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How can performance art occupy the space and time of exhibition in ways that exceed documentation? Marina Abramović’s 2010 retrospective, The Artist is Present, employed a number of tactics including the re-performance of her works by other, specially trained performance artists. Spanning over forty years of her practice, the exhibition was sprawling not only in terms of the cast of collaborators who embodied her works, but was anchored by an intense durational performance by Abramović that saw her in the space of New York’s Museum of Modern Art for every hour of every day that her retrospective was open to the public. So, one way to anchor performance in the context of exhibition is to simply be there, literally. But how else?

The trap I keep coming upon is that a short temporal event within the context of a longer, larger show quickly disappears. How can the traces left behind not merely point toward the now missing event? Or, if the traces left behind somehow emerge as their own works–a film or series of photographs, say–then why not have those objects be the desired effect? Why bother with the artifice of performance?

I have no satisfying means of circumventing this dilemma, and as a curator I have a limited amount of experience working with performance, but I wonder if there is a way out of the circle by considering the object of an art practice to be a central idea as opposed to a medium. By shifting the focus from the specificities of a medium, and concentrating instead of the many aspects of an idea that can be brought out using different tactics, then the means employed become in service of deep reading, not just a pale reiteration of a revered moment.

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3 thoughts on “

  1. JW says:

    a huge part of what i love about performance is exactly that: a short temporal event within the context of a longer, larger show [or whatever its context may be] quickly disappears … but its effect does not. the blood immediacy of performance allows the performer and viewer to breathe together for a moment, and then that moment is gone. perfection.
    i don’t understand it as a dilemma to be circumvented… certainly one can shift focus from the intricacies of a performed moment to the many aspects of its larger ideas; this happens all the time. but those specifics of medium are where the magic is held, the deep reading occurs in the intangible moment, not to be reiterated. shifting focus away from the specifics of a medium possibly neglects or overlooks the detail that the artist has crafted within that medium …

    • It is magic, that shared moment of breath, the fleeting generosity of the performer and audience toward each other. That is so much (all?) of what makes performance alive. The dilemma, for me, is in trying to imagine performance as exhibition, by which I mean how can a performance live on in a gallery through time without the brute fact of a performer being there? Is there any way? Or is that a silly fantasy? I’m trying to think through whether or not it is possible to have the aura of performance in a space that does not collapse into the air of other media. Keeping the focus on performance, is there a way to vitally represent it?

  2. JW says:

    of course it is possible, and never a silly fantasy … perhaps you ought to re-imagine exhibition , rather than focusing on performance …

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