‘When we approach performance not as that which disappears (as the archive expects), but as both the act of remaining and a means of re-appearance and “reparticipation” (though not a metaphysic of presence) we are almost immediately forced to admit that remains do not have to be isolated to the document, to the object, to bone versus flesh.’
You’re right. Where else to start writing about performance and its (after)life, other than with Peggy Phelan. Phelan is after all the precursor to all conversation about performance and its documentation. Perhaps just as Marina Abramović is seemingly the precursor to all conversation about performance, live or body art. To respond, I want to turn to a comment that Phelan made at a recent conference where she asserted that she wrote the famous statement; ‘performance’s only life is in the present. Performance cannot be saved, recorded, documented, or otherwise participate in the circulation of representations of representations, once it does so, it becomes something other performance’, in one afternoon. In one afternoon. That is, the famous statement that has divided critics, that has been reproduced, re-represented, argued with, battled against, agreed with, and fundamentally changed the discourse for performance documentation, was written in one afternoon.
I am interested then in the clear temporal frame of Phelan’s statement (one afternoon), and the manner in which this statement is seemingly more cited, quoted, spoken about than other statement in the discipline of Performance Studies. What does it mean for Phelan’s statement about the irreproducibility of performance, its ontology as performance only existing in the present, to be a statement which in itself is so regularly reproduced and re-represented? We enter into, return to, re-hash and re-consider Phelan’s statement time and time again. It is a monument and it is monolithic in this field, because we reproduce it so regularly; in criticism, in talks, as reference point, as backlash. We all know those words. Her words are those that remain; those that live on. Thus, if we see writing about performance and specifically in this case, Phelan’s writing about performance as an Austinian performative utterance, it seems striking that Phelan’s statement has become so easily and so evidently reproducible. Let us consider Phelan’s logic in her statement as a method to think of her own writing, her acts of criticism, her own performative utterances. In its reproduced forms, what is the life or liveness of Phelan’s statement?
This post is a response to 25/02
Read Jacoba’s response here