Where does a performance exist?
I’ve been thinking about where a performance exists.
There is an orthodoxy that suggests that performance exists solely in the moment of performance. That is, it is defined by its ephemerality. It’s disappearance. Performance is that which is happening now and anything else is by its very nature not the performance. It is documentation. Archive. Souvenir.
In this way we define performance as an act that is continually in the process of disappearing. It is slipping away with all the inevitability of Benjamin’s Angel of History, propelled forwards through time against its will. Unable to keep hold of anything.
But what if we think of things differently? What if we think of a performance as not located anywhere specific, but dispersed. Like a place.
Like a place, a performance is not a physical thing. It is a network of exchanges and relationships, of shared histories and memories. It is material traces and myths.
What we think we remember, or even what we’ve been told about a performance is as much a part of that performance as any physical act that might have once taken place. The documentation of a performance (the scripts, the photographs, the video) do not just exist as referents to the past event, they are a part of that event. They perform too. They can perform the disappearance of an event (they can say ‘look at us, we’re all that’s left’) or they can perform the events continuing presence – like the photography of Hugo Glendenning.
Performance continues to persist as all the traces of this place that we can find. We cannot hope to reconstruct it in its entirety in the same way that we cannot reconstruct the village we grew up in. Even if the houses were remade and the fields and artificial weather spilled over the village in exact replication of the summer of 1987, it is not the same without the shared knowledge of that place, and the shared ignorance of everything that will come later.
Instead perhaps then, like a place, we might see performance as something to cross. Something to explore and peruse. Something to move through.
Perhaps we might see reconstruction as a process rather than an aim. It is a journey we undertake, foregrounding our act of walking. It is us moving through this performance – exploring the dispersed moments and relationships and documents that constitute the performance and reconfiguring around ourselves.
Our reconstruction is the story of our movement around the place of performance – not a reconstruction of the place itself.