On May 12, 2012, the ICA held a Student Forum organized panel discussion titled “Existere & Documenting Performance Art.”
The panel, which included Jo Melvin, art historian, curator and lecturer; David Gothard, director and former artistic director of Riverside Studios; poet John James; and Rye Holmboe, PhD candidate and writer. The panelists responde in conversation to Existere – a living performance sculpture by artist collective JocJonJosch – and the issues of documenting performance art without images.
Following the talk and having given some rest to ideas that floated around that evening, we provide you with our impressions.
What is a moment? And can it potentially be captured? These questions lay at the heart of the debate that took place on May 12th, 2012 in an intimate studio space above the main gallery at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. The title of the panel discussion “Existere & Documenting Performance Art” is but a fragment of a conversation that started over a year ago. It is also just a simple and imperfect attempt to capture the question that exists beyond an hour-long epitaph on performance art, the kind of performance art that we would like to suggest has become a chapter in cultural history. Performance art and its documentation – whether video, audio, photographic, or textual – will always be just that – a signifier of a moment that has already passed.
The moment itself is a sign, in semiological context of things, of life itself. It is affirmative of life and limiting of our understanding. Yet, as Jo Melvin observed during the Existere discussion, each such moment of life, of performance, of situationism, has the potential to activate imagination, to point at the imperfections and beauty of multiplicity of narratives, faults of memory, faults and remarkable promise of our sense to tune into the world, into experience, once prompted, nudged, enabled and urged to gain autonomy.
The Existere discussion, for me, brought up a lot of questions on the navigation of individual psyche, imagination of the internal, and the power or freedom of observation. This imperfection of systematic structures seems to be what the young collective JonJocJosch have uprooted with their Existere performance which manifested itself visually last summer at Battersea TestBed 1 and remains only but a trace of memory, words, and fiction on the tip of the tongues of those present. Their performance remains but a figment of our imaginations – collective and individual, but curiously it is also a force that continues to evolve various narratives in our daily life.
The panel also drifted to discussion of music, specifically electronic music, and its distance from reliance on seeing as the primary sense of experience. The issues of live, recorded, pre-recorded, studio-recorded have all been raised just to highlight the impossibility of drawing comparison between a vastly diverse and differing range of experience – both in creating music, performing, and listening, or visualizing it. Opinions may be dissenting on which representation, quality, and presentation may be best, but the main point remains – each creative attempt is a manifestation of an act doomed to fail. It is simply about allowing these failures, falls, and imperfections to take place.
The first encounter with JocJonJosch occurred on a rare sunny summer day last year. We floated into the seats of the Tate Modern members lounge above the Thames. A friend recommended I meet them because of my keen interest in ephemeral art practices, those rare art practices that attempt to elude all material details. We chatted on end about art, clouds, dust, and visions, about moments of thunder, affect, and no return. Their individual and collective practices reflects an insatiable desire for conversation, for contact, for reaching out via process to individuals rather than the mass public, and essentially the panel discussion was an extension of that.
The audio recording of the talk is available here:
The panel was initiated by Anne Baan Hofman and Julie Solovyeva.
Text by Julie Solovyeva.