Category Archives: re-enactment

My work with re-enactment…


I’ve been working on re-enactments in one way or another since about 1996, when I did a performance work called Cornflakes in Perth. It was, in some way, about the daily re-enactment of getting out of bed and eating breakfast.

Another early work, The Peg#24 Pieces (1996), in collaboration with Mick Hender, explored the relationship between performative action and score.

Fluxus and Happenings:

In 2002, I conducted (sort of in the way a conductor conducts an orchestra) a re-enactment of Albert M Fine’s Fluxorchestra for 24 Performers. It was part of a project called Bilateral, where I lived in the gallery of the Experimental Art Foundation in Adelaide for the duration of the exhibition.

The Fluxorchestra was a classic Fluxus event which had a wonderful series of scores (one for each participant) that could be followed, and drew in many members of the local arts community for a celebration of the absurd. I’d very much like to do it again sometime.

In 2009, I worked with Nick Keys and Astrid L’Orange to re-enact Allan Kaprow’s Push and Pull – a Furniture Comedy for Hans Hoffman – a happening/environment from 1963. This was part of There Goes the Neighbourhood, at Performance Space.

Our version of Push and Pull was documented heavily as a blog.
The great thing about this was that the documentation from our re-enactment goes back to the Allan Kaprow estate, where it becomes part of the ongoing narrative about this work.

Expanded Cinema:

Via Fluxus, I became fascinated with Expanded Cinema, which is a performative branch of experimental film culture from the 1960s. There are significant crossovers between Fluxus, performance art and Expanded Cinema – VALIE EXPORT and Carolee Scheeman being two examples.

Working collaboratively with SMIC (Sydney Moving Image Coalition), and in particular with Louise Curham, I embarked on a series of experiments with re-enacting key works of Expanded Cinema from the past. These early attempts (2003-5) were pretty rough but they set us on our path. Our later works were very research intensive.

Here’s some info about our re-enactment work with SMIC (which we later renamed Teaching and Learning Cinema).

Our two most significant Expanded Cinema re-enactments to date are:

Anthony McCall’s Long Film for Ambient Light (1975) (re-enacted in 2007)(about which I wrote a chapter for Amelia Jones and Adrian Heathfield’s book Perform Repeat Record.


Guy Sherwin’s Man with Mirror (1976) (re-enacted in 2009-onwards).

In May 2013, Louise Curham and I went to London to begin work with Malcolm Le Grice on re-enacting a work of his from 1971, Horror Film 1. This re-enactment will continue to be developed during 2014.

This is a fairly clear description of our general work with re-enacting Expanded Cinema.

Daily life in a Cagean frame:

My 2005-6 twin projects, Bilateral Kellerberrin and Bilateral Petersham, were for me an “evolved re-enactment” of John Cage’s 4’33”. In the methodology underlying these projects, I took Cage’s 4’33” as a format or template, and shifted it to my own time and place. While Cage’s piece tends to be performed in a concert hall, and lasts only four minutes and thirty three seconds, my projects took his template into a neighbourhood social sphere, extended the duration to 2 months of my own daily life, and registered the chance occurrences through blogging. (To be clear: at the time, this Cagean connection was not foregrounded publically as the reason for the work’s existence, but was rather an unspoken skeleton shaping my daily practice).

Intergenerational Revisitations:

In 2011, I began working with Ian Milliss, a veteran Aussie conceptual artist, on a re-enactment of his Yeomans Project from 1975-6. It is in some ways more of an enactment, in that the original work never came to pass back in the 1970s. This intergenerational contact (Milliss, as well as Guy Sherwin, Anthony McCall, etc) is an ongoing part of my practice.

Discussions around re-enactment and performance:

In 2012, I convened a panel discussion with Christopher Hewitt and Andrea Saemann, on re-enacting performance art at University of Wollongong. It was part of a symposium called Expanded Documentary.



This tiny image is all I could dredge up on the web for this wonderful Fluxus performance. It looks like the score used to be available at Printed Matter, but not anymore.

I conducted an enactment of this piece in 2002 at the Experimental Art Foundation in Adelaide (precisely, at the Mercury Cinema) – a few notes on the larger project within which the event was conducted are here. For this enactment, I re-typed all of Fine’s scores and customised them a bit for the local context, and I also added in a few extra performers.

Here’s how the piece works:

There’s an individual score, typed up on an individual card for each performer, and each performer is in the dark about what the others are going to do. From memory, there are 24 performers.

Each score has a series of numbers running down the page, 1 to 15. These represent minutes. Thus the piece goes for 15 minutes. Each performer has to watch the clock and carry out the relevant instruction as each minute ticks around. If a number has nothing written next to it, the performer does nothing.

When I conducted the work, I inserted it as a ‘secret’ piece in the middle of an evening of film screenings called “Film” films? Fine! at the Mercury Cinema in Adelaide. The films shown were Buster Keaton’s Film and Gustav Deutsch’s Film Ist.

There were more than 24 people in the audience. Those who were not performers in the Fluxorchestra had no idea about what was going to happen.

The event was the aggregate of all the things that took place within that fifteen minutes.

It was pretty impossible to document. A video was shot – it’s mainly useful for the audio recording however, as the cinema was quite dark.

Here’s a re-typing of the score for the first performer:


2. Clap loudly at indeterminate intervals for short lengths of time
3. Yell: “Damn this boredom”, get up and walk out.
7. Re-enter and sit somewhere else, eating a bag of potatochips loudly, sharing them with your neighbors. When the bag is empty, inflate and
8. explode it with a bang if possible.
9. Chat with your neighbors, interrup it suddenly without warning and yell: “What do you think this is – Ben Vautier and Total Art?” then
10. resume your conversation
11. Continue conversation or remain quiet. Burp.
12. Get up and walk out. Come right back in and announce: “I’m as much
13. it as anything.” Sit in original seat.
14. Take a balloon from pocket and inflate it until it bursts.
15. Walk out.

Learning from being there?

concordia talk
[natty flyer designed by Abe, who organised the talk].

Last night (December 4, 2007) I gave an informal slideshow talk about re-enactment and performance art at Concordia University in Montreal. Abe de Bruyn, an Aussie performance practitioner who I had met in Melbourne a few years back, is studying here now, and has initiated a series of guest lectures broadly on the topic of video and performance art.

I collected together a bunch of pictures I took on my recent trip to New York, to discuss re-enacting performance art as a strategy which is relevant to art history, archiving and documentation, as well something which is of social and phenomenological interest.
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Inhabiting Allan Kaprow’s Push and Pull

kaprow push pull instructions
[Excerpt from instructions page at Kaprow’s Push and Pull. The full text of the instructions is available online here, or for the typewriter/paper feel, read them here.]

Creative Time organised a presentation of Allan Kaprow’s Push and Pull: A Furniture Comedy for Hans Hofmann, during the Performa Festival. It ran for three days at a space called Passerby.

Push and Pull is a dynamic installation in which anyone can come and rearrange furniture which is spread around in a room. Well, we might call it an installation now, but in Kaprow’s day (the piece was first presented in 1963) it was a “Happening” (or an “Environment”). It’s clear that Kaprow, in the four years since 18 Happenings in 6 Parts was presented, had substantially reworked his idea of what a Happening should be. If 18 Happenings in 6 Parts was a sort of experimental theatre involving specially prepared “actors”, then by the time he devised Push and Pull, Kaprow had moved on to creating situations where the “audience” was now the primary activator of the work.
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18 Happenings in 6 Parts

allan kaprow happening
[more photos here]

On Sunday night Lizzie and I went down to Long Island City to see the “re-do” of Allan Kaprow’s 18 Happenings in 6 Parts. I’m a big fan of Kaprow’s work and his writings, and I’m also really interested in re-enactment or re-creation as a method of experiencing ephemeral artwork from the past. (Karinne Keithly has written another account of 18 Happenings over here).

A few notes on the event:
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expanded cinema residency at performance space

Louise Curham and I have been doing a residency at the Performance Space in Sydney, (March 5-25, 2007) to work on trying out some re-enactments of Expanded Cinema events from the early 1970s. We’ve been posting up our reports over here:

abramovic’s re-enactments

Thanks to Spiros, who has boldly been experimenting with the intimacy of performance at Gertrude Street…
A review of Marina Abramovic’s 7 easy pieces at the Guggenheim last November. Abramovic re-enacted performances from the 1970s by Vito Acconci, Bruce Nauman, Gina Pane, Valie Export, Joseph Beuys, and herself. This review by Johanna Burton captures the difficult territory that this kind of work negotiates – bringing ephemeral, poorly documented work to solid “reality” in the present. Particularly interesting for me was Burton’s remark about the tendency of the performances to become like 3 dimensional images:

the “reenactments,” particularly in retrospect, cemented themselves in my mind as sophisticated holograms, both present and past, fact and fiction.

I find it fascinating that this impulse exists to try and physically grasp what has become iconic and influential in the history of art.

See the entries under the category “re-enactment” for more on this issue.

Pre-digital new media art

For artists like myself born in the 1970s, the activities of that decade can seem elusive, utopian and fascinating. Seemingly uncompromised by the pull of the art market, 1970s projects were remarkable for their clarity of intention and simplicity of execution. Concepts travel across time and space to the present, carried only by rudimentary texts and a few grainy black and white photos. The remnants of the processes of artists like Vito Acconci, Valie Export and Stephen Willats continue to inspire current generations who utilise and plunder their work as models for political, aesthetic and social action. But how much do we actually know about what went on? Can we trust the documents left behind?

full article here

[also worth reading, related… an interesting review by Dirk de Bruyn on the Shoot Shoot Shoot tour to Melbourne in 2002

[ps: related discussion might be found under the tag “re-enactment” and also over at the TLC website.]

(re)presenting performance

[for related discussion, see this thread].

sigh. i gotta be overseas:…..

Marina Abramovic (re)performs works by Vito Acconci, Bruce Nauman, FF
Alumns, at the Guggenheim Museum, NY, April 8, 9.

This two-day symposium is a prelude to the performance and exhibition
project Marina Abramovic: Seven Easy Pieces, scheduled for fall 2005, in
which the artist (re)performs and reinterprets seminal works from the 1970s
by Vito Acconci, Joseph Beuys, Valie Export, Bruce Nauman, Gina Pane, and

(Re)presenting Performance
FRI APR 8, 48 PM and SAT APR 9, 10 AM6 PM
A series of panels comprised of art historians, artists, choreographers,
filmmakers, and curators investigates the various histories of performance,
the plausibility of its repetition, and the urgency of its preservation.
Performance artists active during the 1970s are interviewed individually
about these issues, and younger artists discuss the impact of their legacy.

For more information, call the Box Office at (212) 423-3587.
Information at:
(scroll to bottom of page)


reviews of the forum (the re-enactments themselves will occur in October 2005):

Marina Abramovic Plays With Herself: Re-Performing Others, Engaging the Audience, by
Theresa Smalec:

"Her decision to repeat specific pieces that influenced her work by redoing their original scores provoked symposium panelists to ponder: "What does it mean to re-enact a performance that was only supposed to happen once?" This seemed like an abstract speculation until the Guggenheim's curator addressed Abramovic with a flustered expression and whispered, "Why re-perform Vito Acconci's Seedbed as a woman?" Nervous laughter emanated from the audience. Abramovic calmly replied, saying it was partly the "taboo element" that intrigued her, and partly the "sculptural element." Too young to have witnessed Acconci's 1972 performance, I desperately tried to visualize the nature of the piece that people were chuckling about. Seedbed sounded seedy, but in an exhilarating way. What specific actions were required to re-embody it?"


(Re)Performance at the Guggenheim, by Rodrigo Tisi:
"In the early days of performance art there was resistance to the idea of documentation, since the presence of a camera would rub up against the sacred fleeting moment of the event. But just as that pious attitude has faded, so too might the resistance to the idea of re-performance, and the merger of performance art with theater. There is a kind of brutal unsentimentality in the prospect of re-performance: performance art must admit that it is already a codified genre, without the marginal charm it once had. It's not a young discipline any more; it has to decide how it wants to grow up."


Reperforming the Score, by T. Nikki Cesare:
"The danger in this experiment lies in the subtle divide that occurs between composers and performers in Western classical music. That is, even though a woman's performance of Corporel might offer an entirely different reading of the piece, and even though the "open works" by such canonized composers as Cage, Boulez, Ligeti, and Stockhausen grant the performer more agency, allowing performance art to be defined by its originator rather than the body in the immediate moment of performance might not only compromise the sociopolitical context in which it is (re)performed, but also the autobiographical and intensely personal relationship between piece and performer, and performer and spectator. Perhaps the way to negotiate this divide is to re-evaluate both genres, establishing that the ephemerality that enables performance art to retain its political and personal impact also informs musical and theatrical, and visual art performance. The score, then, like the body, becomes the map by which the audience finds, or loses, their way. Either possibility opens up a Pandora's Box of opportunity."

Vinegar Hill

It seems that Sydney will host a "re-enactment" of a historical battle between convicts and soldiers:

"It was on March 4, 1804, that several hundred convicts broke out of the Castle Hill government farm, with plans to storm the garrison at Parramatta and march on Sydney, where boats would be seized and a daring escape made.
Instead, after 24 hours of confusion and conspiracy, the escapees were confronted by Governor King's soldiers and the militia on a site north of what is now the new suburb of Kellyville Ridge. Fifteen convicts were shot dead, their leaders captured and executed or exiled."
Sydney Morning Herald 5 Feb 2004]

It could be an interesting event, performance-wise, if it stays away from nostalgic cliches. Jane and I drove through a small town near the SA-Victoria border in November 2002, which was having a "dedication to the pioneers" day. It was nauseating – men in breeches and women and children in bonnets milling around in makeshift tent buildings, while a pompous country town mayor pulled back a homemade curtain to reveal a plaque dedicated to the hardworking ancestors of the town, who had survived through gruelling times, and gave us what we have today. Or some other crap.

No mention of displaced/massacred indigenous inhabitants.

Neither are they mentioned in the spiel about the Battle of Vinegar Hill. The event's official website only offers:

"Commemorating this particular event in Australian history is not to pay tribute to a Battle, or to revive the sectarian and authoritarian issues that led to the rebellion almost 200 years ago. The survivors of the battle from both camps, and their children after them, were the pioneers of this nation. Few of them had a choice in whether or not they came to this isolated land so far from all they knew. A great many on both sides stayed and became worthy citizens of a new country where differences could be settled without the bloodshed suffered at Vinegar Hill."

It's hard not to be cynical about such a statement. No mention is made of some of Australia's most famous current prisoners, who certainly have shed blood by sewing their lips together.

What is interesting, however, is the historical background to the "battle" –

"Among the embezzlers, forgers, petty thieves, sheep stealers and house breakers transported to the colony, were men whose crimes were purely political. The resentment of these political prisoners knew no bounds. Many of the Irish convicts were infuriated by the lack of official records and the resulting injustice and confusion over the lengths of their sentences. Realising the impossibility of returning to Ireland, the dissidents created a state of constant unrest in the new community. Cropping their hair in the style of the French revolutionaries, they formed secret leagues and held clandestine meetings to plan their escape. In desperation, they attempted to lay siege to the colony and demanded to be taken home to Ireland." [from a book by Lynette Ramsey Silver]

The "botched mini-rebellion" [as Silver describes it] got its name from Vinegar Hill, Wexford, in Ireland, where an "insurgence" of a much larger scale took part in 1798. More information about the Irish Vinegar Hill is available from the Irish National 1798 visitors centre website. My knowledge of Irish history is scanty, so any insights on this appreciated.

I haven't been able to locate a source as to whether any of the Sydney convicts who participated in the Sydney insurgence were also involved in the Irish one. It's a juicy thread, because in a way, the 1804 battle was already "referring" to another historical event from six years previous.

I'd also especially like to understand better this line from the visitors centre site: "The award winning National 1798 Centre offers a fascinating insight into the birth of modern democracy in Ireland."

How is this statement related to the comment by the Sydney re-enactment committee: "As part of the 200th Anniversary celebrations of the Battle of Vinegar Hill in March 2004, the combined Councils of Baulkham Hills, Blacktown, Hawkesbury, Holroyd, and Parramatta will be organising a Descendants Day to recognise the contribution that those involved in the Battle made to justice, freedom and the right to self determination in Australia."

One final question – the Sydney re-enactment of Vinegar Hill is being carried out by "several Groups of re-enactors who are mostly from the Napoleonic Period (1790's to 1815) and already have appropriate costume". What, or who, exactly, are these "re-enactors"?

[postscript – there is a review from the Sydney Morning Herald, (8 March 2004) here.]