5 – Performance Art and its Relation to Archiving by Barbara Borčić

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Performance Art and its Relation to Archiving

Barbara Borčić

Let us first tackle some of the possible relations between performance art and its documenta- tion. In general, performance art is a live event/action conceived as an art work and performed alive in front of the public to explore the performative in the context of visual arts. The physi- cal presence of an artist is crucial, and this can also include mechanisms of modern technol- ogy and mass media. Unlike traditional art forms which result in producing objects, perform- ance art is ephemeral, it exists solely in the present and sometimes only comes into life once. Believing that documentation cannot represent the power of live performances, some artists fail or even refuse to document their works. Nevertheless, archives include documentation of performances and since the 1970s the usage of video technology has become the prevailing form of documenting various ephemeral art forms. On the one hand, it is a time-based me- dium, it can reproduce movement and demonstrate a process, on the other hand it is easy to handle and control the recorded image. (action video: Jean-François Guiton, Coup de vent, 1990, Heure Exquise!)

However, the relation between the performance and the document is a complex one, ranging from a somewhat impartial camera, non-edited recordings in real time (as in the case of po- litical activism that has led Kjartan Slettemark to react to the re-election of president Bush: Killing time, a world-political sewage cleaning, 2004, Filmform) to acts directed and per- formed for the camera only, as exemplified by High Heel Sisters who playfully investigate their physical abilities in short gags (Shoe piece, Swim piece, Tree piece, 2002, Filmform).

Video as a document of performance art

Video equipment as a tool for registration can record a performance in its totality of time and space (video-taped performance: Lydia Schouten, I feel like boiled milk, 1980, NIMk). In such cases the usage of video is characterized by a static camera which records the event in real time, and shots from different angles or close-ups are quite exceptional. Even though a non-edited real-time recording is considered an objective document the usage of technological apparatus is never neutral. The point of view, the angle of shooting, the lighting, the cadre, the frame and the like already determine the recording and put forward an interpretation of the material – performance.

This supposedly objective document is often manipulated into an edited document, thus ex- posing the level of interpretation and subjectivity (art-documentary video: Maja Slavec who tested her power on a street of Ljubljana in Women Beauty Power Less, 2008, SCCA- Ljubljana). A documented performance performed live in front of the public or for the camera only can also be used as a basis for a video work (video art: Miha Vipotnik, Videogram 4, 1976/79; Ema Kugler, Taiga, 1996, SCCA-Ljubljana).