I am at the 92 Day, 23 hour, 58 minute and some odd second mark until my thesis show opens.
And I am struggling. But what’s surprising about that?
You see, I have once again gotten myself into the difficult situation of having come up with this insane idea, but of having no clue as to how to pull it off. Aren’t I nice to myself?
My initial proposal went something like this:
For my thesis show, I would like to create an archive of a performance through documents and artifacts. The performance which is evidenced through this archive may or may not have taken place. There is potential for the archive could be created out of found objects, repurposed materials, etc. These materials would then be presented to the audience in such a way that they are then required to piece together the “narrative” of the event. Conceptually, I see the performance revolving around the themes of failure and success. Preferably, I would like this to take the form of some type of universal failure or experience with failure, something which would compel the audience to invest time and energy into discovering the story. The main idea behind the archive and its manner of presentation to the audience is that, while it documents and shares an experience for which the audience was absent, it also mediates and distances them from that same event. This inherently creates misunderstanding, miscommunication, and potential meandering in meaning. In this way the archive in the traditional sense, fails performance art, in that it cannot provide a clear or concise replication of the principal happening for posterity to experience. Nor can it hope to truly preserve artist intent or meaning through time. As our cultural references and understandings evolve, the documents themselves remain stagnant.
The contents of this repository will be as wide ranging as possible, but operating within the traditional confines of an archive. I intend to include photographs, video, sound recordings, writing, any props or objects used for the performance, as well as any artifacts created through the performance itself. These documents will be incomplete in someways, forcing the viewer to use all parts in conjunction with one another in order to obtain the “full picture.” These various parts will be displayed throughout the gallery, almost in “stations,” to both explain and mediate the performance for the audience. I also anticipate providing the audience with some sort of takeaway which could function as a map, a treasure hunt, or something which would help them to tie together the various pieces of the performance. This takeaway could then become an additional piece of documentation. Photographically speaking, I am considering two options. The first is having images which change periodically, and the second is presenting images that were supposedly printed with disappearing ink. In the first option, images could be rotated on a time table, or a small group of images could be displayed on a screen or projected for a finite period of time before changing, never to be seen again. In the second option, the images could be printed in disappearing ink, or just be stated to have been printed as such. The audience would then be forced to rely on written captions or titles, or another individual to describe to them what was in each frame. Similarly, the video component would be designed so that it could not be relied upon to share the narrative in its entirety. I see it as either taking the form of a soundless video, projected or played on a screen. Or it could also simply be a glitchy video which periodically drops out, or becomes pixillated so visual information is lost as well, similar to the way that Digital TV received via antenna is unreliable. When it comes to any objects included in the archive, I’m anticipating these being presented much as traditional art objects or historical artifacts in a museum. Moreover, I plan on incorporating some type of sound or written element to supplement the object. This could take the form of an audio track variously describing the original object, the history of the object, discussing the use of the object within the performance, or maybe just the sound of the object being used. Alternatively, this could also be accomplished through a written placard accompanying the object. As a final piece of the archive, I intend to have an audio feed that provides audience members with a general interpretation of what the performance and show were about. To accomplish this, at some point during each viewer’s experience at the gallery, they will have the opportunity to enter a sort of “confessional,” in which they can share their interpretations, impressions, or experience of the performance. This will then simultaneously be recorded and broadcast into a “listening station,” where others may go to hear this second hand audio archive of the performance. As with the presentation of the objects, this could also take the form of a written archive if the audience were uncomfortable with speaking or being recorded. Additionally, I would somehow like to incorporate other audience generated archive materials, such as pictures they took, or social media posts they made relating to the show. This could then be incorporated into the presentation of the performance in the museum after the opening….
And then it goes into discussing research routes and technical challenges. Sorry if you read all of that.
There are several problems with this idea, despite the fact that I am so excited about it and have the support of my committee to take this risk. The first of which being, I HAVE NO FUCKING CLUE WHAT THE PERFORMANCE IS GOING TO BE. And I can’t piece together anything else until I nail that down. Frustrating! Like I mention in the proposal, I want it to related to failure, but how do you make failure completely universal? It’s pretty crucial in this situation I think, to make the performance something that is relatable and understandable in terms of theme and content. Otherwise I feel like there would be NOTHING for the audience to grasp since there are several layers happening here, and I’m not 100% certain that everyone in attendance is going to understand that as I look at it, archives are failure… Something, something, something, something?
I submitted that proposal in December, and have approval to attempt this madness, and ever since then I’ve been thinking about what my performance might be, if it were going to be live, or take place before hand, how I might engage the audience in piecing together the archive…On and on.
For quite sometime, the only conclusion I had come to was that there had to be a live performance (the night of my opening at least), so that the distinction between experiencing the archive and having a first hand, potentially participatory experience could be made for my audience. But then, how do I make sure that ALL visitors to the show can experience that contradiction? I can’t perform in the museum the entire time the show is up. I can’t afford to pay performers to perform in the museum the entire time the show is up. Do I make my audience become the performers? And how do I keep the performance hidden, secondary in some ways, so that the audience could experience everything else first and THEN discover the live performance? Should I make some sort of scavenger hunt, where the performance becomes the pay off in the end? And how do I ensure that my audience complies?
Then over the last few days, I’ve started to think that I’m attempting to combine too much into this show. Trying to use too many ideas simultaneously, and that I should try to simplify where possible. This also made me think that maybe I should try to really simplify my intents for the performance itself, and maybe attempt something on a smaller scale… But I still didn’t know what it would be.
But I think I had a small break through today. In one of my posts from November, I talked about how I was thinking about playing telephone (almost literally) for a performance, and shared my discovery of an essay titled The Viral Ontology of Performance Art. Something else I read today (also out of Perform, Repeat, Record) started to make me think about performance telephone and Viral Ontology again.
“Documentations magic lies in its explosive power, it shatters the reclusive planet inhabited by the once-lived into a radiating galaxy of astroids. Each astroid carries some memories of the once-lived, each in turn extends, renews, or replaces the vitality of the once-lived; each has the potential to grow into a different planet. Thus, the once-lived lives again and lives on not as itself per se, but as itself altered: dismembered, redone, augmented, partially replicated, diminished, burned into ashes, or consumed as legends.”
Suddenly I remembered a game a member of my cohort taught me and that I would frequently play with the kids at Lafayette Art Camp. It’s called Telephone Pictionary. To play this game, you sit in a circle with the other participants (as with traditional Telephone, the more people, the better), and each player has a stack of paper or note cards. On the top card, each participant writes a word or phrase. They flip it over and hand it to the person sitting next to them. That person looks at the word or phrase and attempts to draw it on the back of the same piece of paper. The drawing is then passed to the next individual who looks only at the drawing, and writes out a short phrase or word that describes what they think the drawing is of. And so on and so forth. The pay off obviously comes once the cards have made the full round of the circle and come back to the original owner, where the evolution of their original word or phrase is seen.
And I thought… Why can’t that be the performance?! It’s so perfectly simple. It doesn’t require anyone to constantly be performing. It’s wholly participatory, but un-agressively so. It creates it’s own archive by default. It’s subtle enough that it doesn’t make a spectacle of itself and could be taking place in a self contained room… It’s so flipping simple and perfect, it’s brilliant. It embodies the very idea of viral ontology and audience centered experiences I’m so keep to explore. It is also sort of the very definition of failure, and I don’t even have to manipulate the situation to create the failure! Why am I so obtuse sometimes!?!
I’m not entirely sure how this all fits together into my crazy scheme yet, but I think I’m going to test run this idea at the 621 Cabaret in a few weeks. Every year 621 Gallery does a fundraiser in which local artists and performers create an act and then put on a cabaret style show, and since I’m sitting on the board this year, I got suckered into performing… But I think it might be a good venue to explore this idea, if I can make it happen with in a 10 minute time frame… Always gotta make it hard on myself.