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Just when I thought that I had understood what I was doing…….

The eclogue is not just a sculpture. It is an event.

‘Performance’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’

(Phelan 1993, p. 146).

Peggy Phelan argues most persuasively that the strength of performance lies in its immediate presence in time. The performance ‘dies’ once being recorded, and all performance is under continual pressure to be recordeda. If this is so, do I care that my eclogues cease to be performances? I agree that documenting an event certainly changes its nature. The photographic event could easily be confused with the eclogue because we think that the click is the noise of transformation. In this scheme the first nanosecond of the noise might conceivably be the end of the eclogue as the death of the event! The dilemma of recording is the pull between the documentation (time control) of, and poetic accessibility of, the event. Lyotard (1991) is interested in the increasingly contingent nature of the future in modern societyb.

An event is something new to experience. If something is recorded, time is absorbed, and the event is destroyed. ‘What is already known cannot, in principle, be experienced as an event’

(Lyotard 1991, p. 65).

Phelan, herself, does not present a solution to visual documentation, but is more interested in shifting practice to the written medium. The tack taken is to evolve a writing method where the text is as much like performative utterances as it can bec. This is derived from the performative quality of all seeingd. Whilst this is helpful for identifying parallel visual strategies, I think this anxiety about performance is part of a larger shift in artworking, from object to audiencee. Sayre (1989, p. 5) notes that the audience still experience the recorded event, but through the eyes of the photographer. It comes back to asking whether people are happy with the ‘pseudo’ experience for an event that is not witnessed.

There are other strategies of performance which are of use to my working approachf. These vary from to dealing with the real, by using living bodies (even if hidden behind the camera) or by using real locationsg, to using theatricality and the set-up to its logical conclusion. An example of this is the construction of impossible events such as in Keith Arnatt’s Self Burial Sequence (1969, Figure 13). These strategies mentally extend the event’s boundaries so that it exists beyond the time that it happened and the snap of the shutter. Lyotard provides one example of conceptually reformulating what an event might consist of: things not already thought — of open ended questions. Again, this is giving up the space of the authorh.

‘But it must never be forgotten that if thinking indeed consists in receiving the event, it follows that no-one can claim to think without being ipso facto in a position of resistance to the procedures for controlling time…To question requires that something happen that reason has not yet known. In thinking, one accepts the occurrence for what it is: ‘not yet’ determined’

(Lyotard 1991, p. 74).

I read this as the space of the pensive. Another possible reformation is reworking the singular medium of presentation. Shapiro (1995) notes that Spiral Jetty is not only one thing but a film, a text and an objecti. This expansion of the event is an extension of Smithson’s preoccupation with displacement. Sayre (1989) argues that it is the way that he uses text (as if it was matter) that rescues Smithson’s work from flat documentation. I no longer believe that my work exists most strongly at a point exactly prior to being recorded, and the practicalities are actually finding ways of making the recording that is an expansive, rather than a contractive, artwork.

empty landscape

* First seen on German television in 1969. Each image was shown for 4 seconds, two images per night. Image 2 followed image 1 a couple of hours later. On the next night image 3 followed image 2, and so on.

back to essay

a I’m not even sure how ‘unmarked’ performance is, because performance that requires a real audience has to be fixed in time and place to be so. ha ha ha. [back]
b Because the ‘monad’ — too complex to explain here — consumes more and more data and is able to mediate (predetermine) more and more things before they happen.
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c A Constantive Utterance is to talk about something by describing something being done. Performative Utterances are when one directly does or makes something, to say what is being done.
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d ‘… The interaction between the art object and the spectator is, essentially, performative — and therefore resistant to claims of validity and accuracy endemic to the discourse of reproduction‘ (Phelan 1993, p. 147).
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e A shift for the audience ‘from the textual or plastic to the experiential’ (Sayre 1989, p. 5).
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f Performance has also influenced the object — especially the documentary object…. see ritual and narrative objects. [back]
g See the bit on sublime
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h ‘It would be presumptuous, not to say criminal, for a thinker or a writer to claim to be the witness or guarantor of the event. It must be understood that what testifies is not at all the entity, whatever it be, which claims to be in charge of the passibility to the event, but the event ‘”tself”. What memorizes or retains is not a capacity of the mind, not even accessibility to what occurs, but, in the event, the ungraspable and undeniable “presence” of a something which is other than mind and which, “from time to time”, occurs…’ (Lyotard 1991, p. 75). [back]
i ‘there is no primary, authentic object (the spiral) to which the film and essay are merely ancillary. One could say either that there are three distinguishable but interrelated works that bear that name or that there is one work existing simultaneously in a number of modes’ (Shapiro 1995, p. 7). [back]