An Archive in a Library

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This is me on my 45th birthday in one of the best places in the world: the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, New York, New York. The Academy of Finland funding has allowed me to have my first full-time research leave in a decade, and to spend the time efficiently, I gave myself a birthday present: a two-week “residency” in this collection. The above photograph is of the second floor circulating collections, where books are on open shelves, but much of my time was actually spent with archival collections in the third floor.

The archive requires certain specialist tools of the trade to deal with paper in various stages of disintegration – special supports for books whose spines are like those of a very old person arthritic under the weight of years, led string wrapped in cloth to hold one’s place without cracking the page, and a microspatula for turning a new leaf because a fingertip will only turn the edge to dust.

tools

A historian is taught early on that very old materials or things that are in poor condition have to be treated with care so as to preserve them for others who might need them later. You are never the last person to want to read this or see this or touch this. Someone else – probably someone smarter – will come along and discover it anew. This is a lesson in ethics: I am not who matters, the matter itself has the right to be treated with respect.

Yet, as with ethics, we always will fail and are thus encouraged to try anew and improve on ourselves in treating these material remains of a past chosen for preservation. Disintegration is simply inevitable, entropy seeks to overpower the universe. The materiality of this paper is one of brittleness, the foxing of old pages a sign of passing years like wrinkles on skin. Archivists conserve materials: they use cotton tape and special quality glue, twine and tweezers and brushes and yes, microspatulas, to fix damage, prolonging the life their chronically ailing patients. Some of the materials I sought for were not available because they were scheduled for conservation, others I encountered because they were on exhibit:

Contrasting video of rehearsal and performance, showing costumes with photographs of stagings, posters and film stills, and displaying a wealth of manuscript materials like diaries and letters, the current gallery exhibit celebrates the life of Jerome Robbins, after whom the Dance Collection of the library is named. As with previous exhibitions, most of the objects shown are from this library’s collections, and many have never been shared with the general public. Although the exhibit cannot be as critical as a research might wish it to be, the selection of different kinds of things somehow emphasises the sheer range of what remains of a long career, if some of the sacrifices made on the altar of that career are only hinted at. At the same time, it draws attention to how finding out what is actually in the collections might require a degree of detective work simply because what is on the shelves and on display is merely a fragment of what is there in the vaults, and for those in the know to request and figure out.

No matter how much care one takes, after some time in the archives, one has breathed in dust that was once part of the archived object, but one has also touched where another has cared enough to turn this particular page – if a little too rapidly for the fibres that used to form a whole but due to their age simply came apart in that one flip of a careless finger. Digital versions of archival materials do not have this immediate materiality, not even to the degree of the object meticulously positioned in a display case. Reading a digital book lacks the smell of dead organisms used in conveying its message, just as a costume on a dummy lacks the movement of the dancer. The more yellowed and fragile the leaves, the more worn the fabric, the more they recall the turning of the season outside from summer to autumn – fall, in the old version of English still used in America. Archives are corporeal work: a few more hours of sitting in a chair in the cool, air-conditioned room, and my body aches like the book in front of me does not.

Outside, in the rain, leaves are falling.

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Let’s Talk about Performance!

Conversations on Performance Art continue at Muu gallery on Monday 1 October at 6 pm. The guest this time is Tomasz Szrama, and the topic we begin with is the question of audience participation, or collaboration with the witnesses or whatever you prefer to call your mode of engagement. Tomasz calls his actions “Social encounters of despair” because “they are sort of a social gathering, and ‘despair’ describes their character and reasons to be committed.” More information about Tomasz and his performances is to be found on his website. More information about the event on the Muu webpage or the event on facebook, here.

Please come and share you views!

Call for proposals: Performance pedagogy 16.11. 2018

Research Day III: Performance Pedagogy

Call for proposals

The research project How to do things with performance? organises a third research day focusing on performance pedagogy with professor Gavin Butt as key note speaker on 16 November 2018at University of the Arts Theatre Academy, Auditorium 1.

What are the pedagogical dimensions of performance? Lectures and demonstrations are performances in themselves, but what about the pedagogy of performance and performance art? What can be done for, in, and with performance in a pedagogical situation and what could pedagogy give to performance practice? If performance is a site for learning, how does learning take place in it? What do we learn in performance?

In the research project How to do things with performance? (2016-2020) funded by the Academy of Finland we have looked at pedagogy and performance mainly in the edited collection Performance Artist’s Workbook. On teaching and learning performance art – essays and exercises(Porkola 2017). Influential studies of the pedagogy of performance art such as Performing Pedagogy – Toward an Art of Politicsby Charles Garoian (1999), The Analysis of Performance Art – A Guide to its Theory and Practiceby Anthony Howell (1999) or “Some Thoughts on Teaching Performance Art in Five Parts” by Marilyn Arsem (2011) as well as anthologies such as Stucky and Wimmer’s Teaching Performance Studies(2002) form the background to our discussions.

Despite our interest in performance art we understand performance in a wide sense. Performance studies, performance research and performance-as-research can be understood as the study of various practices and processes besides cultural and artistic performances. As art making in artistic research, performance or performing can function as a central research method or as one way of presenting research results. (Allegue et al. 2009; Hunter & Riley 2009; Kershaw & Nicholson 2011; Nelson 2013; Arlander et.al.2018) Here we are especially interested in the links between pedagogy and performance.

Our key note speaker, professor Gavin Butt,is a transdisciplinary scholar working across the areas of performance studies, queer studies, visual culture, and popular music. Before taking up the Attenborough Chair in Drama: Theatre and Performance at Sussex in September 2016, he was Professor of Visual Cultures and Performance at Goldsmiths, University of London. Butt was the co-director of Performance Matters (2009-2013), a creative research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, bringing together artists, curators, activists, performance organizers, and academics to investigate the cultural value of performance. He is co-editor of Post-Punk Then and Now, Repeater, 2016. Butt is currently completing a book Being in a Band: The Leeds Art Experiment and the Making of Alternative Culture 1972-1985, which explores the generative nature of collective creation on the eve of neoliberalism. It focuses on the post-punk scene in 1970s and 1980s Leeds, and on group-belonging in theatre and performance, visual art and music making. It is a case study of the radical potential of higher education at a time when access to art school and university was free to all.

We invite everybody interested in the connections of pedagogy and performance art, live art, performance-as-research, research on and in performance, or performance studies to debate these questions and ponder how pedagogy and performance are entangled. How and in what way are things done with performancepedagogy? What can be done with performance art that cannot be done with other forms of performance within a pedagogical situation? What kind of change does performance pedagogy generate?

We are especially interested in performance lectures, demonstrations, interventions, pedagogical experiments, that is, performance pedagogy in action! Please, send abstracts (max 250 words) of proposals for 15 -20 min. contributions and a brief bio, no later than 14 October 2018 to annette.arlander@uniarts.fi

Welcome!

Annette Arlander, Hanna Järvinen, Tero Nauha and Pilvi Porkola

For updates, see here

 

 

Performance Pedagogy 16.11.2018

Research Day III: Performance Pedagogy

The 3rd Research Day organized by the Academy of Finland funded research project How to Do Things with Performance? will take place on the 16th of November 2018 at the Theatre Academy, Auditorium 1. The theme of the day is Performance pedagogy.

The keynote speaker professor Gavin Butt (University of Sussex) is a transdisciplinary scholar working across the areas of performance studies, queer studies, visual culture, and popular music. Before taking up the Attenborough Chair in Drama: Theatre and Performance at Sussex in September 2016, he was Professor of Visual Cultures and Performance at Goldsmiths, University of London. 

The call will be published soon!

Migrating Concepts in Performance

One month ago, 9-13 July 2018, HTDTWP participated in the IFTR World Congress in Belgrade, Serbia. The IFTR website is already focusing on the next 2019 conference in Shanghai; the conference program and book of abstracts can nevertheless be found – with a little digging – in the archive, here https://www.iftr.org/conference/past-conferences/2010s The theme of the conference was “Theatre, Nation and Identity: Between Migration and Stasis”. The panel we proposed, a further development of the one we prepared for Krakow, was titled “Migrating Concepts in Performance”, a title so difficult to translate into Finnish (esityksessä vaeltavat käsitteet?) that I decided to write this short post in English only.  We were scheduled for the very first day: Pilvi Porkola began with “Questions of Translating in Library Essays”, Hanna Järvinen continued with “Restaging, remaking, reconstructing, reimagining“, Annette Arlander followed with “Authorship, agency and performing in ‘Year of the Dog-Sitting in a Tree’“ and  Tero Nauha concluded with “Performance as thinking or performance philosophy?” We had quite an audience, at least compared to some other occasions, which was inspiring. And it was nice to have the presentation in the beginning of the conference, in order to be able to join the working group sessions (Performance as Research for Pilvi Porkola and me, Choreography and Corporeality for Hanna Järvinen) or follow the general conference program. All in all, the organizers were very serious about making this congress a memorable event, and I guess they succeeded in many ways. – Our abstracts and some images are available on the RC, here https://www.researchcatalogue.net/view/281037/281038/7484/1305

Performance as Network – Esitys verkostona

Networking: Finland, Malta, Korea

The Psi #24 conference was organized in Daegu, South Korea 3-7 July with the theme “Performance as network: Arts, City, Culture” http://www.psi2018-daegu.com/eng/

HTDTWP (How to Do Things With Performance) wanted to participate, of course, and proposed a panel called “Networking: Finland, Malta, Korea” – a performative panel on connections across time and space. Our purpose was to create a performative and performance-like panel playing with connections across time and space or place, where Hanna Järvinen would participate from Malta (where a conference on dance studies took place at the same time), Tero Nauha from Finland and Pilvi Porkola and Annette Arlander would be on site in Korea. The title evoked expectations of descriptions of networking by artists from these three countries or of a roundtable discussion rather than traditional individual presentations. Because the organizers had not published descriptions or any material like a book of abstracts, this type of guessing was understandable. We proposed a network of four performances, two live and two mediated by different digital technologies. The panel is choreographed as a connection between different technologies combining human bodies and voices, clusters of sound and pre-recorded video materials. That is how the panel was described in the proposal. The abstract and some images are available on the RC, here.

Actually, the panel was not very performative; it consisted of four independent presentations, which included some performative elements. Arlander began by introducing the panel briefly and continued with her presentation “Revisiting the Skyline”, which included a compilation of video works she made in 20018. After that we showed Hanna Järvinen’s pre-recorded Powerpoint presentation “Historical Materiality of Performance”, which discussed archival material remaining from the performances of Nijinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps. Then Pilvi Porkola presented her paper “A Study on Objects” contemplating the use of objects in performance art. Lastly, we played a recorded lecture performance by Tero Nauha “This is a reading”, which he continued seamlessly via Skype from Croatia.

Perhaps the most clearly performative element of the panel was the switching of T-shirt. Arlander had forgotten her HTDTWP T-shirt, and as an emergency solution she wore Porkola’s T-shirt, took it off after her presentation and handed it over to Porkola, who put it on for the rest of the session. See the video still below (here slightly manipulated).

 

Verkostoitumassa: Suomi, Malta, Korea

PSI#24 konferenssi järjestettiin Daegussa, Eteläkoreassa, 3 – 7 heinäkuuta 2018, teemanaan “Esitys verkostona: taiteet, kaupunki, kulttuuri”  http://www.psi2018-daegu.com/eng/

HTDTWP halusi tietysti osallistua, ja ehdotti paneelia “Networking: Finland, Malta, Korea – a performative panel on connections across time and space.” Tarkoitus oli luoda performatiivinen tai esityksellinen paneeli ajan ja paikan ylittävistä yhteyksistä, jossa Hanna Järvinen osallistuisi Maltalta (missä oli samaan aikaan tanssin tutkimuksen konferenssi), Tero Nauha Suomesta ja Pilvi Porkola sekä Annette Arlander paikan päältä Koreassa. Otsikko herätti kuulemma odotuksen näiden kolmen maan taiteilijoiden verkostoitumisen kuvauksesta, tai “roundtable” muotoisesta keskustelusta. Koska järjestäjät eivät siinä vaiheessa olleet julkaisseet tiivistelmiä tai mitään “book of abstracts”-tyyppistä materiaalia tällainen arvailu oli ymmärrettävää.  Ehdotimme neljän esityksen verkostoa, joista kaksi olisi live ja kaksi erilaisten teknologioiden välittämää. Paneeli on koreografioitu erilaisten teknologioiden välisiksi yhteyksiksi, jotka liittävät yhteen ihmisruumiita ja ääniä, ääniklustereita ja ennalta tallennettua videomateriaalia. Näin kuvailimme sitä ennakkoon. Tiivistelmä ja muutamia kuvia löytyy RC:ltä, täältä.

Käytännössä paneeli ei ollut kovin esityksellinen, vaan koostui neljästä erillisestä alustuksesta, jotka sisälsivät joitakin esityksellisiä elementtejä. Arlander aloitti esittelemällä paneelin ja jatkoi sitten alustuksellaan “Revisiting the Skyline”, jonka yhteydessä hän esitti vuonna 2008 kuvaamistaan videoista laaditun koosteen. Sen jälkeen näytettiin Hanna Järvisen ennalta äänittämä Powerpoint-esitys “Historical Materiality of Performance”, joka käsitteli Nijinskin Kevätuhrin esityksistä säilynyttä arkistomateriaalia. Sitten Pilvi Porkola esitti alustuksensa “A Study on Objects” pohtien esineiden käyttöä performanssiesityksissä. Lopuksi soitettiin Tero Nauhan ennalta äänitetty luentoperformanssi “This is a reading”, jota hän saumattomasti jatkoi Skypen välityksellä Kroatiasta.

Paneelin ehkä selkeimmin esityksellinen elementti muodostui T-paidan vaihdosta. Arlander oli unohtanut HTDTWP T-paitansa, joten hätäratkaisuna hän puki ylleen Porkolan T-paidan, riisui sen alustuksensa päätteeksi ja ojensi Porkolalle, joka puki sen ylleen loppuajaksi. Katso stillkuva videolta (tässä hiukan preparoituna):