Coinciding with the annual meeting of the College Art Association in Los Angeles, The Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley is hosting the offsite working session “Making Time at Human Resources” on February 22, 2012. Participants have been invited to post some brief thoughts on the topic in advance of the event. This guest posting is by CSLB student and critic, Megan Hoetger.
In a recent conversation with a performance scholar whom I respect deeply, the issue of re-performance, or as it is also often referred to re-enactment (the distinction between these two terms being another topic ripe for conversation), was brought up only to be quickly written off as kitsch and as a sign of a lack of any new platforms for performance production, signaling a sort of dead end in performance’s political efficacy. I was troubled by the shutdown of conversation and what seemed like a full-scale dismissal of any work produced within the matrix of re-performance. This unease has left me thinking very much about the concept and my own conflicted position on it as a strategy of production.
While I understood this scholar’s position and have heard iterations of it across a spectrum, I find myself not able to so easily reconcile the issue. It is clear to me, as to many, that the Abramović model of re-performance, insisting on the creation of an “authentic experience,” is a farce, to draw phrase from Marx vis-à-vis Martha Rosler, speaking more to the phenomena of canonization, commodification, and celebrity. The evacuation of context in such deeply political work sanitizes it by means of aestheticization, willfully forgetting the lessons of the past—a slippery slope indeed. That being said, there are other forms of re-performance, which engage in the richness of past social, political and aesthetic contexts as a means of raising contemporary dialogues about such shifts in context and, by extension, a politic of engagement with past, a past whose ideological structures are embedded in the present. I am thinking here of two recent PST projects, Andrea Fraser’s Men on the Line, KPFK, 1972 and Suzanne Lacy’s Three Weeks in January. Distinct in the format, scale, and historical material from which they were working (Fraser’s being a historical radio broadcast from a non-art context and Lacy’s being a contemporary iteration of her seminal 1977 Three Weeks in May), both re-performed a past event as a means to foreground the relevancy, and in fact urgency, of the topics raised and in the process of doing so created a moving experience.
It seems like I have come down on a side, so to speak, where the former is “bad” and the latter “good.” What risks are run in this prescriptive approach to re-performance? Is there not also significance in the failure of the Abramović model? Does not the still deeply-felt desire for an authentic experience of a distant past wrapped up in this model (alongside the desire for spectacle and entertainment) deserve discussion, particularly for the ways in which it is tied to the institutionalization of the field of performance art? Is it not important to address the issues raised in it precisely for their kitschiness? Is there not a way that thinking through all of re-performance’s manifestations, for better and worse, there is something to be learned of how we as writers, artists, and thinkers make sense of historical time-based work today and, moreover, how we make (as in construct) these performance histories?