Saturday, July 12, 2014

Persistence of memory II: 'Live' and its other: the alter-live

[The writing is a part of "Persistence of memory: Methods and Perceptions in “Documentation”- Sustainability of the ephemeral" by Samudra Kajal Saikia]

From the very early stage when I started doing performance art in the '70s, the general attitude - not just me, but also my colleagues - was that there should not be any documentation, that the performance itself is artwork and there should be no documentation.
-Marina Abramovic

Documentation has continued to be an issue that plagues live art and ever since Peggy Phelan declared it a ‘betrayal’ of liveness it has been much debated academically if documentation can ever be representational.
Allan Taylor[1]

Let us proceed with views of two contemporary practitioners living in Delhi, Inder Salim, the artist-became-institute for contemporary performance dialogues in the city and Amitesh Grover, Assistant Professor of National School of Drama and a practitioner of performer along with technological interfaces. It was strongly put forward by Inder Salim that, a performance is a performance and a video is a video. Both are two distinguished mediums. Not even in ignorance they could be replaced in place of the other.[2]

"Are we still thinking of documented images of Performance pieces as authentic representations? I guess, video is video and performance is performance, both are autonomous in their respective domains. We can indeed randomly mix anything, but not at the cost of innocence." 

Then we come to Amitesh Grover another performance artist who argues for a parallel sense of "reality" set across by the digital world in contemporary times, which might alter the notion of "live" or "live-ness" that we have been perceived so far.

"The phenomenology of body has gone through a significant change. Technology has come and completely displaced the sense of 'live'ness for us. And this divorce in spatial dynamics has completely changed the way we look at the live body. This kind of a live-ness is asking us why it is important to be physically present and be live. Why is it still important to do a performance where the performer is physically present."[3]

With Grover's views of the new 'live'ness, we shall see the analysis of Sarah Bay-Cheng, in her "Theatre Squared: Theatre History in the Age of Media", where she says about the new "geography", "With the affordability and flexibility of digital recording devices and ease of distribution (e.g., web sites like YouTube and MySpace), moving images are rapidly becoming the primary currency for artistic exchange."

Allan Taylor deals with the same problem, "As we move further and further in the digital age, the issue of documentation has become a more prevalent and practical issue. With the ability to capture work on photo and film at cheaper and easier levels than in the 1990s and with the introduction of social media like YouTube, Twitter and Flickr, performance artists are expected to have a wealth of ‘proof’ that their work has existed before approaching a producer or potential funding partners. Applications from artists who choose not to document is often seen as low priority and occasionally discarded completely. This shift in the applications of documentation means that we must also be forward thinking in how we utilize it"[4].

Rebecca Schneider deals with similar anxiety in her "Cut, Click, Shudder: The ‘Document Performance’: “… recently, I have been engaged in trying to unthink  some of our long-sedimented distinctions between medial forms (such as between performance and photography) as I have been suspect of the category of the ‘live’, to the degree that it pretends to delimit a present moment to instantaneity. I have been also been suspect of the habit of the category of the ‘live’ to reify a supposed antithesis: very often posited as the object, the remains, the trace, or death"[5].

Among the diversified attempts within the art practices it is established that the technological devices: camera, internet, computer, graphics-tablet and so on, have not remained mere tools of 'capturing' for re-visionary looks. But at the same time, by large those are tools for documentations as well. "Supposedly, a photograph is always already a record, as it appears to survive something that can be called the ‘live’ event- standing in as a trace or document of something that ‘was there’ (as Barthes would have it) but ‘is’ no longer. Does this way of thinking about photography limit our access to a photograph as event- as a performance of duration- taking place ‘live’ in an ongoing scene of circulation, re-circulation, encounter, re-encounter, and collaborative exchange with viewers, reviewers, reenactors, re-performers, re-photographers?”[6] Now the slippery surface occurs where a documentation tends to become an artwork, and a work holds the sensibilities of a documentation. The threat in front of the conventional understanding of the 'live' is much more severe today.

"In 1964, Canadian pianist Glenn Gould quit live performance in favor of perfecting recordings of his performances. In an essay published two years later, “The Prospects of Recording” (1966), Gould explained his decision by predicting that in the next century, the live concert would reach “extinction.” Citing the example of Gould, Sarah Bay-Cheng points, "The end of the live concert may never come, but Gould’s comments are eerily prescient of contemporary performance and its reliance on recording technology: first film, then video, and, more recently, digital recording. Much attention has been paid to the impact of these technologies on live theatre production and reception, but little criticism to date has considered the impact of recording technology on theatre history, on the archive in the making. And yet, moving images on screens have become a dominant, arguably the dominant, mode of viewing throughout our increasingly mediatized culture. From portable DVD players to video iPods to cellular phones, modern culture communicates onscreen..."[7].

The crossover of work-to-document and document-to-work, and the circumstantially increased spectatorship of the media-governed 'double' of the work becomes problematic for the practitioners besides of the immense possibilities brought by the same. " Amid the usual hand-wringing over aging subscribers and the loss of young audiences to mass screen entertainment, live theatre is now threatened by its own media double"[8].   


on the documentary as documentary segment Inder Salim put forward his articulation to this author in a personal mail[9]: "Beyond the known purpose and meaning of term, 'documentation', if we attempt to understand it a little deeply, we may first know what is Ontology. "In philosophy, Ontology is study of what exists in general, and how things are related to each other. Are physical things more real than immaterial things, are physical objects like shoes more real than walking, and what is the relationship between shoes and walking. Yes, Ontological Materialism tells us how material of a thing is more real than mental perception of it, but ‘ontological idealism’ suggests that reality is a construct of human mind and consciousness than the material which apparently holds it ".

Inder continues, "Well, this way we may say that documentation  is something which  walks all along with the action(s) that occur in 'the present' of a performance art piece. We are free to filter out what looks like archival material later and what we remember as pure action. Something was indeed destined to face  evaporation of sorts and something certainly accumulates  into our bones. We are residues of our own behavior and thought processes at every moment of time. As performance artists, we have perhaps  chosen to accept the fact that  documentation tool , say a camera enters the performance site and plays its roles like another spectator, active in its own singular way. We do meet images later the way we meet the people who happened to be part of that moment of Harkat/performance."


"Perhaps, time has come when we nit-and-rip all these terms and categories with some love and rebel, to discover ourselves upon some imagined carpet for a new flight. I don’t see documentation of a performance extraneous to what is happening elsewhere. A camera is finally a tool to think body and myriad subjects that surround it all the time. And above all, the body too is finally a line-work between many constructs and materials that exists effortlessly within the spinning realms of realities and fictions around it. Likewise, we do occupy a space at a given point of time, and that time, that time when we begin to notice the elements that go into the making of that particular present, we automatically cross from one category to another through a given porosity of walls between this and that. Different thinkers around this subject  have much lucidly explained the exiting ‘order of things’ in a very beautiful and expressive language, and we feel connected to their thoughts because the fluidity of thoughts never ceases to flow, therefore, this present , river like."

So it is to be realized that when someone promotes the 'live' against the 're-takes' or post-live 'documents', it is not that the post-live life is ignored or opposed. By practice Inder Salim tries to keep himself much closer  to the liveness of performance as body-art: by keeping the stretched body as a measure of work, by sustaining the "nudity" a device of protocol, reinstating the vulnerability of the socially and culturally inscribed body, and at the end of all, putting much attention into the act and the dialogue instead of the mise-en-scene (in its regular sense).  

"His name is itself intended to provoke and reconcile: he changed it from Inder Tikku to Inder Salim[10]" and here raises a different mode of documented "live" which seeks severe attention.  

At the same time there is a considerable amount of efforts seen in the country where artists are engaged into the scopophilia, the media-intervened 'live', and "document-turned-into origin" sort of practices.

[to be continued in upcoming updates...]

[1] Allan Taylor, "Documentation of (Mis)Representation: Towards An Archival Future of the Performative Photograph"

[2] following a debate on the post-event discussions through Facebook after the event "36 Hours". "Besides my little act on Modi Mask, Suhail ( if i remember the name correctly ) did a wonderful poetic performance. He said, “ I reveal, I take it back, I reveal , I take it back” He revealed his body in parts. It was precise and genuinely poetic indeed, The organizer wanted to project the video of it and have a discussion. Now, if it was not sufficient , how will the video of it would be? Are we still thinking of documented images of Performance pieces as authentic representations? I guess, video is video and performance is performance, both are autonomous in their respective domains. We can indeed randomly mix anything, but not at the cost of innocence." Inder Salim, 36hours, June 15 at 1:08PM.

[3] Amitesh Grover as told to the author, inserted in the teaser on "Understanding Performance", May, 2014, NSD Campus.
[4] Allan Taylor, "Documentation of (Mis)Representation: Towards An Archival Future of the Performative Photograph"

[5] Rebecca Schneider deals with similar anxiety in her "Cut, Click, Shudder: The ‘Document Performance’
[6] Rebecca, continues: “… Why can a performance not take place as a photograph? We are habituated, for example, to thinking of the ‘present’ as singular, unfolding a linear temporality that is, to my mind, problematic. Given my trouble with linear time, I have been very interested in the fact that theatricality demands a simultaneity of temporal registers – the always at  least ‘double’ aspect of the theatrical, about which Gertrude Stein remarked that the “endless trouble” of theatre is its syncopated time. To this end I have been looking for what Homi K. Bhabha has termed “temporal lag”, and which Elizabeth Freeman has spun to “temporal drag”. These tropes have lately afforded me a productive set of tools to apply to the effort to articulate the longstanding interinanimation of live media (such as performance) with media of capture, or media-resulting documents or objects or images (such as photography).
[7] Bay-Cheng, Sarah, "Theatre Squared: Theatre History in the Age of Media", Theatre Topics, Volume 17, Number 1, March 2007, pp. 37-50 (Article)Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press, DOI: 10.1353/tt.2007.0001
[8] Ibid
[9] Through a dialogue in gmail: Thurseday, April 17, 2014 at 9:36 PM
[10] GEETA KAPUR ( from 'The Art Cities of the Future' , 2Ist Century Avant Gardes. PHAIDON )

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