- Reconsidering Archives and Performance
Although Diana Taylor emphasizes in her 2003 book, The Archive and Repertoire, that the two titular terms are not a binary but rather a continuum, the way they have been cited and used in subsequent scholarship often maintains this binary construction. The expansion of digital technologies since Taylor's influential publication also raises questions about how these categories might operate in a differently mediated environment. Two recent books—Documenting Performance: The Context and Processes of Digital Curation and Archiving and Archive Everything: Mapping the Everyday—offer discussions of the interrelationships of archives and performances in practical, methodological, historical, and theoretical contexts that enable ways of thinking these concerns anew.
In Documenting Performance, Toni Sant has collected writing from a wide array of contributors including scholars, librarians, practitioners, and a lawyer. The book pushes back against using "documentation" as synonymous with "documents," indicating rather that "documentation refers to the process of storing documents and storing them in a systematic way for long-term access through an archive." Although many of the essays presented here are theoretical, the book leans heavily toward practicality. The book questions how the various ontological peculiarities of performance—embodiment, presence, transmission, and memory—might transform or expand when bumping into and up against documentation. Documentation becomes a process—or a performance—in and of itself, whose methods of preservation, organization, and access might become as important as the documents themselves. Sant draws a correlation between this new way of analyzing documentation with the move away from teaching [End Page 133] chronological histories in theatre and performance studies without also questioning how materials have been acquired, preserved, catalogued, and presented to us.
The book is divided into four sections of essays that examine documentation through its contexts, methodologies, particular case studies, and consideration of embodied practices. Each section consists of four or five essays pulled together through a short introduction written by Sant. The first section on context includes an essay by archivists Alberto Pendón Martínez and Gema Bueno de la Fuente, serving to mark out some of the difficulties in cataloguing and categorizing performance documentation. In particular, they note the ways in which, with the increasing accessibility of library and museum databases, performance documentation's existence outside of these institutions and its lack of inclusion in the ways metadata is being coded, poses an existential threat to the future of some performance documentation. This section also contains an intriguing essay by lawyer Jeanine Rizzo about contemporary concerns in Intellectual Property law and documentation. Both essays focus on the UK and the E.U., but might prove useful to scholars in other geographical locations. Another essay by Annet Dekker, Gabriella Giannachi, and Vivian van Saaze considers several recent examples of performances by Lynn Hershman Leeson, Tino Sehgal, and JODI to reveal some of the difficulties that can arise in the tension between performance's perceived ephemerality and documentation in institutional contex0ts. Especially provocative is the way this essay considers how unauthorized documentation produced by audience members of Sehgal's performances (which he rigorously insists on being undocumented) should be considered, and calls for such unauthorized documents to be treated as a site of distributed social memory that complements the vulnerability of institutional memory.
The second section on methodologies of documentation contains essays that deal with specific problems related to media and mode of transmission, including oral histories, photography, audience experiences and social media, web archiving, and born-digital artworks. Joanna Bucknell and Kirsty Sedgman's article on the use of social media by audience members critiques the choice of some theatre companies to preserve or aggregate only those audience comments on social media that compliment their productions, calling instead for an embrace of the liveliness of discussion and debate against "authoritative petrification," echoing the argument about Sehgal's work. Adam Nash and Laurene Vaughan's essay, "Documenting Digital Performance Artworks," suggests that documentation should become an integral part of the creation of...