Before I begin I need to give a little background. The work I am discussing here is one I am currently working on (right now) called ‘Don’t Hate The Rich – Be One Of Them!’.[1] It is a primarily online rolling performance re-enacting, speculatively and verbatim, an identity called Michael Green, who was formerly the online alter ego of current Conservative Party chairman Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP.[2] This performance involves mimicking the now unoccupied identity of Green through text and images on Twitter and Facebook, verbatim re-creating his now deleted website HowToCorp[3] and devising and performing a series of live-streamed performances (or ‘webinars’) on a new page here.[4]

This work is supported using public funds by Arts Council England and is the recipient of seed funding from UPstream and greenhouse. It was initially commissioned by BE Festival in July 2013.[5]

Michael Green is an identity comprised solely of documentation. His customers never saw him in the flesh; indeed Michael Green has no flesh. Michael Green is made up of a series of traces, testimonies to his existence, constructed documentation hinting at a body behind the words, sites and products. In this sense he is not too dissimilar to art hoaxes like Nat Tate or Darko Maver. One might approach these projects as performance as well as object-making: once revealed, the action really takes place apart from the objects, in the construction of a narrative derived from the objects. A performance of identity accessed through constructed evidence.

Taking up the baton of Green now, I too am tasking myself with constructing documentation through performance. There is a certain liveness to this producing of documentation; tweets are issued temporally, performing a duration, suggesting Green sitting at his computer daily and hence my reading of this writing as performance. But there may be a more complex relationship between the performing of typing and sending a motivational tweet and its subsequent lasting trace on Twitter.

Communicating online, writing online, is an action that is both live and simultaneously, instantaneously documentation. Where when one writes an analogue letter one creates a single object, one to be held by the recipient, whereas a tweet, an SMS, whatever, is a process of documentation and copies. An email results in a copy for me, a copy for the intended recipient and copies for Gmail’s database, GCHQ and the NSA. A tweet does the same, it can never just be live: becoming documentation is contingent in its medium.

Disquiet about this unavoidable documentation leads to platforms like 4chan and Snapchat, where a distance-communication self-destructs, a time-limited documentation. This can add another factor to our understanding of performance documentation over the Internet, where the duration of documentation can be added to or understood as a part of the duration of a performance. In this way, online performance anticipates its documentation (or its becoming documentation) as a part of its act.

So this double process live-and-also-documentation in the Michael Green work has a slightly different relationship to documentation than that of a performance that is performed for an in-room audience then replayed to others, after, elsewhere. This may be to do with the actions of the room-performer not being documentation contingent. The room performer does not have to perform documentation in the way the Internet performer must.

FeltActs Article Image

This contingent documentation complicates my approach to live-performing Michael Green. I want a viewer to experience the work as duration. I want them to experience its liveness, to see a tweet come into their twitter stream, to watch a streamed performance as I broadcast it, to get at what the rogue identity Michael Green is now, right now. But even engaging with this potential viewer, the one who sees the action at the instant where it is both live and documentation, I am conscious of looking past them, of already anticipating the coming documentationess of the action.

This has a slightly uncomfortable, alienating affect that I have experienced before; when Facebook was still new I remember my friends being very fond of communicating through posting on each others’ walls. I attempted this a few times but I always felt like there was a kind of deception taking place. I had typed some words intended for someone but left them as documentation for others to see. This introduced a tension to these words, in which I felt like I was simultaneously talking to others, at a different time, while purporting addressing my friend. Who was I really writing to(/for)?

Where this inescapable performance as documentation for Michael Green could become useful is in the production of narrative, a durational narrative that is indicated and validated by the timestamps next to each intervention. I am situating the live-streams (the closest aspect of this work to what might be called conventional bodily performance) within a record of these other textual performances via Facebook and Twitter widgets. In this way the documentation can be seen as introducing or feeding into the subsequent liveness to take place, hinting at a ‘coming liveness’ that may be anticipating documentation’s other side of the coin.

This reading attempts to revisit the ‘documentation as evidence’ I introduced this essay with, hoping the previous performance documentations can function as a set-up for an engagement with a kind of liveness, either momentarily through the arrival of the next tweet, or maybe more conventionally through engagement with a broadcast performance.

Of course this still leaves open the issue of the broadcast live-streamed performance being both live-performance and concurrent documentation, never solely addressing the live-viewer, and goes no way into additional issues with broadcast liveness’ relationship to documentation (Wirecast delays my actions by almost a minute before a viewer will see it via their screen for example). That said, understanding the double process of live-as-documentation as a tool for production of performance online could be the beginning of a productive route into investigating the different statuses of time, documentation, alienation and liveness taking place within the computer screen, both in terms of online performance, and more widely, digital communication.

Simon Farid is a visual artist interested in the relationship between administrative identity and the body it purports to codify and represent. Taking on the role of a hacker or trickster he looks to playfully intervene in the identity-generation process, operating as ‘other people’ and enacting ways to counter emergent institutional identity confirmation mechanisms. A quick Google search will, of course, reveal where he lives, works, what he looks like and information about other people with whom he shares his name.

[1] http://www.create-hub.com/interview/simon-farid-interview-snippet/ Accessed 17/12/2014

[2] http://housetheatre.org.uk/greenhouse/projects/upstream-how-to-bounce-back-from-recession-live-webinar-with-michael-green/ Accessed 17/12/2014

[3] http://howtocorp.org/ Accessed 17/12/2014

[4] http://howtocorp.org/live.htm Accessed 17/12/2014

[5] http://befestival.org/festival/how-to-bounce-back/ Accessed 17/12/2014

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