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Jacoba:

What if we look to re-enactments, in order to try and pinpoint the liveness of the reproduced forms of Phelan’s statements? Re-enactments can be reproductions, or perhaps, re-presentations of a performance, while still being a performance in their own right – not sacrificing liveness.

What distinguishes a re-enactment that attains its one liveness and is strongly embedded in the moment from one that feels like a highly staged experience? This is obviously highly debatable and ultimately very subjective. Yet, I’ll wager an attempt at discerning the essence. What seems to cause a staged, ‘un-live’ experience are those re-enactments that too literally attempt to recreate an earlier performance. Think of, for instance, the restaging of Marina Abramovic’s pieces during her Artist is Present retrospective by students. These were limited, strict, literal re-enactments. These representations – reproductions – lost in strength because they were staged. A clear example was the reperformance of Ulay & Abramovic’s Imponderabilia (1977), in which Ulay and Abramovic stood naked in a doorway and visitors to the gallery had to push past, touching the artists’ bodies. What made this performance such a powerful live experience, was the fact that the visitors had no choice but to brush past the artists if they wanted to go inside. In the MOMA production, Abramovic’s students stood naked in one doorway, but visitors had numerous options to arrive where they wanted to be and could avoid touching the artists. The performance lost its urgency and became nothing but a relic, an icon signifying a past performance.

As opposed to literal recreations like this one, it seems to me that re-enactments that take on elements, certain meanings derived from original performance succeed at not only transferring a sense of the original performance, but also at attaining a new liveness. Here I’d like to refer to  a re-enactment of Joseph Beuys’ How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (1965) by young Belgian artist Meggy Rustamova. The original performance consisted of Beuys with a mask of honey and gold leaf, walking a dead hare around an exhibition of his drawings and paintings before sitting down and explaining the meaning of the works to the animal. Rustamova based her re-enactment on the famous photograph of the piece. This and a text were the sole resources for her performance, How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Fish (2008), which consequently looks and feels quite different.

Meggy Rustamova - How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Fish (2008)

Meggy Rustamova – How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Fish (2008)

Not only is there an obvious gender reversal, in the performer, in the silver leaf replacing the gold leaf and even in the fish replacing the hare, but there is also a significant difference in the actions. Whereas Rustamova merely walks around with the fish, Beuys manipulated the hare completely. It was exactly this openness in the resources that allowed Rustamova to make the performance her own. Failing to find texts about Beuys’ reasons for the performance, Rustamova focused on her own motivations. And so, by re-enacting the Beuys performance, Rustamova could re-embody the piece, and thereafter enter into a dialogue with the artist. She added to the work her own interpretations and meanings. Rustamova introduced into the re-enactments a sense of something new and unexpected.

She views the re-enactment as a way to transmit more of the original work than only the iconic image and to investigate “the power of artworks in the past by bringing them to life in the present”. [1] In relation to the performance, Rustamova says:

With me it was more of a dialogue, the original artist is dead, I represent the new generation and I want to add to these remains, this spirit, something new. [2]

How does this relate to the liveness in reproduced statements? Well, I’d argue that each reproduction of Phelan’s statement, in new editions and in papers by other scholars occurs in a completely new context, with a new aim. In new editions of Unmarked the statement is read within new theories of performance, in other papers the writers will use the statement as an argument for their own thesis or they will try to disprove Phelan’s words. What is retained from Phelan’s statement is its core, to which other people add their own beliefs and motivations. In short, I believe the liveness of the reproductions of the statement resides in the fact that it is never employed as a mere reproduction, but it is used in specific contexts to prove and disprove. The statement continues to be live, continues to be performative.

This post is a response to 05/03

Read Bryony’s response here


1. Rustamova, Meggy. “An Examination of Beuys’ Hare Nowadays.” Eigenart 75 (2010): 37.

2. Rustamova, Meggy. Interview. Jacoba Bruneel. 26 February 2011.

2 thoughts on “28/03/14

  1. Pingback: 05/03/14 | Felt Acts

  2. Pingback: 03/04/14 | Felt Acts

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