166-167]. Its advantage here is that it derives the special relationship between the object (in front of the camera) and the photographic image – often described as its reference to reality unlike other, previous image-creating techniques – from the technical procedure itself. The concept of ‘index’ has been formative for discourse on photography and is frequently mentioned in connection with another term, much contemplated in the field of media theory in recent years: that of the ‘trace’. Peter Geimer has pointed out that it is precisely the technology of photography that makes photographic images as traces or impressions of the phenomena pictured ambiguous. Strictly speaking, only the photogram can be regarded as such [Geimer 2007: 95-120]. But the effect of the photographic image as a reference to reality – to something that was there – still prevails, even if we are now conscious of the constructive methods involved in photography.

Lastly, this relationship between object and image in photography and film concerns the concept of the ‘documentary’. This too stresses the authenticity and evidential value of the image as a ‘seen’ reality. The concept of documentary work first entered the discourse on photographic and filmic modes of representation in the late 1920s in reaction to the growing number of film genres and the artistic aspirations of certain photographers of the early 20th century. The documentary is concerned not only with authentic evidential value over a long period of time but also with political and educative aims, didactic measures, the constitutions of public institutions and the development of new journalistic formats [e.g. Solomon Godeau 2003]. Contemporary discourse on the documentary, especially with regard to film, no longer speaks only of strategies of the authentic and authentication [e.g: Hattendorf 1994], dealing with documentary construction as a form of mise en scène both in front of and with the camera. It also speaks of the fact that an element of this construction lies in the contextualisation of how films are presented and perceived, that is, how their reception is arranged [Odin 1991]. When we speak of visual documents in the performance art archive, we should be aware of this connection and take it into consideration when re-reading photographs and films/videos.

Below I would like to look at examples of two aspects concerning both work on and in the archive:
Firstly I would like to point out the relevance of the mode of recording for the readability of the archive’s visual artefacts. This can be described, in the words of Vilém Flusser, as an aspect of the ‘apparatus-operator complex’ [Flusser 1998]. Secondly, with respect to the difference between photos and film in the work of the archive, I would like to discuss the significance of modes of arrangement for publishing and presenting image series and moving images etc.

 

 

'to capture motion': Photography as Archive Work

By far the most and best known pictures of early performances are photographs which were usually published in magazines, newspapers or catalogues. Often single pictures or a sequence of a few pictures became imprinted on the public consciousness beyond the experience of those who had attended. These images condensed performances into a selection and sequence of a few, spectacular moments, portraying them again and again over the decades.

Work on the visual archive for performance art of the 1960s and 1970s is closely linked to photographers who perceived their work as documentary. In view of this, Alice Maude-Roxby asks at the beginning of her contribution to the catalogue of the exhibition Art, Lies and Videotape:

Given the current fascination with documentation, why are the photographers of seminal performances largely unknown? Why have they not been engaged in dialogue about their experiences in translating live art into still photographic images? Why do myths suggest that the photographs just happened? [Maude-Roxby 2003: 66-67]

In the course of her research, Maude-Roxby looked for answers to these questions by interviewing performance artists and photographers, visiting their archives and designing the exhibition Live Art on Camera, which was shown in 2007 in the Hansard Gallery in Southampton [5]. Her observations make it clear that performance photographs should be seen in the context of contemporary photographic practices, the photographer’s body of work as a whole and his creative ‘signature style’.

Within the photographers’ archives I often noted surprising similarities within image compositions as well as how the body had been framed across several portfolios of work, widening a sense of how photographic styles and conventions are characteristic of broader cultural and temporal influences. Diverse portfolios were sometimes linked by an evident photographic style, connecting the performance photographs to entirely different image contexts. At other times there seemed little stylistic connection but rather social or cultural common ground adding to an understanding of the underlying conceptual content of a performance and its relationship to contemporary culture. [Maude-Roxby 2007: 1-2]

In the interviews printed in the catalogue she goes into some of these aspects in more depth. I will take up only one aspect here: the mode of photographing. In this context, what is referred to above as ‘(signature) style’ could be more precisely described in the sense of Vilém Flusser as a result of the ‘apparatus-operator complex’ [Flusser 1998: 181]. This arises from the technical circumstances and the creative decisions which these elicit from the photographer, implying here also a conception of the documentary. [6]

 

Babette Mangolte and Peter Moore are two important photographers for performance art archives. I would like to address a few points emerging from their experiences and reflections.

Peter Moore began working as a photojournalist in the 1950s for LIFE magazine in New York, where he discovered the art scene as a subject for his photography. He photographed Fluxus events, Happenings and Judson Dance performances, among other things, with almost systematic regularity. It is said that he and his wife Barbara accumulated an archive of 300,000 negatives over the next 30 years [Maude-Roxby 2003: 72]. In a rare published interview in 1974, Moore spoke about his attitude and working method in situations in which documentation was his priority.

What you’re trying to do is to do justice, as much as you are able to do, to the intent of the artist, rather than impose your own point of view on it. (…) There will be times where everything comes together: your personal esthetic, their work, and your reaction to it … essentially I am still limited to photographing my reaction to the rhythm of the piece. [Argelander/ Moore 1974: 53]

Moore declined shooting photo sessions, rarely photographed at rehearsals and chose a position at performances that blended with the audience. He used a camera that made little noise and worked without flash, not wishing to cause a distraction. While he sees himself as an observing viewer, he often chooses a frame in which other viewers – members of the audience – are visible.

Moore describes the photographic exploration of a performance and its space as a movement from the general to the specific and speaks of ‘establishing shots’, a convention more familiar to us in film [Argelander/Moore 1974: 53]. It seems logical, then, to see his photographs as series which follow certain dramaturgic rules, also where the photographer is concerned. Such series have hitherto, to my knowledge, not been published. The serial aspect has been a fundamental element of movement images ever since chronophotography experimented with analysing movement by means of regular single shots. The question of what series can make visible differently from moving images in film and video, and how they can be differently read, remains largely unanswered. The same is true of the question of how they can be reproduced or published.

In an interview, Moore commented on the above mentioned problem of representing performances by single images and controlling selection:

One can photograph the thing with all the ethics in the world and with no desire to produce an unreal or untrue coverage, and then you’re only able to control the selection to a limited degree. [Argelander/Moore 1974: 55].

The photographer, camera-woman and film-maker Babette Mangolte describes the central aspects of her early work on performance archiving in the essay published here and on her website. Drawing on her comments, I would like to highlight an interesting point concerning the history of movement images.

In my own practice I merged the two organizational concepts of automatism and chance. Developing automatism in shooting photographs is not difficult. Essentially it relies on being very fast in setting up exposure, on focus and framing, and to dare to fail if you got too fast. You will get better at it, over time, so speed is of the essence. My motto was: Shoot first and think later. [Mangolte 2006: 38]

Even if here it only exists as imitation in some respect, this idea of automatism refers back to the concept of a unity of man and machine which played a role in art of the 1960s. One example of this is photographer Ed Ruscha’s 1966 photo book Every Building on Sunset Strip. Here, Ruscha simulated a photographic automatism by installing a camera on a car and photographing the entire street in fixed time brackets while driving along [Schröter 2005].

This brings the technical aspect of photography to the fore. The speed of release imitates formal structuring, e.g. in the timed release mechanisms of chronophotography. This comparison of different modes of photographing raises the question: Is there really a connection to the early methods of photographic motion capturing which Etienne-Jules Marey and Eadweard Muybridge worked on in the late 19th century? These two best known representatives of chronophotography designed an experimental system for breaking down the movements of humans and animals into a series of instantaneous shots. In this way they aimed to portray phases of movement and measure the differences between them. By means of the camera’s mechanically timed release mechanism and a carefully planned arrangement of figure and background, they tried to capture motion. Storing movements with the help of photography implies breaking it down into discrete images. The mechanical timing corresponds with the idea of the mechanics of movement. To ensure the effectiveness of this method of movement analysis the intervals between the shots had to be kept as short as possible. The speed at which the release mechanism worked and the exposed surface could be transported played a significant role [see Frizot 2008; Braun 1992; Marey 1893].

 

Can this historical, experimental motion recording system be placed in the same context as Mangolte’s description of her method of documenting performance in photographs?  The speedy release which she speaks of is not regulated by any mechanism or numerical system but by the photographer’s intuitive physical movements in reaction to the rhythm of a movement taking place before her.

Nevertheless, the basic system of photography – breaking down time and motion into “arbitrary moments” with the help of a technical arrangement [7] – remains the same. As does the question of how motion can be read from these individual images in series, or how a specific readability can be achieved in the serial arrangements of the photographer. Not only Muybridge’s practice of combining single images in projection (using a zoopraxiscope) to portray movement is significant for historical discourse but also his method of publishing his motion studies in print form [8]. The different effects of various forms of presentation should be taken into account when discussing ways of gaining access to visual artefacts of the performance archive.

 

 

Stills, Movement Images and Installations

Methods of creating order in work on and in the archive

Moving images in film and video – going by their superficial similarity here – are used in various functions to produce visual artefacts for the performance art archive. One possible method is the filmic representation of interviews, eyewitness accounts or the retrospective reflections of the artists themselves [9]. They allow the account’s expressiveness to be visualised just as they allow a dialogue situation as a form of contemporary appropriation of performance history to be made visible (as is the case in the above mentioned project by Heike Roms). At the same time they also rely on the authority of those who were present as the condition for the readability of historical events [10].

Film and video are used much more frequently to ‘record’ performances. I would like to come back to Babette Mangolte’s reflections – published here – and the differences she describes in work in photography and film. Photography, she says, “deals with how to compose a space,” [Mangolte 2005: 44] and it places the emphasis on the iconography of a performance work. It cannot communicate a concept of time or duration and necessarily suppresses the process character, one aspect of which is the relationship between performers and audience. Film, on the other hand, has to react with corresponding camera movements in order to be able to give an adequate impression of the movement in front of the camera. Mangolte elucidated this interaction in the context of working methods for her first dance film, the filmed version of Trisha Brown’s short solo Water Motor.

As a filmmaker I knew that dance doesn’t work with cutting and that an unbroken camera movement was the way to film the four-minute solo (…). [Mangolte 2007: http://www.babettemangolte.com/maps2.html]

Movement is the essential connection between performance and film. For this reason, in Mangolte’s view, recording with a static camera does not give an adequate portrayal.

 

It is crucial for the readability of the audiovisual artefacts of a performance archive that the different media formats supplement and comment on each other. This brings us to the question of their arrangement in a presentation – of whatever kind – as contemporary appropriation, whether in printed book form or in the view of an exhibition. This arrangement must be able to portray contexts and movement, as the early example of chronophotography did, with individual pictures arranged and presented on panels in Muybridge’s Animal Locomotion [Muybridge 1979]. In this respect, film can also be understood as a special form of arrangement, portraying the duration and dynamics of a performance in a basically linear manner, even if it does involve montage, framing and changing camera perspectives [11].

Light is shed on the relationship between different forms of arrangement by another example from the work and comments of Babette Mangolte. Discussing Trisha Brown’s dance performance Roof Piece (1972/1973), Mangolte summarised the performance’s conception thus: “The dance tested the erosion of movement by transmission as in telegraphy. It was also about revealing the majesty and privacy of downtown roofs and the sculptural effect of its water towers.” [Mangolte 2007: http://www.babettemangolte.com/maps2.html]

The photo shown next to the cited text is one of those emblematic single images that have become inscribed in the history of dance and performance.

The urban space, its architectural peculiarities, and the broad range of the (camera’s) view dominate the picture and highlight the smallness of the figures. They by turn make something of the dimension of the dance performance visible. This photo creates a coherence of the performance space with a very striking pictorial quality. But the fundamental aspect of the performance’s experimental movement arrangement – the transmission of a movement across a great distance and what comes out of it – cannot be made visible. For this reason, Mangolte filmed three 16mm colour films from the start and the end of the transmission line and from a midway perspective, taking in very distant roofs, from a static camera position. With these films – compiled and presented in a certain order – it was possible to make visible what none of the viewers actually present could see: “There was no place from where you could see it all. Actually the dance piece could only be seen in retrospect through recording and replay.”     http://www.babettemangolte.com/maps2.html

How could the three fragments of the performance view subsequently be re-arranged in connection with one another; how could they be arranged so that they are readable in different ways?

A film version exists on DVD [Brown 2004], composed of parallel excerpts of the three films and corresponding with the length of the actual performance (approx. 30 minutes) – i.e. using only a third of the entire film material. Although this conveys an idea of the performance’s conception, it fragments the movement sequence. No image of a transference movement can be created on a linear film strip.

 

In the section Image as Icon of the above mentioned exhibition Art, Lies and Videotape, Mangolte arranged the three films and the much-cited photo of Roof Piece as an installation. The three colour films are projected alongside each other on three screens while on the opposite wall of the exhibition space there is a print of the photo as well as contact prints of the photos that were taken in series on the same day.

The installation contrasting the photo and film of the same event made it possible for the viewer to reflect on the immediacy of the single photograph and the complexity of the thirty minutes performance. [Mangolte 2007: http://www.babettemangolte.com/install2004.html]

In the exhibition Live Art on Camera, also referred to above, Mangolte tried out other aspects of arranging photographs as an installation. The title of the installation Looking and Touching refers to two ways of approaching photographs.

The installation proposes various ways to view, feel and touch photographs. The framed prints on the wall are seen from a distance, which imposes a certain theatricality to how we look at photographs. You are encouraged to manipulate the photographs on the table and compare them to the contact sheets or framed prints on the wall. This allows you to examine the photo details in close up and to create your own composition and collage. The sound that is coming from the two monitors brings the context of the time when the photographs were taken. The images from the films evoke the spaces where the people in the photographs and photographer lived. [Mangolte 2007: http://www.babettemangolte.com/install2007-2.html; O’Dell 2005: 35 - 36]

Video and performance artist Joan Jonas, whose work formed the focus of the 2004 exhibition After the Act curated by Barbara Clausen, has pointed out the special possibilities of presenting artefacts from the performance archive in an installation context:

The first big installation of  a performance was for my retrospective at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam in 1994. I tried to re-constitute my performances in the exhibition space and make them three-dimensional. There is no specific viewpoint that the audience is limited to. Which means, that even if there was a stage in the performance, for example, I would re-construct it as such, becoming part of the installation. The installation of the pieces was very much about a multiplicity of simultaneous actions and visual elements, including photographs. [Jonas 2006: 57]

Installations of film and photographic works now constitute an independent format of artistic work in museums and exhibitions. The arrangements of archive materials discussed above rely on them. They not only allow viewing from different perspectives and connections to be made between different media formats. Close up or from a distance, the different formats in the space can also make visible the questions addressed here.

 

 

Translation: Charlotte Kreutzmüller

 

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[1] The curator Barbara Clausen raised the question of “to what extent the current socio-political and cultural desire to appropriate actionist gestures from the past is connected to the current institutionalisation and commercialisation of performance art.” [Clausen 2006: 9]
[2] The project What’s Welsh for Performance – Performance Art in Wales is documented in detail at: www.performance-wales.org
[3] The investigation of this should follow the question of which artefacts diverse exhibitions rely on (notations, storyboards, sketches, photos, videos and films) and how they are arranged and presented.
[4] In a much-cited essay, Allan Sekula, in reference to Foucault, examines how the relationship between photographic image and archival arrangement culminates in a specific practice of control and exclusion of the Other, referring to archives of body images, how they arrange the physiognomy etc. and their political implications. [Sekula 2002/1986]
[5] My comments on both exhibitions, Lies, Art and Videotape and Live Art on Camera are based solely on the catalogues as I was not able to see the exhibitions myself.
[6] Publications have hitherto contained little on photographers’ technical equipment or their working methods in the darkroom. They must therefore be left out of consideration for the present.
[7] Gilles Deleuze uses this concept when discussing Bergson’s ideas on the movement image in his book Cinema 1 – The Movement Image. In it, he writes: “Now, however, in L’évolution créatrice (Bergson) not everything is reduced to one and the same illusion about movement, at least two very different illusions are differentiated between. The basic mistake always consists of reconstructing the movement out of moments or positions: there are however two approaches to this, the ancient and the modern. In the ancient approach, the movement refers to intelligible elements: forms or ideas that are themselves eternal and immovable. (…)A movement perceived in this way therefore exists in the ordered transition from one form to another, that is, in an order of poses or highlighted moments as in a dance. (…)
The revolution in theory of the modern age came when movement was no longer linked to highlighted moments but to any arbitrary moment. In so far as the movement was re-constructed at all, this was no longer done on the basis of transcendental elements of form (poses) but by immanent material elements (cuts)." [Deleuze 1997: 16-17]
[8] Muybridge published his approx. 30,000 movement photographs, commissioned by the University of Pennsylvania 1884-87, in an atlas of how different creatures move: Animal Locomotion [Muybridge 1979/1887] It has been pointed out several times that not only the scenic motifs and the selection of the photos per panel but also their scanning and framing on the pages of the book follow a specific arrangement [see Braun 1992: 238-254; Gunning 2003].
[9] One example of this form of appropriation of performance history is the DVD series Performance Saga – Encounters with Women Pioneers of Performance Art, which has been published in 8 parts by Andrea Saemann and Katrin Grögel.
[10] In the broader context of films as historical documents, Eva Hohenberger has pointed out that the figure of the ‘eyewitness’ is also a medial construction. The eyewitness account becomes evidence by the fact that it takes place in front of the camera, in public, and “(…) his speaking is monitored by the fact that his body is made medially readable” [Hohenberger 2003: 108]. This aspect also seems worth considering in our context.
[11] Although this is not the place to discuss this idea at length, I would like to draw attention to Joachim Paech’s related thoughts on the relationship of Deleuze’s concept of the movement image to his later concept of the diagram developed in the context of painting. In the conclusion of his essay he writes:
“Because the diagram is not the movement image, it can assert image and movement as the bipolar relation which is inherent in all medial forms. The increasing number of images raises the question all the more of what happens between them, rather than to postulate them somehow in the sense of the (albeit broken) unit of the ‘movement image.’” [Paech 2002: 161]
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