An Introduction To Writing About H2Dance’s Strangers & Others

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Or A Fictional Construction Of Real Words Between Philip Auslander and Amelia Jones

Philip Auslander: 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. In the theatrical category, I would place a host of art works of the kind sometimes called “performed photography,” ranging from Marcel Duchamp’s photos of himself as Rrose Selavy 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.

Amelia Jones: The “unique” body of the artist in the body artwork only has meaning by virtue of its contextualization within the codes of identity that accrue to the artist’s body and name. Thus, this body is not self-sufficient in its meaningfulness but relies not only on an authorial context of “signature” but on a receptive context in which the interpreter or viewer may interact with this body.

PA: 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. 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.”

AJ: There is no possibility of an unmediated relationship to any kind of cultural product. The representational aspects of this work – its “play within the arena of the symbolic” and, I would add, its dependence on documentation to attain symbolic status within the realm of culture expose the impossibility of attaining full knowledge.

PA: Performances in the documentary category work differently, at least to an extent, because they generally have a dual existence: they are framed as performances by being presented in galleries or by other means and there is an initial audience to which the performer assumes responsibility as well as a second audience that experiences the performance only through its documentation. Chris 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 catalogues…in this way, Burden produced himself for posterity through meticulously orchestrated textual and visual representations.

AJ: Text documenting it for posterity – announces the necessity of “an infinite chain, ineluctably multiplying the supplementary mediations that produce the sense of the very thing they defer: the mirage of the thing itself, of immediate presence, or originary perception. Kristine Stiles has brilliantly exposed the dangers of using the photograph of a performative event as “proof’ in her critique of Henry Sayre’s book The Object of Performance.

PA: Whereas sociologists and anthropologists who discuss performance stipulate, like Bauman, that the presence of the audience and the interaction of performers and audience is a crucial part of any performance, the tradition of performance art documentation is based on a different set of assumptions. It is very rare that the audience is documented at anything like the same level of detail as the art action. For the most part, scholars and critics use eyewitness accounts to ascertain the characteristics of the performance, not the audience’s contribution to the event, and discussions of how a particular audience perceived a particular performance at a particular time and place and what that performance meant to that audience are rare.In that sense, performance art documentation participates in the fine art tradition of the reproduction of works rather than the ethnographic tradition of capturing events.

AJ: Body and performance art expose, precisely, the contingency of the bodyself not only on the other of the communicative exchange (the audience, the art historian) but on the very modes of its own (re)presentation.

PA: Lee B. Brown implies another possibility worth considering: that the crucial relationship is not the one between the document and the performance but the one between the document and its audience. Perhaps the authenticity of the performance document resides in its relationship to its beholder rather than to an ostensibly originary event: perhaps its authority is phenomenological rather than ontological. Just as one can have the pleasure of hearing Sinatra sing duets with singers with whom he had no real interaction, so one can have the pleasure of seeing Klein leap into the void or that of contemplating the implications of Burden’s allowing himself to be shot. These pleasures are available from the documentation and therefore do not depend on whether an audience witnessed the original event. The more radical possibility is that they may not even depend on whether the event actually happened. It may well be that our sense of the presence, power, and authenticity of these pieces derives not from treating the document as an indexical access point to a past event but from perceiving the document itself as a performance that directly reflects an artist’s aesthetic project or sensibility and for which we are the present audience.

Bibliography
Presence” In Absentia – Experiencing Performance As Documentation – Amelia Jones
The Performativity Of Performance Documentation – Philip Auslander
Strangers & Others – H2Dance

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