Performance, Live or Dead

The Fall 2011 edition of the venerable Art Journal (vol. 70, no. 3) contains a round table on performance, registration and reenactment edited by Amelia Jones: "Performance, Live or Dead." This is not the transcription of an actual round table session, but rather a series of short texts by various practitioners of art and theory. In my contribution, "Performing Time" (pp. 41-44), I look back on my 2005 exhibition Life, One More: forms of reenactment in contemporary art, and discuss my shift towards greater interest in the ways in which performances (reenacted or not) function within the current "economy of time." This strand of thought is developed further in the article "General Performance" and in my upcoming book History in Motion

Together with Adrian Heathfield, Amelia Jones also edited the anthology Perform, Repeat, Record: Live Art in History (published by Intellect Ltd in London; distributed in the US through University of Chicago Press), which will be released in February 2012. The selection of texts looks excellent, and in contrast to some other anthologies out there, the editors strove to present texts in their entirety, which to my mind greatly increases an anthology's use value. However, this does mean that this (massive) volume comes with a hefty price tag. Included is an essay of mine that was part of Secret Publicity: "Progressive Striptease: Performance Ideology Past and Present". Overall I'm still quite happy with this text, which was published in Secret Publicity, though I erred by turning Kristine Stiles into some sort of ideological bogeyman on the basis of a few remarks.

Texts on aspects of performance seem to come with more than the usual share of contentious exchanges — perhaps because performance attracts the attention of several academic disciplines, including art history and, of course, performance studies. Territorial battles often inform writings. This is also apparent from the reception of Life, Once More. In the catalogue essay, I attempted to think with and through a certain critical tradition that problematized the traditional theater and its perceived separation of actors and audience, comparing the “activation” of audience members in historical pageants and in the modern war reenactments that emerged in the early 1960s to the art events and happenings that emerged in the same period, analysing both as (compromised) attempts to rethink and reform performance in a period in which Debord’s “society of the spectacle” was itself undergoing a performative turn. The traditional association of “spectacle” with “passive viewing”, then, became less tenable than before, as did that of performance with liveness and uniqueness and the identification of recordings as weak derivatives of the “orginal.”

Today I would define and qualify my use of terms such “theater” and “spectacle” much more, but to suggest that my essay aligns theater as such with “slavish imitation”, as Rebecca Schneider does in Performing Remains, her bid to become the go-to reenctment scholar (we all need goals in life, I suppose), is to miss the point in a rather spectacular manner. On the basis of my characterization of Jackson Pollock's fear that, in performing for Hans Namuth’s camera, his creative act had “degenerated” into mere play-acting, Schneider proceeds to pathologize me and my supposedly deep-held aversion to the theatre. It seems that performing the part of somebody's bogeyman is part of the game.

Texte zur Kunst no. 84: Melancholia

Make of this constellation what you will: Texte zur Kunst no. 84 (December 2011),  the thematic section of which is dedicated to feminism, also contains my review of Lars von Trier's Melancholia.