COLLECTING PERFORMANCES: CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES IN THE 21ST CENTURY
Jun 10, 2020
Action art as an independent art movement dates back to the 1960s. At that time, there was an explosion of creative proposals in which the entry of new media, the moving image and live interventions wanted to overcome the traditional barrier of a more static and objective art anchored in classicism. The trends of the beginning of the century focused on the representation of movement and three-dimensionality, such as Cubism or Futurism, did not reach the impact that the artistic experience achieves. Among the experimental video, the installations of sound artefacts, the integration of television and radio devices in the works and the personal activities of the authors, the last-third-of-the-century artistic panorama was plagued by experiential actions where the essential thing was to participate in art live and to enjoy the messages that this type of speech, direct and personal, gives.
With the evolution of this movement, subspecialties and specific terminology to designate them also emerge. Performances and happenings begin to be distinguished depending on the open and spontaneous participation of the public, or by being a scripted and established representation by the artists. The participation of the spectators can be foreseen within the performance, and even be the very essence of the action; but when this intervention escapes the author's control and is generated autonomously by the public, a happening takes place, an event with its own internal and unpredictable pulse in response to an initial trigger, which is the artist's original approach, already transformed otherwise, in a new work intervened by these spontaneous actors and actresses.
The movements that create new artistic realities, that break the patterns established in the already consolidated relationship between object and idea, pose numerous challenges in various spheres, from exhibition to acquisition. Once the trend is established, performance enters the creative scene in a situation of equality with the most traditional disciplines, however, it continues to be at a disadvantage for issues related to its commercialization and economic exploitation, something that also affects the professionalization of the creator that wants to be a performer. We can ask ourselves, how is a performance profitable, how can it be collected?
At first glance, a performance is assimilated to a theatre play, so that, when it takes place in a museum or an exhibition centre, it can be treated as a contract of services under the payment of a caché. This is the method chosen on most occasions when the performance takes place in the context of an exhibition or within the programming of a centre, which wants to incorporate action art into its calendar.
It also happens that many performers decide to record their actions to get a tangible result. This is a way of transforming the work from its original conception to incorporate it into a medium. In this way, the performances become video creation pieces, whose distribution or commercialization is easier.
But the real problem arises when one wants to collect the performance itself, as a live-action that happens only once, at a specific time and place, and is never repeated identically. At this point, we must take into account a distinction between the performances starring their authors and those with actors. In this second case, the authorship of the action is identified with the design, script and staging of the proposal, as well as with the description of its execution, timing and implementation guidelines, and it can be understood that the choice of the person involved it is not determinative. In the first case, on the opposite, when it is the artist himself who stars in his/her performances, despite having a script and a detailed description of the project, it can be concluded that we are dealing with a very personal act and that this action will not be the same if carried out by a person other than the creator. A clear example of this would be the intervention of Marina Abramovic in the framework of the exhibition that MoMA dedicated to her in 2010 with the title “The artist is present”. The nature of this action requires that Abramovic herself participates in it because the essence of the proposal is to sit in front of her and look her in the eye. Although it is an activity of simple description and easy execution, we are before a very personal act where the author would be irreplaceable.
Today, most of the performances that are collected are previously captured on video, as a documentary record of the event, or the script is sold so that the action is reproducible.