“Perf Doc: Documentation Of Artists’ Performance”

N.A.M.E. Gallery

One usually thinks of “documentation” in terms of videotapes and photographs, but “PERF DOC: Documentation of Artists’ Performance,” included props, costumes, scripts, polemics, calendars—anything preservable that had to do with the planning, participation, and/or after-the-fact validation of various performances. And these nontraditional “documents,” made by the artist and often with the status of actually having been at, or been part of, the event, were in a way better proxies than third-party tapes and photos which are, after all, separate media with their own esthetic.

For example, the various musical scores and shuffleable playing cards created by Jean Sousa for her mathematically structured dances, while not meant as exact representations of the structure and movements, still with their hard-edge rendering and arrangement gave a better sense of her goals than the grainy videotape which softened the mood or several photographs which isolated the movements. In this sense, documentation is not merely descriptive and symbolic, but also a direct example of style and sensibility.

Such a display of objects contradicts what is generally considered to be the nature of performance art: immediacy, noncollectibility, and nonpreservability. Linda Novak, the curator and a performance artist herself, felt she was “tampering with genetics” in asking the artists to display their “clues.” And indeed many notes and diagrams revealed considerable preplanning to the much-reputed “spontaneous experience.”

Consider Martha Wilson’s Story Line script, which read like a Virginia Woolfish narrative, the details a network of varying points of view, something structured in its way, which in performance came across as Wilson “just talking,” in a sort of anything-goes, rambling conversation. The “art” in such immediacy is crucial, leading one to wonder whether the typical now-or-never ethic of transience may be a distorting context in which the real extent of the work cannot possibly be grasped.

Novak’s installation focused on the context of each document, and many prop’s and leftovers referred back to what they came from, kinds of artifacts or relics with power to reincarnate the bygone event. In this vein, the three hats she displayed in connection with her own performance W.I.M.P. (Don’t Be A Wimp) were relics which over a year ago were on the artist’s head as she shaved, stood near a blond-headed musician, climbed a balcony, etc. Beside evidence of their history, they lost their factory-line meaning and assumed the identity of particular individuals. Similarly, Carmela Rago’s documents allowed a viewer mentally to reconstruct the artist’s aims, process, and experience, from initially transforming magazine articles on relieving stress to the performance topic The Solitude of a Compulsion, through designing the exhibition announcements, to actually enacting the piece. Thus, documentation extends the concept of performance to include not just the event itself, but all the thinking and functioning which went into it.

Surprisingly, as object art many things here made up a catalogue of current art issues—texts in which words explicate an image, numbers which seemed to need decoding, sheets from diaries and calendars, childishly rendered perspectives, sculpture that seemed to float or rotate, graffitilike characters scattered across a page, dislocations in size and scale. And this raised questions: has object art now absorbed the esthetic of transience? Do performance artists assimilate current fashion and even render it in casual preparations for themselves? In this exhibition, at least, object and non-object art seem very closely allied.

C.L. Morrison