- Performing Archives / Archives of Performance ed. by Gunhild Borggreen and Rune Gade
Comprised of twenty-five essays documenting new approaches to image-based and movement-oriented performance art from the past and in the present, Performing Archives/Archives of Performance is that rare anthology that encourages comprehensive and participatory reading. This is due not only to the scope of the book and the vividness with which the contributors document their personal engagement with the theoretical and practical dimensions of archival work but also to the ample resources they provide for further exploration of their subject matter.
Heike Roms strikes all of these chords, from the outset, with “Archiving Legacies: Who Cares for Performance Legacies,” which surveys how efforts by artists, scholars, and family and estate custodians to preserve, maintain, and share artistic work revivify past performances into “mutual sites of collaboration,” through the extension of content and ideas (38). While Roms focuses on “caretaking” and personal legacies, Julie Louise Bacon’s “Unstable Archives: Languages and Myths of the Visible” shifts attention to the politicizing forces of the archive, particularly postmodernity’s turn toward inclusivity. Although Bacon praises attempts to match archival content with the myriad subjectivities explored in contemporary performance art, she cautions that, due to its dependence on market forces, philanthropy, and the curatorial policies of archiving institutions, the “expansion of representations” may, paradoxically, “reinforce the political and economic orthodoxies of the day” (83).
Other essays in “Ontologies,” the first and longest section, wrestle with theoretical paradigms, albeit sometimes tortuously when applying the concepts of every major thinker concerned with archives in general – from Heidegger to Foucault, and Benjamin to Deleuze – to performance art. Unsurprisingly, many contributors mine Derrida’s Archive Fever, though an equal number advance the foundational tenets of performance studies associated with Peggy Phelan, Rebecca Schneider, and Diana Taylor. Several elaborate upon or contest Phelan’s influential argument that, ontologically, performance resists the economics of reproduction because reproduction – through archival processes or re-enactment, for example – would [End Page 135] make it something other than performance. In fact, the most effective essays expand upon Phelan’s thesis about the advantages of and challenges posed by performance’s ephemerality, as the contributors offer first-hand accounts of the development and curatorship of specific collections or describe innovative attempts by artists and scholars to transmit or reconstruct archival material through applied-research and performance projects.
For example, in “Performance Again: Resuscitating the Repertoire,” Tracy Davis and Barnaby King document their potentially contentious reconstruction of a nineteenth-century comic monologue, Trip to America, by Charles Matthews, and expound a performance ethnography informed by “Performance as Research” (PaR), a methodology that challenges positivist models by emphasizing the validity of “embodied and transferable knowledge” in performance as an “acceptable mode of research output” (188). Delving into transglobal issues, Emma Willis revisits the controversies surrounding an exhibition of photographs from the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide in Phnom Penh, at New York’s MoMA, in 1997. Through close readings of two performances that engage with documentary evidence – Rithy Panh’s film S21: Khmer Rouge Killing Machine (which “stages” conjectural encounters between victims and victimizers) and Catherine Filloux’s one-act play Photographs from S-21 (set in a gallery, and one of the few text-based works treated in the anthology) – Willis demonstrates how ephemerality can make “palpably felt the very silence and absence which most powerfully charges the archive” (124). As for processes of archival development, Rachel Fensham and Sara Whatley describe how the designers of Digital Dance Archives (DDA) and one of the collections it contains (Siobhan Davies Replay) meshed search-engine technology with Rudolf Laban’s “images-in-motion” taxonomies in order to maximize interactivity and foster awareness of how choreography itself can be perceived as “the accumulation of processes and procedures of archivization” (152).
While all of the essays in the second section, “Archives of Performance,” are fascinating, most treat gradations of performativity – how family photo albums naturalize hegemonic discourses, or how Brechtian aesthetics might inform a curatorial concept so as to...