Between Evidence and Representation: A New Methodological Approach to the History of Performance Art and Its Documentation

Posted on Tue, 12/31/2019 - 13:36

Contemporary Theatre Review Volume 29, 2019 - Issue 4

First coined in the United States, ‘performance art’ became during the 1970s a transnational term classifying a diverse group of bodily and live artistic practices. Simultaneously, artists, curators, art dealers, and galleries dealt with the question of how to exhibit, conserve, and circulate these art forms. Some of the enacted strategies became canonic, establishing paradigmatic models for dealing with this new genre. Despite the extensive of research on performance art history, this disciplinary history of performance art remains largely unexplored. This article provides a methodological approach for such analysis, proposing a focus on the documentation of performance art: the photographs, films, videotapes, and relics used to mediate performance in the field of visual art. Through the analysis of the exhibition, circulation, and conservation of performance art documentation, the methodology investigates how performance art and its epistemic objects have been constituted. To this end five fields are taken into consideration: the production of documentation, the archive, the art press, the art exhibition, and the economics of art. The aim of this methodological approach is to make legible two concurrent dynamics that characterize this disciplinary formation: the containment of performance-based art within the field of visual art, and the transformation of this same field as to integrate these new ephemeral art practices.