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.