info I contact
editorial schedule
join the realtime email list
become a friend of realtime on facebook
follow realtime on twitter

magazine  archive  features  rt profiler  realtimedance  mediaartarchive




“[P]erformance’s only life is in the present. Performance cannot be saved, recorded, documented, or otherwise participate in the circulation of representations of representations: Once it does so, it becomes something other than performance. To the degree that performance attempts to enter the economy of reproduction it betrays and lessens the promise of its own ontology. Performance’s being…becomes itself through disappearance.”

Then suddenly, the conversation changed and we found ourselves talking not of absence, but of presence, repetition and remains. For a scholar who had only just oriented herself in the field, the switch seemed to come out of nowhere but on reflection it had been building for some time. Early indications were evident in Philip Auslander’s Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture (1999), in which he argued against the ontological and instead insisted on the historical and ideological nature of the live. The shift could also be seen in Diana Taylor’s The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (2003), in which she argued that while performance may escape the archive (text, document, history), it nevertheless endures in the repertoire (speech, gesture, memory). Shortly after this, came an abundance of books on the actor’s presence, including Joseph Roach’s It (2007) and Jane Goodall’s Stage Presence (2008). Since then, the trend has accelerated, with the arrival of Rebecca Schneider’s Performing Remains: Art and War in Times of Theatrical Reenactment (2011) and now Amelia Jones and Adrian Heathfield’s edited volume Perform, Repeat, Record: Live Art in History (2012).

theories and histories

This is a weighty book, in both senses of the word, and can be seen as a simultaneous compilation and consolidation of two decades worth of thinking and talking about Peggy Phelan’s formulations. Indeed, almost every essay in Perform, Repeat, Record refers to her. The book is divided into three sections, the first titled Theories and Histories. It consists of 13 essays which deal with three overlapping themes: disappearance and documentation; the economy of reproduction and reception; and the globalisation of performance as both form and field. In the opening essay, Auslander examines the photographs of Chris Burden’s Shoot (1971) and Yves Klein’s Leap into the Void (1960) to argue that “the crucial relationship is not the one between the document and the performance but the one between the document and its audience.” If the document produces pleasure, pain and thought in its interlocutor, then it is not simply an index of a past event but can be seen as a performance in and of itself. To put it otherwise, as Christopher Bedford does in his analysis of Shoot and its aftermath, performance can no longer be defined by, or confined to, its originary event. Instead, it “splinters, mutates, and multiplies over time in the hands of various critical constituencies in a variety of media, to yield a body of critical work that extends the primary act of the performance into the indefinite future of reproduction.” For this reason, he describes performance as having a “viral ontology.”

The language of the viral is also implicit in Mechtild Widrich’s account of the “repeated outbreaks” of VALIE EXPORT’s Genital Panic (1969). Widrich argues that this performance comes into being not through its live enactment (which may or may not have occurred) but through the artist’s descriptions of it as well as later photographs, posters and reenactments. The epidemic also finds its way into Mónica Mayer’s essay, when she states that “performance art is such a lethal virus that it has even infected the ways in which we register it.” But the broader thrust of her essay concerns the hitherto obscured history of performance art in Mexico, from the 1920s to today. In a similar move, Eleonora Fabião examines the work of Afro-Brazilian artist Arthur Bispo do Rosario, firstly to retrieve a history of South American performance but secondly to propose a theory of performance that focuses on its precarity rather than its ephemerality. She writes: “If ‘ephemerality’ denotes disappearance and absence (thus, predicating at a certain moment, something was fully given to view), ‘precariousness’ denotes the incompleteness of every apparition as its corporeal, moving, constitutive condition.” Likewise, Meiling Cheng considers Chinese performance in order to argue that “documentation reviews, repeats, records, relearns, and re-imagines a partially memorialized past to generate a present tense re-encounter with pieces from the past and to facilitate future generations’ reliving of these semi-processed pasts in their present moments. What we call ‘live,’ then, points to a perceiver’s present-tense intertwinement with the fleeting sense of being alive.”

In this way, Widrich, Fabião and Cheng reflect Schneider who, in an iteration of her 2001 article “Performance Remains,” argues against the archival logic that perceives performance as disappearance and proposes instead that performance persists “differently, via itself as repetition—like a copy or perhaps more like a ritual—like an echo in the ears of a confidence keeper, an audience member, a witness.” Jane Blocker treats the issue of repetition in more detail in her analysis of the work of Bruce Nauman and Steve McQueen, as does Andre Lepecki who discusses his reenactment of Allan Kaprow’s 18 Happenings in 6 Parts (RT83, p17). Here, instead of positioning the document as score for, or record of a performance—as is so often the case—Lepecki sees Kaprow’s scribbled papers as “nothing other than a necessary and unavoidable rehearsal.” Hannah Higgins deals with another iconic figure, George Maciunas, not so much to recuperate his reputation or work but rather to displace it and to bring other Fluxus members to the fore. Her analysis of the politics of reception sits nicely alongside Sven Lütticken’s chapter, which argues that “performance art has never been a real threat to the spectacle” or indeed to capitalism. Instead, it has become complicit in the economy of experience and when documentation is banned, as in the case of German-British artist Tino Sehgal, it merely serves to add to the event’s aura and expense.


In the second section we move from theories about documents to documents themselves. The section collates 20 documents by artists as diverse as Franko B, Nao Bustamante, Tim Etchells, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Orlan, Rabih Mroué, Santiago Sierra and Faith Wilding, among others. Some of these documents focus on a particular performance, as in the case of Sierra, who provides four pictures of Polyurethane Sprayed on the Backs of 10 Workers (2004), but leaves the brief commentary to Jones. Others consider a performance and its double, as in the case of Wilding who places the text of her iconic Waiting (1972) alongside photographs of its reenactment Waiting-With (2007). Still others take a chronological approach, as in the case of Gómez-Peña who rehearses a timeline of his life in art. Local readers will be interested in Lucas Ihlein’s account of his and Louise Curham’s recreation of Anthony McCall’s Long Film for Ambient Light at Artspace and in gallery director Blair French’s account of Aftermath (2007), which investigated the intersection of performance and installation and included works by Arahmiani, Guy Benfield, Franz Ehmann, Anne Graham, Tony Schwensen and André Stitt (all discussed and documented here; also see RT79, p8).


In the final section there are 11 interviews and performance lectures, with Jones and Heathfield participating in three apiece. The former interviews Carolee Schneeman, Marina Abramovic and Shezad Dawood about a range of issues, but in each instance the conversation comes back to the vexed issue of copyright. For Schneemann, the issue is that she cannot access some documentation of her work as it is being withheld by the documenter. For Abramovic, the issue is not simply about documentation but also the performance and, specifically, the performer. In performing other artists’ work, she seeks not simply to reactivate the past but to model an ethical relationship to it: “to show how we should really address these pieces…in re-enacting other artists’ works you have to ask permission, you have to do your own interpretations...there has to be a kind of seriousness to it.” For his part, Dawood attempts to sidestep the issue by incorporating photography into the performance itself, so that the two become indistinguishable.

Heathfield’s interview of Teching Hsieh (RT90, p52) focuses on his One Year Performance series. Of these, Hsieh says (echoing Auslander, Bedford and Widrich), “an audience’s presence is not vital. As long as audiences know my concept and the real action I did, they can use their own experiences and imagination to feel these artworks…[In fact, sometimes] being present physically may not be helpful.” Heathfield also interviews artist Janine Antoni, whose practice is at once “object-centred, site-specific, and process work.” While these two interviews are fairly formal, Heathfield’s encounter with Tim Etchells and photographer Hugo Glendinning [who has been investigating the nature of performance photography with Forced Entertainment. Eds] is more casual, but still contains some poignant thoughts on the “professionalization of presence” and the persistence of distance.

Other interesting interviews include Joanna Scanlan and Tilda Swinton’s conversation about agency and authorship in Swinton and Cordelia Parker’s performance-installation The Maybe (1995) and Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s discussion of their restagings of iconic rock gigs and the possibility of “re-witnessing…something that’s already mythologized, unwitnessed except perhaps by a lucky few.” Perhaps they could restage the work of Goat Island, the now-retired company of Lin Hixon and Matthew Goulish, but if not, we will always have their lyrical lecture performed here on the page as poem, script and image. Philosopher Jean Luc-Nancy performs a similarly poetic pas de deux with Mathilde Monnier, in which they discuss the role of repetition and medium in dance and the (im)possiblility of (im)mediation.

The breadth and depth of Perform, Repeat, Record are astonishing and the range of artists, scholars and insights invigorating. The book has been years in the making, hardly surprising when you consider the work involved in producing, sourcing and selecting all of this material, not to mention some of the writing (Jones and Heathfield’s introductions are excellent). While I initially read the book as a riff on presence and persistence, when I reread it I found this phrase from Heathfield: “Perhaps we should no longer speak of presence and absence, since there is neither one nor the other, but the tireless movement between: the continuous flux of bodies with other bodies. No more talk then of a unitary or self-coincident body. No integrities, but instead intensities of exchange and flow.” The achievement of Perform, Repeat, Record, then, is not that it recuperates presence but rather that it starts to destabilise the presence-absence polarity that has structured performance studies for the past two decades. It does so, not in order to plot a third way, but rather to facilitate the intense exchange and flow of ideas. It leaves me overwhelmed.

Amelia Jones and Adrian Heathfield, eds, Perform, Repeat, Record: Live Art in History; Intellect, Bristol and Chicago, in collaboration with the Live Art Development Agency, 2012, 656 pages;

RealTime issue #108 April-May 2012 pg. 30

© Caroline Wake; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

Back to top