Portfolio Task 9- Short Essay

Question – Choose one theoretical reading and discuss how it has transformed your ideas about performance and archives?

For this question I have decided to look at Philip Auslander’s “the performativity of performance documentation”. The reading looks into the concept of photography as a form of documentation and its reliability within the context of an archive. Auslander explores two different forms of photographs in his reading to try and answer the question of whether a photograph displayed on its own can be classified as an archival source. He also asks us to question these photographs reliability before we engage with them in a performative setting. I have chosen this reading to look at because many of the archival sources I have explore though this blog including  Lucy x, have in some way used one or many photograph as their proof of performance, which has lead me to question how much should be believed.

In Auslander’s reading he reviews two performance’s use of photography to formulate an interesting argument. The performances he looks at are “Shoot” (1971) and “Leap into the void “(1960), Shoot (1971) was a performance piece were an artist paid his friend to shoot him in the arm, initially this performance was designed so that the friend would miss his arm however during the actual event he did shoot the artist. To document this event audience members and fellow artists capture photographs of the shot and the wound caused , these photographs along with an explanation of the event became the archival material. Whereas Leap into the void (1960) saw an artist leap out of a window as photographs were taken by on lookers and land safely in a net below. Yet when the photographs where displayed in their final state the safety net had been digitally removed which leads the audience to wonder whether the original jump was the performance or these new edited photographs are actually the performance. Auslander produced the idea that shoot captured a real event seen by audience members and relived though its photographs, he explains it as “replacing the reality it documents”(p.3) whereas leap into the void made two performance one lost at the moment the performance left the site of shooting and another through the photographs. Yet if it is possible to edit these photographs and no audience member knows any different should we really trust the photographs we find in archives.

With this in mind my group made a creative decision to display a collection of photographs in our piece; alongside other materials however after reading and applying these methodologies to our work even those photographs are of a questionable state. To explain this further our photographs were of a wedding, they are taken at the location where we carried out our filming, they display the correct clothing and props but I personally feel these are not completely true of our performance. This idea is generated because just like leap into the void our photographs are digitally altered, they have been adjusted to remove blemishes, increase the lighting so the day appears perfect and brightened so the wedding dress seems crystal white.  Our photographs are also staged, we never at any point in our filming stood how we are displayed in the photographs and I am then left wondering if these photographs are not an addition to the video but a performance in themselves.

From this reading and many of the others studied through this module I believe I have a clearer understanding of what archival material is and the concerns artists face when choosing to work with this kind of material. I also believe that this module has allowed me to think more carefully when  engaging with any form of theatrical material be it archival or not as unless you have carried out a wide amount of prior research you will never really understand what it is you are working with.

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Categories: Archive Materials and Rehearsals, Lectures | Leave a comment

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