Second Annual Colloquium

Performance Conservation: Interdisciplinary Perspectives

Friday, September 30, 2022

What does it mean to conserve performance, to sustain its life into the future? What is performance, if investigated as an event, process, object, documentation, and as an ongoing life, a way of world-making or of producing knowledge? What does performance become, as glimpsed through the lens of distinct disciplinary perspectives?

This online colloquium brings together artists and scholars of performance studies, anthropology, art history, musicology, and conservation to approach the question of the ongoing life and afterlives of performance. In this second annual colloquium organized by the research team Performance: Conservation, Materiality, Knowledge, we will pursue these questions in a series of lectures by prominent guest speakers, followed by a round table conversation. There will be a chance to engage with the speakers during a Q&A.

This colloquium is part of the ongoing research project Performance: Conservation, Materiality, Knowledge funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation at Bern Academy of the Arts. The project focuses on the questions of conservation of performance-based works, their temporal specifics, the involvement of the human and non-human body, and the world of their extended trace history, memory, and archive. Explored are notions of care, the ideals of traditional conservation and their relation to tacit or explicit knowledge, skill and technique. Taking as a starting point the necessity for conservators to access and deepen this area of study, and unlike queries that situate these questions within other disciplines, in this project, we approach performance as a necessarily conservable form.

This event is generously supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation and the Department of Materiality in Art and Culture, Bern Academy of the Arts.

Artist Gisela Hochuli is developing a Zoom performance, titled, In Strange Hands II, on the basis of instructions sent by the audience. When signing up, all attendees are asked to contribute a short, written event score or instruction for a performance.


All times are in CET.

1:30 – 1:45 pm: Welcome and introduction: Hanna Hölling, Jules Pelta Feldman, and Emilie Magnin

1:45 – 2:30 pm: Michaela Schäuble, Professor for Social Anthropology with a focus on Media Anthropology, University of Bern

2:30 – 3:15 pm: Thomas Gartmann, Head of Research at Bern Academy of the Arts, Specialist for Research in Performance Practice, Contemporary Music, and Music and Politics

3:15 – 3:45 pm: Performance, In Strange Hands II, by artist Gisela Hochuli

3:45 – 4:00 pm: Break

4:00 – 4:45 pm: Amelia Jones, Robert A. Day Professor and Vice Dean of Academics and Research at the Roski School of Art and Design, University of Southern California

4:45 – 5:30 pm: Dread Scott, multidisciplinary artist

5:30 – 6:15 pm: Philip Auslander, Professor in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication, Georgia Institute of Technology

6:15 – 7:15 pm: Panel discussion with Michaela Schaüble, Thomas Gartmann, and Philip Auslander, moderated by Hanna Hölling, Jules Pelta Feldman, Emilie Magnin, and Aga Wielocha


Michaela Schäuble, “Critical Acts of Repetition? (Ritual) Performance and Reenactment from an Anthropological Perspective”

In anthropological discourse, “conservation” is usually associated with environmental development programmes, biodiversity, sustainable tourism and/or indigenous economies. The conservation of ritualised performances (i.e. ritual drama, trance, and dance) using audio-visual media is – apart from previous salvage anthropology efforts – less frequently thematised. In recent years, however, religious practices and ritualised performances are increasingly (re)constructed and displayed as cultural heritage in public spheres and for various audiences, including the art world. Such performances, staged presentations and commodified re-appropriations present a conundrum and are highly contested, especially, when reenactments are involved: be it in theatrical and “living history” performances, museum exhibitions and art galleries, and/or on television.

But what happens, if a repetition or a mediatised reenactment freezes a (ritual) performance in time? Furthermore, what happens to a ritual if it is “performed” for a theatrical audience? In which contexts is it inadequate or inefficient to distinguish between “authentic” and “staged” ritual performances or heritage?

I will discuss these questions with reference to my own research on ritual performances, reenactments and re-medialisation of Apulian tarantism, a spider possession cult that has been endemic to Southern Italy for at least five hundred years.

Michaela Schäuble is Professor for Social Anthropology with a focus on Media Anthropology at the University of Bern (CH). She also trained as a documentary filmmaker and regularly curates film programmes for exhibitions and festivals.  From 2013 to 2014 she was lecturer at the Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology (GCVA) at Manchester University (UK) and from 2008-2013 lecturer (wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin) at the Institute for Social Anthropology at the University of Halle-Wittenberg (Germany). In 2009 she completed her PhD with a dissertation on nationalism, gender dynamics and the politics of commemoration in post-war Croatia.  Her current research focuses on ecstatic religious cults and saint veneration in the Mediterranean. As head of the SNF Agora project “Tarantism Revisited” she, in collaboration with Anja Dreschke, uses film and photography as a research tool in investigating re-enactment and (religious) performances as sites of revitalising and negotiating tradition, heritage and cultural identity in Southern Italy.

Thomas Gartmann, “Can You Conserve Music?”

Can music be preserved at all? And what is being preserved in the process? Different types of music, such as classical music, improvisation and conceptual music, are used to explain the various problems. One excursus is devoted to self-playing pianos, a very special way of recording interpretations.

Thomas Gartmann is a musicologist, heads research at the HKB and conducts research on contemporary music, self-playing pianos, interpretation and improvisation, among other topics. On this topic, he has published the essay “Repeatability versus Unrepeatability in Free Improvisation”which occurred in The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy and Improvisation in the Arts, edited by Alessandro Bertinetto and Marcello Ruta; a volume Rund um Beethoven. Interpretationsforschung heute, co edited with Daniel Allenbach and is responsible for the SNF Agora project

Gisela Hochuli, Performance, In Strange Hands II

Artist Gisela Hochuli has developed a Zoom performance, titled, In Strange Hands II, on the basis of instructions sent by the audience. When signing up, all attendees were asked to contribute a short, written event score or instruction for a performance.

Gisela Hochuli is a performance artist and lives in Switzerland (Bern and Ruppoldsried). She studied economics and sociology at the University of Bern (1989-1996) and fine arts at the Zurich University of the Arts (2001-2005). Since 2002 she has been showing her solo performances in museums, galleries and at national and international performance festivals, in Asia, South and North America, North Africa and Europe. She also works in collaborations with various (inter)national artists. She organizes performance events, teaches performance art and interviews performance artists. In 2014 she won the Swiss Performance Art Award. She is a member of the Performance Art Network CH (PANCH).

Amelia Jones, “Curating Performance as Conservation? Thoughts on Queer Communion: Ron Athey

Using the exhibition I curated in 2021, Queer Communion: Ron Athey, as an example, this talk explores the question of how (or whether) to curate shows relating to live art practices in the gallery/museum setting. Can one curate performance art without reifying and “ruining” the energies of performance and the live? Is curatorial practice a place to experiment with alternative ways of historicizing live art? I argue, through my exhibition, that it potentially is. Rather than attempting to “conserve” performance by “curating” an artist’s individual performances, I specifically set out to explore how to honor the complexities of a lived career of performance through the formation of queer communities in and around the artist Ron Athey.

Amelia Jones is Robert A. Day Professor at Roski School of Art & Design, USC. Recent publications include the catalogue Queer Communion: Ron Athey (2020), co-edited with Andy Campbell (accompanying a retrospective of Athey’s work, which she curated); and In Between Subjects: A Critical Genealogy of Queer Performance (2021). Her current work addresses the structural racism of the art world.

Dread Scott, “Socially Engaged Performance and its Aftermath

In his talk, Dread Scott will discuss performance and its social and political reverberations in his artistic practice. The talk will consider both the future of Scott’s performance works and his own use of past gestures. Among the works to be discussed is Slave Rebellion Reenactment (2019), for which Scott led hundreds of participants in restaging the German Coast Uprising of 1811, the largest rebellion of enslaved people in the history of the United States. In carefully reconstructing a historical event – the memory of which was suppressed by anxious slaveowners – while deliberately embracing anachronism and utopian imagination, Scott insists on performance as a technique for actualizing the revolutionary power of past events in the present.

Dread Scott is a multimedia artist based in Brooklyn. His first major work, What Is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag (1988), made while he was a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, became the center of controversy, denounced as a desecration of the American flag by then-President G.H.W. Bush and outlawed by Congress. His work – in installation, photography, screen-printing, video and performance – addresses historical and contemporary injustice and inequality. His art has been exhibited at such institutions as the Whitney Museum of American Art, MoMA PS1, the Contemporary Art Museum Houston and at the Pori Art Museum in Finland. He is a recipient of a Creative Capital grant and Fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts. His work is in the collection of the Whitney Museum and the Akron Art Museum.

Philip Auslander: In Conversation  
In conversation with the colloquium organizers, Philip Auslander will elaborate his ideas about performance documentation. What is the relationship of a photograph or video to the performance it purports to document? What is the status of the document in art discourse? How can, or should, we distinguish between documenting, archiving, and conserving? What does it mean to document a performance “retrospectively”? And how have social media and livestreaming shifted what we understand a document – or a performance – to be? The audience is invited to join the conversation and share their thoughts.

Philip Auslander’s primary research interest is in performance, especially in relation to art, music, media, and technology. He has written on aesthetic and cultural performances as diverse as theatre, film acting, performance art, music, stand-up comedy, robotic performance, and courtroom procedures. He is the author of seven books and editor or co-editor of two collections. His most recently published books are In Concert: Performing Musical Persona (2021), Reactivations: Essays on Performance and Its Documentation (2018), Performing Glam Rock: Gender and Theatricality in Popular Music (2006) and the second edition of Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture (2008). Auslander is the editor of The Art Section: An Online Journal of Art and Cultural Commentary. He is also a working screen actor; you can see his credits on the Internet Movie Database

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Featured image: Documentation of Gisela Hochuli, In Strange Hands II, 2022.