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The Performative Nature of Filmed Reproductions of Live Performance Nathan Stith They want us to produce art that solves the problems of the world, and I don’t think that art does that very well. I think what we can do is offer people a space in which to reflect upon the problems of the world. —Coco Fusco to Rosemary Weatherston, “Performing Bodies, Performing Culture: An Interview with Coco Fusco and Nao Bustamente,” in Body Politics and the Fictional Double, ed. Debra Walker King In the twenty-first century, the important questions of identity, morality, and authority have all been transformed by multiculturalism, postmodern politics, and cultural change. While [Sacha] Baron Cohen does not provide any definitive answers, he certainly has found a way to make us sit up and take notice. —Robert A. Saunders, The Many Faces of Sacha Baron Cohen: Politics, Parody, and the Battle over Borat In 1992, performance artists Coco Fusco and Guillermo GómezPe ña created the site-specific performance piece Two Amerindians Visit . . . , as part of the Edge ’92 Biennial at Columbus Plaza in Madrid, Spain.1 During the performance, and subsequent reiterations at Covent Garden in London, the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., the Field Museum in Chicago, and others, Fusco and Gómez-Peña presented themselves as Amerindians who were found in a newly discovered island in the Gulf of Mexico called Guatinau. The performances, along with one-onone interviews, were recorded by filmmaker Paula Heredia. This video became the documentary The Couple in the Cage (1993).2 In 2006, comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, posing as a faux Kazakhstani journalist, Borat Sagdiyev, traveled across the United States recording his interactions with unsuspecting locals along the way. The filmed exchanges became the 2006 mockumentary Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.3 In both examples, the live audi- 82 N A T H A N S T i T H ence is led to believe that the characters created by these artists are not characters but real people. The audiences of the live performances interact with these characters under the false pretense that they are relating to real people. However, in the mediatized reproductions, the audience is aware that the artists have created false personas; they view the documented reproductions with knowledge that the live audience does not have and thus are able to experience the filmed reproductions in ways not available to the live audience. In so doing, these artists are illustrating what Philip Auslander calls “the performativity of performance documentation.”4 In order to define the concept of performativity, Auslander follows the theory set forth by J. L. Austin in “How to Do Things with Words.” Austin asserts that phrases that embody actions, such as stating “I do” during a wedding ceremony, are performatives as opposed to phrases that merely describe something, which he calls constatives.5 In other words, by speaking the words “I do” one is actually performing an action rather than describing an action. In translating this definition from the world of linguistics to that of performance documentation, Auslander notes, “the traditional view sees performance documents as constatives that describe performances and state that they occurred”; however, he proposes that the act of documenting performance art “does not simply generate image/statements that describe an autonomous performance and state that it occurred: it produces an event as a performance.”6 Auslander uses Richard Bauman’s definition of performance in order to clarify this idea. Bauman states, “performance rests on an assumption of responsibility to an audience for a display of communicative virtuosity. . . . In this sense of performance, then, the act of expression itself is framed as display: objectified, lifted out to a degree from its contextual surroundings , and opened up to interpretive and evaluative scrutiny by an audience both in terms of its intrinsic qualities and its associational resonances .” However, as Auslander notes, there are holes in the connection between Bauman’s definition of performance and his own ideas about the performativity of performance documentation. The most notable discrepancy is with Bauman’s opinion that “the collaborative participation of an audience . . . is an integral component of performance as an interactional accomplishment.”7...


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pp. 81-90
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