Monday, 7 January 2008

Research Proposal - Performing Stories: Disruption of time based media practice

Research Proposal

Working Title:

Performing Stories: Disruption of time based media practice

According to Michael Kirby, in The New Theatre, (Kirby, 1965) the non-matrixed theatre performance model places emphasis on time and not on the traditional theatre of narrative and character, allowing for performances using a variety of materials borrowed from art, most commonly witnessed in the Happenings of Allan Kaprow, (1958-66.) Happenings drew from real life and unfold peformatively in compartments or discrete alogical events; the spectators are participants performing within a given frame work experiencing the act of making. (Kirby, 1965.)

It is understood that the exploration of time in photography, through exposure, is a necessity to achieve a desired tonal balance in a photographic image. However, in considering photography performing interdisciplinarily within the remit of non-matrixed theatre, there is traditionally a technical emphasis on a frozen moment creating a photograph, set against a duration over a given period for a performance. This gives rise to the issues of documenting liveness, they cannot be one and the same thing; the work of Hayley Newman, Connotations-Performance Images (1994-1998) exploits this by exhibiting photographs of performances that actually never happened, adopting the “mannerisms of an archive” (Heathfield, 2004). In looking at interdisciplinary visual non-matrixed performance, the issues of mediated liveness I wish to pursue further and relate to the work of Phillip Auslander, Gunter Berghaus and others in addressing the synthetic presence of absence in the, according to Auslander, relationship between the Live and Mediatized within a performance, specifically when using different forms of time based media (Auslander, 1999.)

In the Performed Photography work of Paul Jeff, in which he feels he is, “Bored of the ‘spatial’ picture making that has thus far mainly defined photographic practice,” (Jeff, 2007) he concerns himself with a merging of the traditional artefact ‘image’ of photography as the sole viewer experience of this medium, with a witness to and/or participation in, the photographic act inherent in the process, displaying how he, ”…makes a subtle and also contemporary shift towards intervention and fiction and away from the phenomenon of empirical observation.” (Jeff, 2007). This also demonstrates Jeff’s’ desire to extend the time taken for the act of photography through a prolonged engagement with it, making it a durational performative event. In Polis, (2006) audience members are invited as witnesses to performances in a series of night time events in bars and clubs around Cardiff, UK recording staged encounters and situations based on normal club activities, themselves on their cameras, but also receiving a copy of the Polaroids that Jeff takes. Witnesses are then taken back to studios to assemble all the photos taken and thus reveal the visual slippage of the same event through subjective responses to it. The witnesses become strangers to places once possibly familiar, taking photos of people they don’t know as if they did. Audience members and Jeff are therefore co-authors in the performative act of recording, the experience and relayed memories of the taking photos and the resultant outcome becomes, as Jeff explains, singularly the artwork.

In contrast, in Tino Sehgals work as a visual artist there is no physical artwork, i.e. no visual documentation, no materiality, only the memories of the participants based on a singular or collective experience as relayed by actors on behalf of Sehgal. In his work This objective of that object (2004, ICA) a viewer in an empty gallery space is surrounded by 5 people talking to the viewer to prompt a discussion, failure to do this or the entrance of another viewer and the work ends and moves to the next person. Lucy Steeds (Steeds, 2005) in Art Monthly, describes how Sehgal's artwork never becomes, “….enduring traces.” The artwork, like in Jeff’s work, concerns the viewer as participant to exist, explores social interactions within process, but with the marked difference being no art object ever exists in Sehgal's work.

To look at how both Sehgal and Jeff (and the others to follow) are intrinsic in my critical thinking, I need to look first to Barthes in Camera Lucida (Barthes, 1980) to see how he describes what is unique about the experience of viewing photographs, using the notion of the ‘trace’ to discuss photographs as witnesses of ‘what has been’, and his issues of, “Life/Death: the paradigm [of picture taking] is reduced to a simple click, the one separating the initial pose from the final print.” (Barthes, 1980:92 ) He goes on to describe how the photographic image, being that it uses paper and that paper is perishable, it is mortal and is, “…Attacked by light, by humidity, it fades, weakens, vanishes, there is nothing left to do but throw it away.” (Barthes, 1980: 93). So here we see how Barthes understands photography as temporal, existing only to represent the moment, which has already passed.

Other key photographers directly exploring photography-performance relationships include Peter Richards and Julia Bardsley, both exploring the early image making technique of pinhole photography in very different performative ways. In Bardsleys work, Trans-Acts, she, “…forges an intimate dialogue between the audience and the performer, the artist and the creative process, live presence and the visual art object.”( Julia Bardsley website, 2006) This performance staged at Shunt Vaults, London, Spill Festival 2007, described as an exhibition, installation and performance in three acts, using pinhole photography as, according to Bardsley, “little theatres, little shows,” as exhibit and installation. This is to represent the passing of time in her Foolish suicide attempts in Act One, allowed by the long exposures pinhole image making requires, leaving a ghostly trace of the body moving through space. This was used alongside film both pre-recorded and live and the notion of ‘self as double’. (Bardsley lecture, 2007).

In Peter Richards Pinhole photography work, The History of Performance Art, in 1998, in which he which he builds a giant Pinhole Camera to record invited participants dressed for the camera as a key figure of choice from the history of performance art, Richards examines the dissolving of boundaries between photography and performance where, according to Sofaer, in Conflict of interest, Performance as a Spectator Sport, (Soafer website, 2007) Richards presents photographic image as artefact that is made during performance and which survives it to be viewed in the site of the event a day later. Sofaer states, “The giant cardboard obscura [is]site (as the stage in theatre) and source (the text - the actors) of the work.”

In a digital age and thus changing face of photographic practice giving rise to the closure of many traditional darkrooms, the reinvention of, for example, traditional wet photographic processing through non-matrixed theatre gives to me many possibilities; the entire consumption of the photograph for example testing Sehgals and Barthes methodologies. How does high and low media arts technology work within non-matrixed performance (Happenings, Fluxus?), both together and alone? Referencing technological advancements, how can digital processes destroy traditional ones? In looking for a theme to explore beyond mere disruption or subversion of photography and time based media that works with the same structure and ideals, I am potentially interested in Fractured narratives in Storytelling (orally, and as mediated through objects and images)- both photography and storytelling are commonplace in working with the denoting of fact from fiction; the fictitious Untitled Film Stills of Cindy Sherman (circa 1977) posed as real life film photographic stills, as well as Hayley Newman mentioned previously and the Trachtenberg Family Slideshow Players who create performances that, “Interpret the Lives of the Strangers [within found vintage slide collections.]” (Burgess, 2007.)

In conclusion, my research areas are identified through the intended rubric for my practice below;

1. A viewer/participant who offers their subjectivity (personal artefact, story etc) as material for the work

2. An artist/performer (me and participants in co-authorship or participants via instructions) who articulates this subjectivity through time based media

3. An object, artwork, outcome is created, OR the participants sense that their experience has been objectified.

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