I am interested in the relationship between
action and its depiction. The tension between
the two is an inherent attribute of every picture
taken.⋌Or every video recorded, but not every story told: the medial turn in the case of stories, between reality and representation, is a different one, one that cannot be overlooked so easily This dichotomy is also at the root of how
we imagine how life, and how one who is living should
look like (feel, behave etc.). Trouble comes when we
mistake one for the other, and the relations and
positions get mixed up. Representation takes the
place of reality.
The starting point of this research is performance
art and its documentation. The hiding of reality
behind the plane of an image appears most purely
in these situations. This turn (be it iconic,
pictoral, medial or simply photographic) is
easy to observe in such well defined and clear
instances. This journey from cause to effect
(between an action and the document, photo or
video remnant) is what is being explored here.
The viewpoint of theory is generally one of looking
backwards. But is it possible to structure a theoretical
point of view in the present of a piece?⋌We certainly have the means to do it.
Looking back and drawing conclusions on the
past has presented itself as an inevitable course
of action. Because not surprisingly everything that
has happened, has happened in the past. If there can
be memories of something that never took place, or of
something that is yet to happen, the direction of theory
may not be this limited.
The big avant-garde escape from the physical artwork
was so drastic that the space left by it – immediately
and perhaps inevitably – had to be filled with some
palpable document. The reason for the lack of examples
who were able to evade this, is that by evading this
maybe you also evade being made an example.
Only bad examples visualize themselves because
good examples have better things to do then to become
a spectacle. If you meet the Buddha kill the Buddha.⋌meaning: the Buddha you can meet, or the teaching that can be told to you and not discovered by you is not the real thing. Perhaps it's fundamentally wrong to state something,⋌In the same time implying insufficiencies that brought forth the statement and disproving other statements.
and anyone who does so even though, should be handled
with skepticism.⋌I have nothing to say/ and I am saying it/ and that is poetry/ as I need it. Cage 'Lecture on Nothing' (1949)
The existence of depiction or documentation
is a time based phenomenon. It is a byproduct
of the flowing (of) time and our position in it.
An intention to stop time or somehow link a distinct
past to our present. Change and divert its course.
Every picture taken, is a freezing of time,
a stop put where no stops should be put.⋌Ubi Fluxus Ibi Motus – (The title of the 1990 Venice Biennal Fluxus Exhibition Catalog) roughly translating where is flow there is movement.
Since every image captured is death any
indigenous fear of the camera and what it
can do needs no more justification.
A high price is paid if someone uses it
and forgets – or even worse, knows – to
make something visible is to hold it captive.⋌Boris Groys on the corpse of Lenin, in: On Art Activism - Journal #56 June 2014
Inescapable change is not just a symptom of
time it is time itself. And the only way to
navigate in it is to record. It is because
of this that many performative works inherently
contain a method for remembrance. Sometimes –
and this is true not only as an art practice –
they are in their attitude a design of memory.
This is often implemented through an intimate
relation between the performer and the camera.
An imaging done through performative means.
The camera is a link to another time,
just as a paper when something is written on
it. The phrase that every image is a window
also applies from the point of view of the creator.
An image is made so that at one point,
later in time it will be looked upon. By the maker
or by someone else that's irrelevant.⋌Just as every diary is written consciously or unconsciously with the prospect of future readers in mind. It still is a link to an uncertain time.
The theatre is a place of image production.
The scenes or scenographic images are also
compositions between frames. But this image –
as opposed to the photographic one – doesn't stop time,
it merely dissects it. It separates a certain portion
of it, puts it on stage to inspect and measure it as an
alternative line of events.
Performance art also operates with the separation of
time. The time of happenings⋌Painting → assamblage → environment (and with the introduction of time) → happening (Kaprow). or other action works is a
separated thread of time. Only something which is separate
can be examined. And also by definition anything that we pay
attention to becomes separated from us.
In theatrical and non-participatory performative works
the continuity of the piece and its separated time is only
possible because we as spectators are suspended from our time.
The time of the observer and not of the piece is what stops
during a performance.
Any attitude trying to conserve the fleeting
or fix the continuous and give it concrete form
is inherently futile. Futile in a sense that the
original is lost, and what is left is only a mockery.
But not futile in producing something tangible.
In appearance it works because it does not take
into consideration anything other than appearances.
Everything unchangeable is in a basic misunderstanding
with The Way Things Go⋌A 1987 video of Fischli & Weiss of almost biblical significance in the subject matter. and thus it is only supposedly unchangeable. Only
something that can exist in a state of constant flux
could mend this discrepancy of change.
Just like love⋌Pictures Of You by The Cure
or Close My Eyes Forever by Ozzy Osbourne And Lita Ford
every picture wants to keep its object
unchanged, but just like love, it can never truly succeed.
And we've seen how much is lost in order to stop inevitable
change, and natural processes in a thousand different
narratives, both fictional and non-fictional.
One that stands out especially is the Picture of Dorian
Gray by Oscar Wilde. Where by escaping change, the thing
bearing that change is the one that isn't supposed to, a
constant vehicle of remembrance, the painting of the
flawless boy. We have changed the natural order of things,
caused so much distress that the one thing that shouldn't
move moves. The painting is the metaphor of perceptible
and imperceptible derangement. The idea of an ever changing
piece of art, with a fluid non-definitive form – whatever
horrid thing it is displaying – is present in this work.
Art with the introduction of the spatial and time
dimensions and the performative element stepped out
from behind the plane of the image. But through the
documentation methods applied to performance based works
it stepped back again. These infinitely revisitable
reproductions are seemingly the only way of afterlife
for a work of action art. If it does not hide behind
the image it is not decoded as a 'work'. Nonetheless
the unsuspected forms that question this may be more
aligned with the ephemeral nature of this art form.⋌This is the reason why in my MA degree project I've used live streaming as a method to 'distribute' a live video performance http://kristofkristof.com/.../a-veletlen-megidezese/
Image production has always been a good tool for
consolidation. A method with which fleeting positions
of beauty, political momentum or authority can be
stabilized. This of course applies in the case of
performance art. From a sociopolitical viewpoint only
the privileged have the power to distort reality with images.
And it is not only their but everyone's reality.
The effects of images quickly become universal.
While survival of the fittest unfolds and develops
through countless generations, the consequences of
image production happen instantly and with great
horizontality. The scarcity of attention and the
surfaces and media with which to capture it dictate
an evolutionary directing principle. Only the fit
reproduce and only the fit depict.
Works with simple and dense conceptual
structure or gestalt⋌Higgins, Dick, Postmodern Performance: Some Criteria and Common Points in Performance by Artists, 1978 acquire rigidity in their form. But if the basic
idea behind a work is so simple⋌Not in its approach or intent but in the actual line of events that constitute the work. that it can be
fully transcribed into a sentence, it often is.
In such cases the textual reference usually takes
the place of a photo or video documentation. These
text or story based word of mouth references
substitute a more fluid and possibly less concrete
manner in which works can be (re)interpreted and remembered.
Petr Pavlensky nailing his scrotum to Red Square
in 2013 is a perfect example. The action is based on a
simple premise. The photos of the event are incidental.
What is important is the actual fact that it happened.
It is beside the point exactly how. In connecting his
own hopelessness to that of gulag victims, he secured
himself both in a literal and metaphorical sense to an
unmovable feature of political terrain. By doing so he
also created a word of mouth representation of his work,
which grants it myth-like significance and power.
Many times the essence of a piece is lost by freezing
it into an easily accessible reproduction. The analytical
mind limits continuous flow or movement and only a well
defined constant thing can be studied by measuring and
other scaled inspection methods. Any fluidity achieved
with it is only granular.⋌Measuring with better instruments can take us close to reach fluidity, but not all the way. To design a function that matches and thus predicts a granular set of values one has to take an important step ahead and synthesize the analytically collected data into an expression (that was not present in the values themselves).
There is a parable in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle
Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig about the difference of
western and eastern schools of thought. It mirrors the
two approaches in an identical model situation: meeting a flower.
The western scientist upon finding a flower (unknown
kind before for him) rips out the flower takes it to his
laboratory makes drawings of its different parts, counts the
petals, dissects the plant etc. and ultimately because of
his actions, the flower dies. In opposition the Zen poet upon
finding a flower contemplates its essence, rests in its shadow,
enjoys its fragrance and forms a haiku from his experiences.
Between these polarized situations a question arises about who
got closer to discovering the flowerness of the flower.
And soon after another follows: which of these experiences
answer better to the all too pressing need of knowledge production.
The intention to depict movement, and therefore time in
painting has been a long standing one. Nudes descending
staircases and dogs running on a leash have been part of
our understanding, not only of how movement is depicted but,
how movement unfolds in actuality. Although it's no less
present, the need to depict polymorphism has been a less
The 1533 Holbein painting The Ambassadors is a clear
example. With an unusual trompe-l'oeil effect the artist
splits the canvas into two alternating states that manifest
according to your viewpoint. The pictorial indeterminacy
present in op-art works is abstract but still akin to this.
The anecdote of Oskar Kokoschka telling his models to
move around and change positions frequently also shows an
interest in presenting latent possibilities simultaneously
on the canvas.
These images may be different in nature but they all
exhibit similar ambiguous and undefined states.⋌A photography fueled version of this is also present in the works of Gerhard Richter, and a newer example fueled by digital image manipulation and 3D modeling: the paintings of US based artist Austin Lee.
If one makes the right preparations change can be invited
into a work. It is what John Cage does in his composition,
4'33''. By setting up two time coordinates 4 minutes and 33
seconds apart a time interval of near infinite opportunities
is created. Anything that happens between these two points
becomes part of the composition. In fact the composition is
nothing but the accidental sounds and events that occur
within its time frame. This frame then can be positioned
anywhere in time and space so virtually anything can be a
part of the piece. Thus the seemingly strict rule outlining
it works on its contrary and facilitates freedom.⋌The right kind of which is not easy to achieve:
'I must find a way to let
people be free without their becoming foolish. So
that their freedom will make them noble. How will I do
this? That is the question.' Cage in John Cage / David Tudor – Indeterminacy (1992)
The transformation taking place between a score and its
performance, or a dramatic text and a staged version of
it is a kind of artificial evolution. During the staging
process the original often textual or paper based work is
reinterpreted through countless iterations and changes to
produce something that is alive, and has value in the present.
This process ensures the actuality of a given work. It is used
to counter the inflexibility of the source. This is a way in
which an ever changing artwork is achieved. Not by an original
that is ever changing but by continuous effort making it one.
The countless possibilities which are latently present in
the score can make the piece complete even without a
manifestation. This is the reason why the final form of many
fluxus scores is not an event but the idea of an event on a
piece of paper. This form holds a multiformity which an actual
rendering of the event – by its nature – cannot.
There is nothing wrong in trying to sustain a moment.
The trouble comes if we succeed.
Traditionally the real evil and the real good are what escape
definition. We do not know the name of god only a placeholder
for it. Because knowing the true name of something gives us
power over that thing, true names and true forms are concealed.⋌In Hungarian a remnant of paganism and shamanism can be seen in the name of some animals. Their true demonic names are unknown (perhaps only have been known by the shamans) and are called by a reference name → wolf = farkas which literally translates as the one with tail, deer = szarvas : the one with horns. Reciting the name of a demon or other entity not only summons it,
but gives us control over it. Only something with a name and
definite form can be grasped comprehended, and for that matter ruled.
Giving someone your truest form is surrender. If you go
by many names you may risk not being known, but you
avoid being caught.
Performance is the 'unifying mode of the postmodern'.⋌Through Philip Auslander: Pomo and performance ? Michel Benamou, ”Presence and Play” in Michel Benamou and Charles Caramello (eds.) Performance in Postmodern Culture (1977) p.3. Everything that we perceive as a fixed state is constructed
continually through actions. Still – going ahead of the canonizing
methods of art theory – many artists working in a project based
practice, package their art in an essentially solid way to ease its
quick interpretation. Often this effort goes contrary to the nature
of the work. The results of this second order mediatization are
internet friendly, easily transferable pseudo-works, that are
compressed versions of the originals. Which are inherently fixed
A piece can be a momentary manifestation of latent possibilities
present within the system of the work. In such cases nothing is
fixed in the final work only in the conditions from which it arises.
Theory either has to be adapted to inspect something fluid or
it can only be applied to the source of the work⋌The artistic attitudes, system of rules and conditions producing it. not the actual
rendering. The directing principles can be articulated into a form
that can be stored indefinitely and every time upon accessing it,
a new rendering of the work is produced. As is the case of many
event works by George Brecht this score also becomes the
documentation, which is in universal contact with all of its
performances, even the imagined ones. We can only examine this
with a speculative frame of mind, which relies strongly on
imagination and artistic attitudes of synthesis present in the
spectator. Through this method a new work is created in order to examine it.
If there is no solid source from where to start with
this speculative practice, this approach has to be altered
and expanded to reverse engineer the preconditions based on
the actual work. Build up the background from which it is
brought forth and from which it can be made again.
The intention to produce images is rooted in a basic attitude
towards life. To preserve that which is of value, and which
might go away otherwise. That way every image is a proposal
of what we wish reality to be. And this is true of every
image that is not completely abstract (which are virtually non-existent).
We look through these images as we would through a window,
to an alternative world that is continually shaped by our
efforts. But if we go outside we find, as if in a bad dream,
that we are inside again. Our understanding of reality is
relearned continually through images.
Presented with an artwork lacking debatable form theory has
to find another subject → itself.⋌The serpent biting its tail is a clear symbol of continuous change, and renewal. This either meas that the
artist while creating the work also has to create the theoretical
background necessary for its reception, making the two inseparable.
Or theory has to become a work on its own. To inspect continuous
change it simply becomes one with that which is changing.
The result of both these ways is a symbiotic merging of
theory and practice.