Bettina Knaup & Beatrice Ellen Stammer
re.act.feminism # 2 - a performing archive
re.act.feminism #2 - a performing archive is a continually expanding temporary and living performance archive travelling through six European countries from 2011 to 2013. In its current version it presents performance art by 125 artists and artist collectives from Eastern and Western Europe, the Mediterranean and Middle East, the US and several countries in Latin America in the form of videos, films, photographs and texts. On its route through Europe – starting in Spain and continuing through Croatia, Poland, Estonia, Denmark and ending in Germany – this temporary archive will continue to expand through local research and scholarly cooperation. It will also be ‘animated’ through local exhibitions, screenings, performances and discussions along the way, which will continuously contribute to the archive.
A performing archive is part of the long-term project re.act.feminism. Since 2008, re.act.feminism considers feminist and gendercritical performance art from the 1960s to the early 1980s as well as the “return” of this artistic practice in the form of re-enactments, re-formulations and archival projects.
Performance art that is process-oriented, experimental and crosses genres has been in great demand for a number of years. This is partially motivated by the historisation of this ephemeral art form as well as the active appropriation of its history by a younger generation exploring the relevance of a potentially resistant, subversive artistic practice today.
In the 1960s and 70s, performance developed into an independent art form, firmly establishing the body and actions of the artists and audiences involved as a medium of art. This period was a time of global awakening, strongly influenced by the student protests in the West, revolts in Eastern Europe, resistance movements in the South and Latin America, as well as the international women’s, civil rights, peace, gay and lesbian movements. It was also a time when artists tested the limits of artistic expression and rebelled against art based on formalism, on the art object and on strategies of commodification.
The form and content of performance made it a paradigmatic medium for a feminist and gendercritical artistic production. By linking art with life, private with public, and by focusing on the creative, acting and knowing body and by appropriating the new medium of video, women artists changed from the objects of art to the subjects of art. Their radical works exposed and subverted oppressive identity categories while dramatising social and physical experiences of violence and appropriating the pleasurable body. Performance was a new art form that could be practiced outside of traditional art spaces and the logic of economic exploitation, and it was also a medium for collective and political intervention in the public sphere.
Although performance is currently in high demand, this feminist, gendercritical practice of performance, which set the tone for this medium from the beginning, has seldom been subject to thorough scrutiny. Also, a change of perspective from Western normativity to a paradigm of transcultural exchange of artistic practices is just at the beginning.
In the context of the current trends of institutionalising performance art, our goals are therefore the following:
>> To investigate feminist, gendercritical and queer strategies within performance art by taking a thematic and cross-generational approach and making this visible across geo-political borders.
>> To go beyond current strategies of canonisation and stress the diversity of performative strategies and practices and correcting blind spots.
>> To create a critical and thematic cartography (in place of a chronology) to promote a transcultural and cross-generational dialogue and an exchange of artistic strategies.
>> To highlight the complex relationship between live performances, their traces and documents, and their reception.
This project is based on the idea of a living archive. We do not stress the artefacts and documents as such, and we do not focus on the archival function of preserving and conserving which, as Derrida once said, might put documents “under house arrest”. On the contrary, we emphasise their use, re-use, appropriation and reinterpretation. In other words, we are interested in the “productivity” of the document: What effect does the document have in the moment of its reception, what does it do? What kind of relationship does it create between past and future, between author and recipient? What types of references and interpretations does the archive offer?
Following the theorist Rebecca Schneider, we do not see documentation as live performance's Other: Performance not only exists in the moment of the live act; it often reaches a broader audience only through its traces, documentation and records. Many items of performance documentation (photographs, videos, scores, etc.) acquire a life and a quality of “liveness” of their own. They are often made deliberately with a future audience in mind, and for an anticipated future “encounter”. They continue to stir our imagination, call for action and invite us to re-perform.
re.act.feminism takes us on a time travel, inviting us to engage in a lively dialogue beyond the limits of time and space. Our focus is not on historical reconstruction, but rather on infecting gestures and productive translations.
The Exhibition in Montehermoso, Spain
The heart of the exhibition is the mobile archive, a temporary collection of numerous videos, films and photographic documents. The mobile archive is based on the video archive for re.act.feminism – performance art of the 1960s and 70s today (Academy of the Arts Berlin 2008/2009). The focus of the re.act.feminism project was the performance movements in Western and Eastern Europe and the USA.
In the course of the current project, this geographical focus will be broadened through the local research of the project’s European partner institutions as well as exemplary research done by scholars in several Latin American countries and in the Mediterranean and Middle East. We are thus following traces which emerged already during the research for the first edition of re.act.feminism. We also wish to go beyond a Eurocentric canon, and to expand our own curatorial viewpoint by integrating other perspectives.
The mobile archive comprises a set of 5 foldable transport crates which can be converted into one archive cabinet and four work stations for the individual study of videos, films and photographic documents. An accompanying handbook offers information on all the works and assists visitors with viewing choices.
The archive predominantly consists of video and film documentation. Works primarily from the 1960s and 70s that have not been documented on film for various reasons will be integrated into the archive in a special section on photographic documentation.
The works were chosen based on their potential and relevance for today’s feminist and queer debates and artistic strategies. They were also selected because they represent the diversity of performative practices and media. Not all the artistic works are feminist in the strict sense, and not all the artists call themselves feminists.
But all the works can be placed in an associative field of reference that includes feminism, gender theory, queer theory and art. They allow us to see the power relations inscribed in the body and its potential for resistance and for pleasure, and to discover singular subjectivities and connections between life and art.
As with any archive, subjectivity, availability and copyright issues have played a role in the archive’s constitution, meaning gaps are a necessary part of this archive, as for any other. But because this project is process-oriented, we hope to make these gaps legible, negotiable and even possibly productive.
In addition to the archive, 20 artists will be presented in the exhibition space in videos, films, photographic works, scores and installations. These works represent a subjective cut through the archive and connect two generations of women artists. The selection evolved along thematic fields that we consider important in the context of the feminist avant-garde of the 1960s and 70s as well as today. They highlight connections and references, as well as differences and a rejection of normativity.
dis/appearing subjects Although in a polarized interpretation feminism in the 1970s is often associated with an essentialist search for a new identity and femininity, many women artists saw identity and subjectivity as porous, fragmented, contradictory, already in the 1970s. They regarded performance as a medium for exploring the boundaries of visibility and invisibility, gaining language and silence, becoming an acting subject and disappearance. Women artists such as Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Fina Miralles, Gabriele Stötzer and Ulrike Rosenbach defied the (dominant sexist and/or racist) gaze that creates stereotypes and fetishes. They also defied the constraints of representation and practices of control, using strategies of veiling or exposure.
resisting objects In the works of Adrian Piper, Oreet Ashery and Lorraine O’Grady, the freak, i.e. the objectified other, is an important character. The exaggeration of visibility, the enforcement of voyeurism and the disturbance of seamless perception and legibility are common features of these performances, which use strategies of metamorphosis, masquerade and role play to demonstrate the “resistance of the object” (Fred Moten).
labour of love and care Women artists like Mierle Laderman Ukeles politicise and dramatise invisible, precarious work, housework, reproductive work and care giving. Pauline Boudry/Renate Lorenz trace an arc from the feminist call for paid housework to queer dandyism and the current criticism of the capitalist exploitation of immaterial labour.
body controls and resistance The different practices of controlling the body – ranging from state oppression by authoritarian regimes and the surveillance of free movement and migration to sexualised and internalised violence – and the practices of resistance involved in re-claiming public space are the main theme in works by Tanja Ostojić, Ewa Partum, Letícia Parente, Regina José Galindo and Raeda Saadeh.
extended bodies An extended, relational understanding of bodies that sees the body within the relationship between the self and the collective, between human and nature and between human and animal is articulated by artists such as Fina Miralles, Zorka Ságlová, Marta Minujín and Miriam Sharon. They explore intimate settings as well as collective and expansive happenings.
art herstories Stefanie Seibold and Teresa María Díaz Nerio analyse the de- and re-construction of knowledge in art and gender discourse while referring to the French performance artist Gina Pane. Racist and sexist mechanisms of exclusion in the art world are the theme of Lorraine O’Grady's performances.
conflict and vulnerabilities Vulnerability through inscriptions on the body, subtle gestures of resistance in the context of sexualized violence as well as political conflicts are explored in the works of Raeda Saadeh, Letitia Parente and Regina José Galindo.
Information about the project is accessible to a broader audience in short summaries, pictures, texts and tags on this web site. The web page is intended as a research tool and will continue to grow in sync with the ongoing exhibition and archive programme, ensuring sustainable access to re.act.feminism.
Bettina Knaup and Beatrice Ellen Stammer, September 2011