.::..Nicholas Sagan..::. …:.::..artworks and experiments…::.:…nicholassagan@gmail.com

Contemplating Performance/ Article Response

Response to Photography and Performance

by Mark Alice Durant, Aperture (no. 199, Summer 2010).

Chris Burden seems to be one of the biggest go-to artists for this theme of performance and photography.  But in this case, as with many other artists who are discussed in this article, it is that the documentation of the performance becomes the work.  This is the most interesting ground to play in because while the performative works are events and pieces in of themselves, the photographs that follow are just as much their own work sometimes loosely correlated with the original ‘source material’.

Some of the examples mentioned in the article that are more on the end of ‘loose association’ are the Happenings of the Fluxists and Actionists.  While their “performances” (let’s call them what they were) happened to be events in of themselves, they were designed such so that they could not be replicated in another medium.  This is true of much of performance but in this case the photographs (and stories) are the only evidence of their occurring, as opposed to a typical theatrical performance where there is PR material, scripts, stark video documentation, etc.

Again, this is the case with Chris Burden, too.  His performative actions could definitely not be replicated in any other medium.  Of course, when the performers body is the primary medium it seems difficult to say, do the same things he did with a ceramic dish.  In this way not only was he documenting his performance, but he was also performing for the camera.  His actions were coordinated so that a more or less accurate representational record could be made.  As subtle as it may seem compared to the nature of his work, the camera was integral to his process.

Every time a photograph is taken of a performance, it gives that moment of the act “an unmistakable air of the sacred”, as Durant puts it.  To continue the logic of that statement, each documented performative act becomes ritualistic in that same way.  It is but a minor insignificance that these ritualistic acts are singular in nature, meaning they cannot fully become rituals as traditionally defined.  The very ephemeral nature of the each of the cases of performance presented in the article work against their recreation and therefore almost become a paradox.

But if there is one thing that has altered the nature of photography, it’s the application of it towards the documentation of performance.  There are certain instances where it comes in handy such as elimination of the peanut galleries as well as peripheral, accidental or circumstantial environmental conditions.  But it also has the ability to transmit authorship.  When we look at photos of Chris Burden’s work (or are the photos his work??) we see something controlled to a degree that is without a doubt the artist’s creation.  This process becomes “essential to the history and posterity of performance”.

As it was briefly mentioned earlier, there is a quality present to Burden’s work where he must be performing for the camera, i.e. staging his act for the purpose of documentation.  The typology of this form of medium is fundamentally altered when the artist acts with a conscience towards the camera.  This is often the proving ground for some of the most interesting occurrences of works or performances, whichever they happen to be called upon reflection.  It is fascinating that a whole world, or career in the case of Hayley Newman, can be constructed out of documentation.

Do celebrities really exist??  Do distant stars really exist?  You see, once the line between documentation of fact and creation of fiction becomes blurred the playground for something rich and paradoxical is exposed.  This is tied into the idea of the empirical paradox as well.  Since the devices we build are more or less extensions of our own meager senses (with the exception of a few big machines such as fusion reactors and the LHC) it follows that a camera is meant to be a device to record what we see.  In other words it is a visual empirical tool.  But much like telescopes and other ocular augmentations, the facts that we must choose to point them at something and that they mediate what we see (also by our choice and design) deeply embeds this paradox, one which can be exploited by the performative act.

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