Tag Archives: re-enactment

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: http://teachingandlearningcinema.org

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)http://www.guggenheim.org/education/tours_lectures.shtml


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.]

archive sohm – stuttgart

In November 2003, Jane and I went to Stuttgart and look at the Archive Sohm (which was bloody amazing)…
Dr Sohm was a dentist who tended to the teeth of many of the Fluxus/Happenings/Vienna Aktionists artists. There are letters to him from George Maciunas, for example, begging him to accept a bunch of flux objects in exchange for 1000 US dollars so he can look after the health of his mother (I hope i have that story right). Or maybe it was so that George himself could pay his medical costs after he was beaten by thugs who broke into his house (he was having problems with the city authorities). Anyway, Sohm always accepted these objects and sent the money. He now has the largest collection of Fluxus stuff in the world. He died a few years ago.
[If anyone intends to visit the archive in Stuttgart, I recommend calling to arrange an appointment a few weeks in advance. We emailed but got no reply, and just showed up. Luckily they accomodated us, but we were told to book ahead next time.]
My interest in fluxus was ignited when I went to Adelaide’s Experimental Art Foundation in 2002, looking through their fab fab artist book archive. I think that the old Irish fella Noel Sheridon who helped to set up the EAF must have collected it, either him or Donald Brook.
In the EAF I found a beautiful flux-event-score by Albert M Fine called Piece for Fluxorchestra, and I conducted its “re-enactment” in the small cinema attatched to the Mercury, the Iris Cinema. I became fascinated with the legacy they had left, which was – very little tangible documentation of actual events, but indeed the recipes for the events themselves, which you, I, anyone, could recreate – thus experiencing DIRECTLY the “original” work for ourselves! This is why I was so interested to embark on the expanded cinema stuff.
…and also why i was excited to find out about the Carolee Schneeman
re-performance, and indeed all the Whitechapel Gallery
pieces I looked at and wrote about on my blog.

Atlas Group and Mark Dion at the Whitechapel Gallery

Saturday night (Nov 22, 2003) was dominated by Walid Raad's tour-de-force powerpoint presentation about the activities of The Atlas Group. The Group’s archive deals with "the situation" in Lebanon, especially since the civil war in the mid 1970s. It is a fictional archive, (sometimes a fiction based on true documents and events), which attempts to make sense (and even poetry) of the constantly unstable political climate within Lebanon. It does so by utilising the minutiae of everyday life, and this is important for both the archive’s intrinsic content, and its apparent authenticity.


By concentrating on vast quantities of very minor information (such as the make, model, and colour of every car used for a bombing in Lebanon between 1975 and 1989) we are swept into a world enormously different from our own (in terms of daily personal danger) and yet incredibly similar and banal at the same time (ordinary cars, in colours we might choose ourselves). In this, The Atlas Group consistenly proves that it is in masterly control of the craft of its fiction – the overwhelming quantity of detail which makes us swoon, and forget the fact that it might actually be all just made up.


Raad extends this performance craft even to the point of planting questions in the audience, for which he has answers ready-prepared. In response to one of the questions, “can you give us some background information about the situation in Lebanon?” Raad sighs, and opens up the directory of his computer (visible to the audience on a data projector), revealing countless filenames for documents on the history of Lebanon decade by decade for the last five hundred years. By this strategy, he can reveal the breadth of the answer to that question, without actually needing to answer it directly.


For as he said, “when you talk for too long, people will try to make you shut up. But when you are asked a question, you have permission to talk for a long time”.* As both me and a friend commented at the same time, he is one clever cookie.


*…however, it should be noted, that this information about questions and answers was volunteered by Raad, and not given in response to any particular question. (Perhaps he wants to hammer home just how clever he really is, and why not, we all got a kick out of it anyway).


Mark Dion, prior to Raad’s presentation, showed old-fashioned slides, and gave an entertaining A-Z of extinct animals, and biological nightmares of our times. In moments, it was very informative (especially in relation to biological facts), yet, as my friend Tom pointed out, the tone of the lecture was "more catastrophic than critical", and therefore not very useful for instigating concrete change to the problems it described. However, the scope of the lecture was modest, and I don’t believe it set out to achieve more than it did – therefore it was nowhere near as irritating as the Carey Young performance (and the claims made on its behalf) earlier in the week.