Colloquium 2021: Talk summaries


1. Mapping the Field

May 29–30, 2021

View the schedule

View the speakers


Keynote: Pip Laurenson: Charisma, Desire and Understanding in the Conservation of Performance Art

Performance-based artworks have shifted the practice of conservators, registrars, archivists and curators working within the museum, to acknowledge and make more visible the networks of people and technologies that operate outside the museum and upon which the continued performance of these works rely. However, despite this shift in focus acting to potentially decentre the artist, the artist has remained persistently foregrounded and present for a range of practical, systemic and political reasons.

In this paper I consider the production of performance from the perspective of Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of desire as a way of understanding how a performance comes together as a fluid assemblage of socio-material relations. Whilst acknowledging the relevance of the theoretical framing of networks of care, I also draw upon the historical concept of charisma to understand how the role of the artist continues to operate within the ideas of transmission that are central to the conservation of performance art.

I do this within the context of the Andrew W. Mellon funded research initiative Reshaping the Collectible: When Artworks Live in the Museum and by considering a range of artworks which have recently entered Tate’s collection. Thinking through and with the different perspectives at play within these examples, I draw on practice theory to understand what is at stake for these different players and perspectives when thinking about the preservation of a performance artwork. I consider what kind of epistemic practice conservation is and how it changes in response to different artistic approaches. This paper concludes with thoughts about the role of learning, understanding and deciphering evident in the epistemic practices of conservation.

Erin Brannigan and Louise Lawson: Precarious Movements: Contemporary Dance as Contemporary Art in collaboration with the Precarious Movements team

Precarious Movements: Choreography and the Museum (2021-2024) is an Australia Research Council funded project that aims to bring artists, researchers and institutions into dialogue about best-practice to support both the choreographer and the museum, and to sustain momentum in theory and practice around dance and the visual arts. Against the backdrop of intermedial experiments in the mid-20th century, the 21st century has seen dance and choreography appear more frequently in art galleries and museums. However, processes and protocols concerning performance conditions specific to choreography, curatorial and conservation practices, and theory have lagged behind. Precarious Movements firstly defines its field of study historically and theoretically. We understand our subject to be the area of contemporary choreography that is engaged in discussions and conditions that correspond to those in the scope of visual art in the contemporary situation. We contextualise this historically through an understanding of the key role dance-based knowledges played in the emergence of performance art, non-object-based or dematerialised art, post-conceptual, post-disciplinary and participatory art. In doing so, we put artists and creative practice firmly at the centre of our inquiry through multiple commissions and workshops, engaging their knowledge and experience as primary research and supporting dancers and choreographers as important end-users.

Rachel Mader and Siri Peyer: Interfrictions (a rubbing together) – the ‘ephemeral’ meets the ‘static’

Within the framework of our research project Collecting the Ephemeral. Prerequisites and Possibilities for Making Performance Art Last (financed by the SNF, 2019 – 2023) together with our cooperation partners, consisting of collection representatives and performance artists from Switzerland, we started gathering expected challenges for an inclusion of live performances in smaller and medium-sized institutions. These are not only evident in all areas of institutional practice, but also in the self-image of the actors themselves (curator or artist) and even reach beyond the framework of the institution, e.g. when it comes to the economics of live performances. These challenges suggest that a more systematic future inclusion of live performances in a collection context would have to be conceptualized as constant “interfriction” (a rubbing together), which would have to allow for something like the joint negotiation of the defining characteristics of the respective work or diverse forms of potential re-activations, as well as how the materially static concept of work and the institutional structures and functions would have to be rethought under this premise. In our contribution, we present the challenges based on the results of the workshop and outline possible strategies for handling them with reference to international examples, such as the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

Frieder Butzmann & theallstarszoomensemble, [<zooms‘n‘spells‘n’lights> – recharged], 2021.

The A L L S T A R S Z O O M E N S E M B L E commissioned Frieder Butzmann to compose a piece for the video conference platform Zoom in reference to the title of his latest book, Wunderschöne Rückkopplungen.

[<zoomsˋnˋspellsˋnˋlights> – recharged] is a digital magic operetta in tension between natural stupidity and artificial intelligence.

Hélia Marçal: Vitality and the conservation of performance

Performance art has long ceased to be considered as ontologically separated from any form of mediation. The ubiquitous nature of mediation has transformed the way we perceive and experience our world (Couldry and Hepp 2017), changing the ways humans interact with human and non-human bodies. The nature of memory itself has changed, becoming ever more connected to the ways we produce knowledge by creating and recreating spacio-temporal entanglements with non-human actors that thrive in our mediated world. Drawing on theories on vitalism and new materialism – from Gilles Deleuze (1966) to Elizabeth Grosz (2004) – this paper looks at the ethics of the conservation of performance through practices of difference, mediatisation, complexification, and memorialisation. Is the live in performance the only way for performance to be alive? Can performance be animated through objects, media, memories? How are the virtual and the actual aligned through practices of care?

Farris Wahbeh: A continuum of instances: archival strategies for performance-based artworks

As the Whitney Museum of American Art increases presenting, exhibiting, and collecting performance art, the necessity of conceptualizing a documentation strategy became essential in understanding how unique manifestations of a performance work is understood. This paper will walk through the development and creation of cataloguing practices that unpack the historical components of a performance and how that is conveyed as data points within a collections information architecture.

Developing a framework that draws on the differentiation between the performance “work” and each “performed instance,” the paper demonstrates the complexity in situating the documentation of performance art by formulating an archival descriptive practice that allows for the contingencies of time and history to be understood as a fundamental part of performance art, while recognizing that future activations of a work are catalogued as part of that genealogy.

Drawing on archival concepts, such as the records continuum, the paper will give concrete examples of how performance art pushes the boundaries of archival and collections information practices, but can give us further insight in developing core principles for their continued care.

Lizzie Gorfaine, Ana Janevski, Martha Joseph, Kate Lewis: Intellectual Gifts: Case Studies in Collecting Performance

A sage colleague once described performance as an intellectual gift: each one presents a unique set of questions when brought into a Museum context. Over the last two decades The Museum of Modern Art has acquired more than 30 performances and presents a robust and dynamic performance program (until the pandemic). Performance in general has an impact on the foundation of the institution. It alters the time-space coordinates of the exhibition apparatus; it shifts the relationship with the public; it introduces an alternative idea of authorship; it challenges the established art economy; it exposes the museum’s human infrastructure and relationships. Additionally, it reveals the cross departmental approach needed to acquire, curate, present, and steward these works.

This presentation considers two case-studies: Simone Forti’s “Dance Constructions” (1960-1961) and Tania Bruguera’s “Untitled (Havana, 2000)”. These two historically distant and conceptually different works are good examples of how the institution can collect and preserve in material and non material ways. “Dance Constructions” are set dances based around ordinary movement, chance and simple objects. MoMA acquired the rights to perform the dances and their preservation is carried through person-to-person, a set of instructions developed with the artist over the last decade, a network of conversation and relationships. “Untitled (Havana, 2000)” combines milled sugarcane, video footage of Fidel Castro, and live performance presented in near-total darkness. Bruguera refers to her work from this period as Arte de Conducta, or “behavior art”—a practice aimed at “not representing the political but provoking the political.”

Keynote: Gabriella Giannachi: Conserving the un-conservable: documenting environmental performance for the 21st century

Moving on from debates as to the conservability of performance art and performance-based participatory works, this presentation suggests that the practices of collecting, archiving, documenting and re-interpreting performance constitute a valid and indeed even indispensable form of conservation. Recommending that we need to preserve a wide range of performance art works, this presentation shows not only that we need new models to do so but also that we need to build a new understanding of what constitutes performance. This presentation focuses specifically on the challenges of documenting and preserving environmental performance, a genre that is yet to be collected (and so documented and preserved) by most museums which is likely to play an increasingly central role in exhibition, research and teaching practices in years to come.

Keynote: Barbara Büscher: From the Work to the Performance and its Traces/Documents. Performance Art at the Intersection of Art History and Theatre/Performance Studies

Performance Art as an artistic practice whose works can be collected and conserved is mainly situated in the visual arts field and is discussed in terms of its proceedings. But Performance Art has developed at the intersection of visual art and (postdramatic) theatre/dance. The integration of dance/choreography as part of performance programs in exhibitions and museums is only one indication for the interweaving of two spheres, institutions, or apparatuses/dispositives (understood in the sense of Michel Foucault’s definition). Another indication for this rapprochement is what Claire Bishop has called “delegated performance.”

If we look at the relationship between the two apparatuses of theatre/dance and the museum/exhibition as a whole, we still find a distinct division based on their different forms of institutionalization – different modes of production, of organizing viewing space and time, of financing and circulation and, importantly, a division based on their different understanding of the work (of art).

Performance Art understood as the result of a development transcending (art) disciplines, include a variety of artistic practices focusing on the performance, presentation, enactment and process of generating the event.

The emphasis on the processual nature of the performance has made the “work” concept itself dynamic and no longer places central importance on identity but on difference, not on the materialization of an immutable object (the completed form of the work) but on inter-media net-works and the temporality of such constellations and dramaturgies.

Sooyoung Leam: Festivalising performance: Communication-Art Group (Un)archived

Advocating for greater mediation between the local and the global via ‘communication at all levels’ at the turn of the millennium, a group of six South Korean artists formed a multidisciplinary collective known as Communication Art Group (hereafter Com-Art Group) in 1990. Placing performance as the central medium of communication across generations, genres, genders, and cultures, it organized a series of outdoor festivals until its disbandment in 1996. Although the emergence of Com-Art Group’s events coincided with the birth of numerous outdoor cultural festivals in Korea, it laid a particular emphasis on capturing and documenting immediacy, spontaneity, and festivity of its diverse performance programs. For the collective, not only was archiving the temporary, live events important, but devising effective ways of communicating them to future audiences. Drawing upon hitherto largely unrecognised and previously unpublished archival records, this paper examines the means through which the artist-led, self-organized collective documented its performance-based festivals. This paper thus proposes to consider what have been systematically disregarded as partial, unprofessional, subjective records as meaningful interpretations, rather than mere indexical evidences of the actual, outdoor performances. In doing so, it seeks to address broader issues, such as festivalisation of performance outside institutional settings in the early 1990s Korea; the implications of their presentation and documentation today.

Karolina Wilczyńska: Maintenance is never done. Care and preservation in Mierle Laderman Ukeles’s performances

The subject of my presentation will be the “maintenance art” of New York based artist Mierle Laderman Ukeles. Her performances equaled the daily work of a mother, an artist, employee and worker of municipal security services, referring to the nature of duties and positions assigned to particular roles in the society. The decision to consider work as art and art as work complicates Ukeles’s performances. The artist shifts between social field – where her extended performances takes place – and art field – where a documentation of those performances is exhibited. In the same time, Ukeles collects her own documentation in her office at New York Department of Sanitation as an official, unsalaried artist-in-residence. I will analyze what this maintenance artist preserves as notations of her activity in contrast to the gallery’s archive inscribed into institutional, neoliberal and market logic of performance documentation in forms of objects that would function in capitalistic circuit of commodities. I will put emphasis on the Ukeles’s tendency to archive her activity in bureaucratic manner. By preserving traces of her actions in form of maps of her routes with sanitation workers, correspondences, typewritten plans etc. she escapes the capitalist paradigm of creating ready to sell set of materials and she activates the archive in terms of ongoing, never-ending work of care and preservation.

Gisela Hochuli, In Strange Hands, 2021. Performance instructions.

Call for Instructions: For the colloquium, Swiss performance artist Gisela Hochuli is developing a Zoom performance on the basis of instructions sent by audiences. If you wish to participate, create and send in your own performance instruction to the artist. The instruction needs to be recorded as an audio recording (e.g. voice memo) on your smartphone or tablet and feature your first and last name and the year in which the instruction was created. Ensure a good quality of the recording and send the sound recording together with a text version of the instruction by e-mail to Gisela Hochuli by May

Iona Goldie-Scot: An Experimental Acquisition: Conflicting Conventions and Infrastructural Barriers

Since the birth of museums, the mission, language, and practices of these institutions have revolved around the object. However, the rise in performance-based art acquisitions in recent years challenges this clear focus, forcing those within the museum to consider new approaches in collecting and in preserving these works for future audiences. It increasingly seems that ‘unruly’ artworks (Domínguez Rubio 2014), such as performance-based works are asking for institutional change, but what institutional change is necessary in order for museums to effectively care for performance artworks within their collections? Reflecting on empirical research undertaken at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, this paper examines the Walker’s acquisition of Ralph Lemon’s Scaffold Room (2014) and the challenge of accessioning and caring for performance artworks within the traditional workings of the museum, even within an institution with a long and established history of performance curation. It traces the institution’s undertaking of what they described as an ‘experimental acquisition’ (Giannachi and Westerman 2018) in which, as opposed to collecting physical components such as props or relics from Lemon’s work, they hoped to gather a ‘collection of memories’ from all those who participated in the work in some way. This paper investigates the feasibility of this kind of approach and how it fits within the traditional structures, narratives and roles of the museum, and in particular how certain infrastructural barriers (Star 1999) might hinder its development.

Brian Castriota and Claire Walsh: Collecting in the Shadow of the State: Acquiring performance at the Irish Museum of Modern Art and institutions of care in the Irish context

This talk presents ideas around collecting and care in relation to a body of performance-based artworks newly acquired by the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA). It focuses on The Touching Contract—a collaborative work by Sarah Browne and Jesse Jones that confronts the reach of statehood from the perspective of the female body, part of their project In the Shadow of the State 2016-2018. Given the social and political specificities of The Touching Contract and the strong desire by both artists for it to be understood as a work with a distributed and delegated authorship, we are consciously working to acquire and care for the work following the principles of the collaborative methodology and feminist ethos in which it was made. In this talk we contextualise the ongoing acquisition process for this work and the unique ethics of care it embodies in relation to IMMA as a national institution, Ireland’s postcolonial context, and the highly contentious legacy of institutions of care in Ireland. As it is entering the IMMA collection in parallel to the development of our acquisition policy and processes around collecting performance, we also consider how this acquisition prompts a queering of wider entrenched museological policies, norms, and suppositions around ownership and care.

Ana Ribeiro and Louise Lawson: Caring for performance art in the museum: from acquisition to activation

When acquiring video installations at Tate it is standard practice to minimize the risk of not being able to access the artwork in the future. This is done by ensuring that the provided materials (e.g. audiovisual and equipment components) are in good condition and the different conditions to install them in the gallery are documented.

However, performance is pushing these practices’ boundaries. Common deliverables for performance include written instructions, audiovisual documentation and sometimes props. But where are the bodies and the gestures? How can we condition check them and ensure all that is needed to materialise the work in the gallery has been acquired without even experiencing the performance and its preparation? What should we be looking to compile at an acquisition stage, which allows us to mitigate risk until the performance is first activated?

This presentation offers an overview on planning to and acquiring performance at Tate, all the way through to its first activation in the gallery where contexts and transmission methods are experienced, and documentation previously created is assessed. Our work informs a discussion that reflects on how our experiences have shaped our approaches, resources and what needs to be further developed.

Keynote: Rebecca Schneider: Not, Yet: When Our Art is in our Hands

When we ask about how to conserve performance-based art, what are we asking? If we think of performance as itself a mode of conservation, what are we thinking? What is at stake in conserving changeability? Variability by design is as old as storytelling and the “changing same,” to quote Amiri Baraka, is a powerful mode of survivance. Thinking with hands, this talk asks what performance might teach us about endurance, duration, fungibility and the “not, yet.” What are the conditions in which the “not, yet” can thrive?