- Performing Presence: Between the Live and the Simulated by Gabriella Giannachi and Nick Kaye, and: Archaeologies of Presence: Art, Performance and the Persistence of Being ed. by Gabriella Giannachi, Nick Kaye, and Michael Shanks
What more is there to be said about presence? Given the cognitive turn in the humanities and the continued integration of new digital technologies in performance, now might seem an opportune moment to redirect scholarship on this vexing and vexed term and to find out how the field of study around it has expanded and deepened. Therefore scholars will want to welcome the arrival of two books on the discourse and phenomenon of presence by Gabriella Giannachi and Nick Kaye, the first coauthored by them and the second coedited with Michael Shanks. In the first book, Performing Presence: Between the Live and the Simulated, Giannachi and Kaye revisit companies and artists they have studied for years in order to think about the uses of technology in reframing our contact with others. Archaeologies of Presence: Art, Performance and the Persistence of Being, with essays from thirteen contributors, covers a broader spectrum of art and performance, including: US Civil War reenactments in Rebecca Schneider’s chapter; photographic images in Kaye’s and Amelia Jones’s entries; Janet Cardiff’s sound and video installations in Josette Féral’s chapter; Mike Pearson’s performance text; Phillip Zarrilli’s signature juxtaposition of theory with performance scores and recollections; interviews with Tim Etchells and Lynn Hershman Leeson; sustained performance analyses by Giannachi, Jon Erickson, Simon Jones, and Erika Fischer-Lichte; and Nicholas Ridout’s Rancièrean reading of “misspectatorship” in Proust.
Each volume offers a useful introductory guide to recent scholarly discourse on presence. In particular, Performing Presence opens with a dense and comprehensive overview of the different approaches to presence adopted by performance scholars in the past decades. Giannachi and Kaye expertly guide the reader through a thicket of theory, including Freud, Heidegger, Levinas, Virilio, and, of course, Derrida. This chapter provides a strong summary for those unfamiliar with the theory and a potent reminder for those that are. Next come case studies on Lynn Hershman Leeson, Gary Hill, Tony Oursler, Blast Theory, Paul Sermon, and the Builders Association, all but the last tending toward installation and non-traditional modes of spectatorship outside of a formal theatrical framework. Each of the artists that Giannachi and Kaye consider here—all of whom were interviewed for the project—has produced work that incorporates emergent technologies in ways that challenge the idea of presence as a singularly locatable phenomenon. Sermon, for example, specializes in telematic installations that simultaneously project and anchor gallery-goers in different places, enabling them to interact onscreen with people in dispersed locations and often in intimate settings. In Telematic Dreaming (1992), Sermon laid on one bed and participants on another in a separate room; Sermon’s image was projected onto the second bed so that the participants could see themselves interacting with the artist via the video link.
Despite their technological bent, the installations and performances covered by Giannachi and Kaye extend over a range of practices, from Hill’s video installations to Hershman Leeson’s online live archive, to Blast Theory’s “pervasive” gaming events that take place online and in various cities, to the Builders Association’s mixed-media theatrical performances that explore place and what Marianne Weems identifies as the “privilege” of placelessness granted by “first world” networks (204). Giannachi and Kaye offer sophisticated interpretations that inevitably find presence operating in gaps, failures, and doublings. Indeed, although the authors write as if the works themselves are doing the articulating (60, 148, 149, 176, 195, 210), the consistency with which Giannachi and Kaye discover presence operating through dispersal, displacement, and multiplicity demonstrates how closely they keep the pieces to their strongly argued conclusions. Given how long the authors have been in contact and dialogue with...