Art After Modernism-Fall Semester 2013

Performed Self and Performance Art Documentation

      Often I have contemplated why I began my artistic career photographing other people to ultimately choose to create images mostly of myself. There was no specific incident that caused the shift, but rather a phasing out occurred of other bodies represented in my artworks to portrayals of my body as an expressive medium. As I think about it now, the change most likely occurred as a response to numerous life events that compelled me to get at the meat of my existence by working my way through deep, life altering experiences shared with others close to me.  In part, this exploration resulted in photographs, intaglio prints, films, and videos that were both emotive and physical interpretations. While it is truly impossible to articulate the whole of my complex thoughts, emotions, or the entirety of my bodily experience—or to wholly (if at all really) convey as a proxy for others in association with any particular life event, I have tried.

From my viewpoint about images created with my body that are about myself, I fail often. From the point of view of others I rarely fail. From others’ viewpoints about images wherein I have attempted to represent them I have failed more often in their minds, and less in my own. This has remained a constant internal argument for me that I think will always exist because no other person can fully perform me; nor can I completely perform them. Yet I believe there is a psychological space that lies in-between an art and a viewer that makes all manner of dialogue possible simply because we are humans.  As I understand it from Amelia Jones through Merleau-Ponty’s philosophies: that in-between space allows for dialogue by virtue of phenomenology as gained through our perceptions through our lived bodies. Each person’s experience through their living body is and will be different; therefore each person’s phenomenology through experience is and will be different, and that space in-between the art and the viewer opens up what I understand to be inter-subjectivity.

My viewpoint about my performative body has been not only from a thesis of a self-reflexive stance, but also in the final object (photograph, film or video) as one of many of Susan Stewart’s explanations about the body ”…[as] a kind of [emotive] mirror of the world…the antithesis of the ‘self-reflecting mirro’ [wherein] the mirror’s image exists only at the moment the subject projects it.”[1]  The subject matter I have attempted to convey through performing images is what Stewart describes as “an eternalized future-past”.[2] And just as she has taken up Jorge Luis Borges’ aleph as a “surface which provides profundity as well as projection”, so have I, in the same manner as Jones’ inter-subjectivity that to me engages that in-between psychological space of dialogue between the artist, the viewer, and the world.  If Jones intends that we understand the self in this inter-subjective space as embodied, particular and contingent, and always in a reciprocal relationship, then it would seem that this way of viewing body art discourse in the world and our place in this together would be a limitless, empowering exchange.

With regards to documentation of performance art, I have read in numerous articles wherein Jones described what she called “the memory screen”.  By way of a defense for writing about performance art pieces that she did not witness in person, she described it as a vital documentation of those performances. She stated: “Making use of a feminist poststructural-ism informed by phenomenology, I argue this by reading this transfigured subjectivity through the works themselves (specifically: the works as documentary traces, and this goes even for those events I also experienced ‘in the flesh’; I view these, through the memory screen, and they become documentary in their own right)”.[3] She was referring to documentation of past performances that can only be experienced today through photographs, film, video, or text documentation, and that these are no less important (when no other documentation is available) than being an eyewitness to these events as part of the history of art. To me, this is an important argument in support of documentation of performance art today. Philip Auslander took up this argument in a more attainable way of writing and dissects the differences in issues very well, ultimately stating (when speaking about sonic recordings, but I believe it is true for performance art when it cannot be experienced flesh-to-flesh): “The pleasures are available through the documentation and therefore do not depend on whether an audience witnessed the original event…It may well be that our sense of presence, power, and authenticity of these pieces derives not from treating the document as an indexical access point to a past event but from perceiving the document itself as a performance that directly reflects an artist’s aesthetic project or sensibility for which we are the present audience.”[4]  Many artists do not document performance works, but I believe it is a vital part of an art practice even if one is working primarily in video as the actual performance that will be viewed later or working in front of the living viewer.


[1] Susan Stewart. On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection.  Durham: Duke University Press. 2005. Pp. 126. Print.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Amelia Jones. “’Presence’ in Absentia: Experiencing Performance as Documentation”. Art Journal, Volume 56, Number 4, Performance Art: (Some) Theory and (Selected) Practice at the End of This Century (Winter, 1997).  College Art Association. Pp. 12: 11-18. Print.

[4] Philip Auslander “The Performativity of Performance Documentation”. PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art, September 2006, Volume 28, Number 3, (PAJ 84). Cambridge: MIT Press. Pp. 10: 1-10. Print.

Reading List:

  • Philip Auslander “The Performativity of Performance Documentation”. PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art, September 2006, Volume 28, Number 3, (PAJ 84). Cambridge: MIT Press. Print.
  • Amelia Jones. “Postmodernism, Subjectivity and Body Art”. Body Art/Performing the Subject. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press. 1998. Print.
  • Amelia Jones. “’Presence’ in Absentia: Experiencing Performance as Documentation”. Art Journal, Volume 56, Number 4, Performance Art: (Some) Theory and (Selected) Practice at the End of This Century (Winter, 1997).  College Art Association. Print.
  • Susan Stewart. On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection.  Durham: Duke University Press. 2005. Print.
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