Jellyfish; or problems of documentation

I’ve never liked documentation. There, I’ve said it. I’ve never liked it because first it goes against every ounce of my upbringing – my mother was always: ‘don’t talk to neighbours, don’t tell them anything’ and later when I started my own uh…. less-than-legal activities, not leaving a trace was modus operandi. Leaving traces meant getting caught, and getting caught meant that I was unsuccessful in dodging the hell out of everything.

The second part of it is that I think overemphasis on documentation leads to the idea that a performance cannot exist without documentation; and sometimes the documentation supersedes/overshadows the performance itself – and this is a problem from the beginning since the days of performance art/body art. How they solved it in previous generations was by creating objects, which were the imprints of performances and therefore could be sold to buyers/whatevers. The problem is that performance is becoming more and more intangible and exhibitions are moving further and further away from the aura/authenticity of objecthood – so how do you deal with this problem???

On one hand you have artists like Tino Sehgal and Walid Raad: masters of non-documentation. They have rules when you attend their performances: no videos, no photos, no uploading on youtube or any form of recording. When you are there, you are at present. That means that you are forced, in a way, to be 100% present for the performance, your very presence – mental, physical, spiritual; is in attendance. I cannot emphasis this enough, because this is something recording/documentation never succeeds in. The moment you have recording, you have safety nets and that brings a totally different feel and atmosphere. By removing all traces of documentation, there is only ONE form of documentation left – which is oral history. This means that performances are spread through word of mouth, and every storyteller adds a different spin to it, creating multiples of narratives that spread form like a viral rhizome

…….. or, as I said on facebook to ken wark: “the marketing of [it], an artform too?”

I’ve always been in this camp, because by and large I’m a storyteller. I have a mad, bad love of anything with mythology/folklore/fairytales in it – partly because of the socio/cultural magic-motif inherent in stories (a princess is a princess, in whichever language or nationality you live)  partly because I have serious issues when it comes to talking about myself so I use mythology as an avenue for retelling. After all, it’s a storyteller’s prerogative.

Then you know – check out this brilliant quote: “I had a very strong sense of historical responsibility. From an early age, I always thought about documenting. [sic] I didn’t know whether I wanted to have photographs big or small, but I knew I wanted to have documentation. [sic]

and another:

… I didn’t have any experience with the video camera, so I didn’t give any instruction to the guy who was filming. Immediately after my performance I saw the material, and I was so disgusted, so unbelievably appalled, that I loterally asked him to erase the recording right there on the spot. [sic] It was such unacceptable material, I mean it was like he was making his own work. It wasn’t my work. And I redid the performance in the back room just for the video camera and instructed him the same way I instructed the photographer. [sic] …. because from that moment I had a very clear idea of how someone should be instructed to make the documentation.”

(Marina Abramovic interviewed by Klaus Bisenbach)

I can understand that, documentation as a presentation of work; just like an exhibition is a presentation of art….. so in a way, we have to consider documentation in itself as a produce-able, quantifiable aspect in the presentation in the work of art…… therefore, in a way, it can also be considered as a medium of art in itself? perhaps, one day – to have a piece of documentation that *IS* the art?????


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