- Archaeologies of Presence: Art, Performance, and the Persistence of Being ed. by Gabriella Giannachi, Nick Kaye, and Michael Shanks
If performance is, according to Marvin Carlson, an “essentially contested concept,” then it is unsurprising that presence, a concept so central to performance, occupies a similarly unstable position. In Archaeologies of Presence: Art, Performance, and the Persistence of Being, co-editors Gabriella Giannachi, Nick Kaye, and Michael Shanks gather leading performance scholars from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Europe to affirm an unsettled multiplicity of perspectives on how presence takes place over time. The archaeology named in the title is less concerned with a discovery of the past than with “different relationships with what is left of the past” (2), a provocation endemic to the task of all writing about performance.
The collection developed out of the Performing Presence project, a multi-year collaboration between the University of Exeter, Stanford University, and University College London that produced an international conference, a range of publications, and an impressively sprawling website (presence.stanford.edu). All presented artists’ practice on equal footing with scholarly work. Archaeologies of Presence likewise embraces various hermeneutic frames and modes of writing, including interviews with artists, essays by scholars reflecting on their own artistic practice, and performative writing. In between, a number of strong and accessible essays, most published here for the first time, make this volume necessary reading for performance theorists.
The editors’ introduction will be valuable for those new to the field as well as scholars familiar with debates about presence, post-structural and beyond. Explicating early readings that trouble the possibility of presence in performance, they then describe a return to the issue in recent years. Questions raised here resonate throughout the remaining essays, drawing out presence’s place in discourses of site-specificity, reenactment, and mediation or within the dimensions of spatiality, sociality, and, most prominently, temporality.
The book is divided into three sections, each with a one-page preface, though the individual texts speak across sections in fascinating ways. The first section, “Being Here: Place and Time,” illuminates “presence in its spatio-temporal constitution, addressing it hic et nunc in its emergence” (27). Artist Janet Cardiff’s hallucinatory aural landscapes inspire Josette Féral’s provisional definition of what she terms “presence effects,” where one experiences a felt sensation while intellectually recognizing the absence of that sensation’s source. Gabriella Giannachi’s essay also addresses the relationship between the subject and his or her surroundings through work by John Cage, Robert Smithson, and the Arte Povera movement. She thinks through the difference between an “environmental relation” separating a presence [End Page 100] from its surroundings, and an “ecological relation” that considers presence itself as a relation between forms. Rebecca Schneider returns to her influential 2001 essay “Performance Remains” to offer an alternative variation on the themes of that project. As in her groundbreaking book, Performing Remains: Art and War in the Times of Theatrical Reenactment (Routledge, 2011), Schneider shows the archival remain as a necessary supplement to performance’s ontological relationship with disappearance, that the remain persists past its supposed expiration. Another tension between the present and its departures into future and past guides Jon Erickson’s compelling phenomenological reflections on how time makes itself felt through the gathering of anticipatory expectation and its subsequent release.
If the first section attends to the immediate present, the second section, “Being Before: Stage and Gaze,” turns to the relationship between stage and audience. Expanding on the Transformative Power of Performance: A New Aesthetics (Routledge, 2008), Erika Fischer-Lichte offers a useful means of categorizing different kinds of presence particular to live art. Her thinking may prompt more specificity in our discussions of what exactly we mean when we say someone has presence onstage, and how the viewer is entwined with such determinations. Two subsequent texts by Phillip Zarrilli and Simon Jones, both scholars with longstanding theatrical practices of their own, detail practice-as-research devoted to more willfully evoking stage...