Documenting Performance: Sensuous Geographies

Documenting Performance: Sensuous Geographies
Collaborative, exploratory research workshop held at CityLIS on March 26th 2019

This is a brief account of our collaborative, exploratory research workshop held on March 26th 2019. For further details, please contact Dr Lyn Robinson or Dr Joseph Dunne-Howrie.

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IMG_6019CityLIS has a longstanding interest in the nature of documents, document theory and the processes of documentation. We understand a document to be something that stands as ‘evidence’, and follow a broad interpretation of those entities that may be classed as documents, including data sets, works of art and performance.

We have a current focus on novel forms of document, which are afforded by new technologies. These technologies, including multimedia, pervasive networks, multisensory transmission (taste, smell, touch), VR and AR, facilitate documents with which we can interact and participate to a greater or lesser extent, and which also promote the experience of immersion, so that a scripted unreality may be perceived as something approaching reality. In many cases, these documents have a temporal component, in that they are experienced at a particular moment in time. Additionally, at any given time, they may be experienced by multiple participants or members of the audience.

Examples include born-digital documents such as video games, interactive fictions or narrative, immersive artworks, and theatre and dance performances produced in VR.

Further, such technologies might also be used to recreate (document), and thus preserve, non-digital documents with a temporal aspect, such as performance.

Whilst the technologies used to create these new forms of document can also be used to preserve them for future access, it is important to note the difference between digitization as a process, and as a technique for preservation. Digital preservation is responsible for preserving digitization.

In order to document and preserve these novel document formats, we need to understand their nature, or documentality.

This one-day workshop brought artists and engineers together with library and information specialists, to explore how immersive, participatory, performance related works could be understood, and thus documented.

We took as our example, the immersive and interactive installation Sensuous Geographies created in 2003 by Professor Sarah Rubidge in collaboration with Professor Alistair Macdonald.

This choreosonic installation, although no longer extant, has been documented by texts, photographs, sound and video recordings. Several physical components remain, including the costumes and the materials used to create the flooring.

We would like to move beyond these forms of documentary evidence (themselves documents), to recreate a version of the original piece in VR. The original installation offers a range of multisensory aspects for documentalists to consider; not only how to recreate audio and visual aspects of the installation in VR, but how to include the elements of presence (participation) and immersion (a feeling of reality).

Our workshop, hosted by myself and Joseph Dunne-Howrie, began with a presentation from Sarah, which set out the nature of the installation, highlighting the features we would need to recreate in order to fully document this unique work, so that it could be made available to new audiences, or indeed again to those who interacted with the installation in 2003/4, in as close to the original format as possible.

We then heard brief presentations from each or our workshop members, on their areas of expertise, followed by informal group discussion around documentation of a multisensory, interactive, immersive, time-based installation.

As a starting point, we considered whether existing conceptual models for describing documentary works, including FRBR (IFLA LRM), and any metadata standards associated with artefacts or performance, offered existing work on which we could build. No model for works similar to Sensuous Geographies was known to the group, although this remains an area for further exploration.

We talked about the nature of the surrogate document, or simulacrum, and acknowledged that our recreation of the installation in VR, if successful, would be a new document, irrespective of how close to creating a work with the feeling of the original experience we came.

Working conceptually, we identified layers of the work that would need to be reproduced in our VR version of Sensuous Geographies:

  • The physical attributes of the installation, the space, the flooring, costumes and screens
  • Participation as either an audience member or a someone who entered the space
  • The soundscape: ambient sounds to give a sense of presence, then the interactive musical score reacting to participants’ movements and interaction (MacDonald ‘composed’ the underlying character of the soundscape in realtime by selecting sound strands and processing systems)
  • The rules embedded in the interactive system, governing the sounds, and the level at which participants could interact
  • The sensations experienced by the participants; sight, sound, touch, movement/direction

We then discussed in broad categories, the technological possibilities that we could employ to realize the work:

  • Static view
  • 360 video on screen
  • 360 video plus headset
  • 360 video plus headset and hand controllers
  • VR headset and empty space
  • VR headset and set pieces
  • VR headset and sensors
  • Sound: multichannel audio, or binaural audio
    (the latter would need to be connected to the participant’s head movement)

The discussions were engaging and constructive. We need now to describe in more detail each ‘layer’ of Sensuous Geographies, and to further explore the technologies available to render the work in as realistic a format as possible.

Our aim is to produce a specification for a project to render the work in VR, and we would welcome any thoughts as to how this could be achieved.

This project offers a case study of documentation, digitization, and subsequent preservation of a multisensory, interactive and immersive choreosonic installation. We believe this to be a novel undertaking, and one which will be of interest to artists and creators of such works, to library and information professionals, to archivists, scholars, engineers and those interested in cultural heritage.

Participants in our workshop included:

Astrid Breel (via Skype)
Joseph Dunne-Howrie
Matthew Freeman (via Skype)
Alistair MacDonald (via Skype)
Jorge Lopes Ramos
Lyn Robinson
Sarah Rubidge
Rebecca Stewart
Mark Underwood
Zhi Xu 

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DocPerform 3: PostDigital
May 16th-17th 2019
City, University of London

Proceedings from DocPerform 2: New Technologies

DocPerform Image Selected papers from our second DocPerform symposium were published as a special issue of Proceedings from the Document Academy. We are pleased to site our work alongside members of the multi- and interdisciplinary community of researchers focusing on documents and documentation.

Join us for DocPerform 3: PostDigital!

Immersion: A New(ish) Way to Experience Art and the World

This post was originally published on the CityLIS blog.

As technology becomes more interactive and digital information becomes more pervasive, theatre-makers are experimenting with new forms of audience participation. The potential technology has to distribute a performance over time and distance is collapsing medial boundaries. In this post, I explore how immersion no longer denotes just the spatial dynamics of a performance by including multiple forms of audience interactivity, which may well constitute new forms of collaboration and co-authorship. 

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Immersive theatre has become a popular term in the UK over the past decade. It encompasses quite a broad range of performance practices, but at it’s most basic immersive theatre denotes performances that occur around the audience, who unlike in conventional theatre spaces experience the piece by moving inside a fictional world. But immersion does not just denote spatial characteristics. Participation is also a common trope, where artists aim to give audiences some agency over how they experience the story they are immersed inside of.

When I was an undergraduate student studying drama in the mid-2000s, what is now called immersive theatre was more commonly referred to as promenade theatre. Moving inside a performance was closely aligned to the concept of total theatre – a theatre that activates all of the senses and emotions to take the audience on a cathartic journey through a drama, thereby leaving them spiritually transformed. Originally published in 1938, Antonin Artaud The Theatre and It’s Double contains an early description of this theatre:

We intend to do away with stage and auditorium, replacing them by a kind of single, undivided locale without any partitions of any kind and this will become the very scene of the action. Direct contact will be established between the audience and the show, between actors and audience, from the very fact that the audience is seated in the centre of the action and is encircled by it. This encirclement comes from the shape of the house itself. Abandoning the architecture of present-day theatres, we will rent some kind of barn or hangar rebuilt along lines of certain Tibetan temples (2001, p.74).

A good example of the kind of space Artaud describes was Area 10. This former steel mill in Peckham, South East London was used as an art space in the late 2000s. It had no seating or any defined performance space. In 2009, I performed in Living Structures’ devised show Biosphere. The show began with the audience sat in a circle watching performers fertilising a plant with their excrement. Then, to a burst of choral singing, a different group of performers  – which I was a part of –  emerged from a plume of smoke, wearing nothing but white underpants and reindeer masks. Once the audience were ushered from the space, a large hessian tent was erected, which they were then free to explore. The inside of the tent was designed like a maze, with a series of installations located at certain nodes. The audience were given reindeer masks and hessian robes to wear. The costume was an attempt to deepen their immersion in the drama by making them part of the aesthetic environment and so become embedded in the narrative unfolding around them.

Whilst Biosphere conforms to many of the conventions of immersive theatre in terms of environmental envelopment and physical proximity between actors and audience, it is more closely aligned with promenade theatre through it’s absence of audience participation. Save for the final third act when the audience explored the maze, much of the audience’s time was taken up with watching dramatic action unfold before and around them rather than taking part in it. This “taking part” can manifest on a number of levels, from direct and improvisational contact with characters, to making choices that determine how a performance unfolds for the individual and for the audience as a whole.

A common characteristic of much immersive theatre is the fragmentation of dramatic narrative, which enables spectators to create their own version of the story. Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man (2014) is the most elaborate piece of immersive theatre I have seen to date, both in terms of it’s scale and sheer detail. The world of The Drowned Man was one that could have been plucked from David Lynch’s imagination. Part abandoned movie set, part Americana dreamscape, part Frankensteinian nightmare, this was a world that I could never fully grasp. Yet it was the very impossibility of experiencing the drama in it’s entirety that drove my movement through it. This impulse is noted as a key characteristic of immersion in theatre by Josephine Machon, who frames it in terms of exploration: “Rediscovery is central to the experience: of space, narrative, character, theme, and sometimes even of unknown depths, or hidden emotions and memories specific to that individual participant”​ (2013, p.28). The version of The Drowned Man I experienced was not the same as my partner’s nor, indeed, anyone else who saw it. True, we inevitably saw some of the same scenes, but the order in which we experienced them in relation to what we had seen previously informed our interpretation of the overall narrative. The relationships between the characters was experienced out of sync or, rather, experienced as pieces of a puzzle we could not hope to assemble as a cohesive whole in a few hours.

We can see, here, links between immersive theatre and the genre of open world games. Games like Skyrim (2011) and the Fallout series (1997-) allow players to explore highly elaborate worlds with far fewer limitations imposed on them than games that have a linear story structure. The lack of definite goal or quest in these games and The Drowned Man creates a far more tangible reality for the spectator or the player because they are not required to follow one path. Instead, they are given a choice of routes inside a virtual reality. Open worlds create many potential experiences for players compared with those that are available in linear game narratives. The ostensive freedom this structure affords audiences and players more closely aligns it with the experience of everyday life.

The links between theatre and gaming can be developed further to address how immersive worlds are built as a collaborative partnership between actors and audiences. ZU-UK’s executive director Jorge Ramos discusses participation in the context of the “experience economy” where audiences, or “players”, act as co-authors of art live art works (2015, p.8). This was evident in ZU-UK’s six hour, overnight epic Hotel Medea (2009-2012). During this re-telling of the Medea myth, players frequently interacted with characters improvisationally. Ramos uses the term “micro-events” to describe these interactions to proffer an approach to immersive theatre that he expresses as “the dramaturgy of participation” (ibid, p.3). The degree of participation increased over the course of the performance in a way that allowed the audience to gradually become part of the story rather than as invertentionist elements.

These micro-events can be understood as private or secret dramas known only to those who experience them.  Participation in the context of immersion includes the building of imaginary worlds through interactivity. In this way, immersive performance  “aims to provide, in everyday activities at the moment of the encounter, modest but pervasive communication, provisional social consensus and micro-utopias”​ (Harvie, 2013, p.7). Describing it in these terms might appear to exaggerate the impact immersive performance can potentially have on the real world until we remember that utopias are non-places of the imagination. The physical immersion in these fictional worlds allows audiences to temporarily inhabit societies that we may celebrate or fear.

The popularity of immersive theatre is partly a product of our contemporary media ecology, which places interaction at it’s centre. Technologically mediated communication has become a significant part of everyday experience. Social media enables these interactions to stretch over time, distance, place and device, thus making the locus of communicative exchanges highly diffuse. Patrick Longeran argues that Facebook, Twitter and the like act as stages where we perform identities to a “network of followers”. When analysed in the context of theatre, online communication produces a distributed mode of performance which “can extend a production both temporally and spatially, pushing [performances] beyond the boundaries of the stage, and beyond the performance of the action in real time” (2015, pp.2-4). Moreover, interaction is not just a feature of the event, but constitutes the event itself:“What makes social media distinctive from other forms of digital performance is the extent to which interactivity is not just a context for reception, but a core element of the overall composition” (ibid, p.21).

Blast Theory’s 2097: We Made Ourselves Over (2017) pushes the envelope of immersive theatre by spreading the immersive world in live and recorded iterations. 2097 presents a dystopian vision of Hull and the Danish city Aarhus following an ecological catastrophe. On 1st October 2017, every public telephone rang in Hull at 2pm. The audience listened to a voice from the future, Hessa, who invited them to record a message to send to her community about what they think is the most important thing to preserve from the present. The piece also consists of five short sci-fi films and one interactive film for smartphones. All of these different iterations act as portals into a fictional world that is embedded in reality through technology, and is therefore not confined to the spatial-temporal zone of live theatre.2097 is neither live or non-live (if we consider ‘live’ to denote physical proximity and ephemerality). It inhabits a temporal plane inbetween or outside of this binary.

Charlie Gere argues that technology has become so embedded into reality that the term digital culture “risks becoming a tautology” (2008, p.7). Whilst the importance of maintaining body-to-body contact in theatre continues to be debated, it is undeniable that performance-makers are embracing the affordances of online communication to find new ways of engaging with audiences. Matt Adams argues that the “most significant characteristic of the ‘digital revolution’ is an explosive new amount of interaction and participation from what has gone before”​ (Adams in Blake, 2014, p.ix). The link he makes between interaction and participation is important to understand when discussing the kinds of activity immersive experiences engender in audiences. Immersion in theatre is an expanding term that is now encompassing communication networks. No single event exists in this form of immersion because it is composed of individual experiences that occur over time and distance.

The immersive spaces of the performance are created by the participation of the audience. This idea resonates with Floridi’s notion of “onlife” – the merging of the digital and offline worlds to create the “infosphere” (2014). The immersive qualities of technology are beginning to be utilised by theatre and performance artists as a way of enriching how audiences can participate in their aesthetic experiences. Immersion in art could constitute a revolution in how theatre is not just experienced but also produced in collaboration with audiences. Moreover, it might allow us the opportunity to rehearse how we can live in a hyper-connected environment without becoming subsumed into a digital fugue of voices and images by providing temporary spaces for genuine intimacy and dialogue.

Adams, M. (2014) Foreword. In: B. Blake, Theatre & the Digital. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp.viii-xi

Artaud, A. (2001) The Theatre and Its Double. London: Calder

Floridi, L. (2014) The Fourth Revolution: How the Infosphere is Reshaping Human Reality. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Gere, C. (2008) Digital Culture. 2nd ed. London: Reaktion

Harvie, J. (2013) Fair Play: Art, Performance and Neoliberalism. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Longeran, P. (2015) Theatre & Social Media. London: Palgrave

Machon. J. (2013) Immersive Theatres: Intimacy and Immediacy in Contemporary Performance. London: Palgrave Macmillan

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You can follow Joe on Twitter.

DocPerform 2: Proceedings to be Published March 2018

DocPerform Logo 3We are delighted to announce that the proceedings from DocPerform 2: New Technologies, which took place on 6th-7th November 2017, will be published in a special issue of Proceedings from the Document Academy. The issue is due out on March 1st 2018.

All speakers who presented at the two day event are invited to submit a full paper based on their session. Please send an email to lyn@city.ac.uk to confirm your intention to submit an original paper.

Papers should reflect the content presented at DocPerform 2, and showcase original work which has not been previously published, nor which is scheduled to appear in any other forthcoming publication, print or electronic. Manuscripts should be between 2,500-5,000 words. It is usually possible to include other media formats, but authors should check with the journal editorial team. Further guidance for submission can be found on the journal website. The deadline for submission is December 31st, 2017.

The process for submission is as follows:

  1. Authors submit to the submission manager. Here is a direct link: http://ideaexchange.uakron.edu/cgi/submit.cgi?context=docam. (Also reachable from the homepage of the journal, link in the sidebar.) Deadline December 31st 2017.
  2. The basic format for text submissions is: up to 5,000 words, Times 12pt, 1.5” margins, single space, no header or footer. Content should be submitted in an editable format (not PDF). Besides basic text, the submission of slideshows, audio files, videos, etc. is allowed. For some projects, the journal can allow more “play” with these formatting requirements. If people have specific needs, they can email Tim Gorichanaz (gorichanaz@drexel.edu) to discuss.
  3. Once submitted, papers will be sent to Lyn Robinson as first-round reviewer, for confirmation that the paper reflects what was presented. Depending on each case, authors may need to make some revisions at this stage.
  4. Among the editorial board (sometimes with outside help, depending on the topic and needs), the second-round review will then occur. Revisions, additional clarification or copyediting may be requested at this stage. This communication will be directly to the author, since they’ll be in the system.
  5.  For a model of what to write and how it will look, see the issue page for last year’s Docam meeting: http://ideaexchange.uakron.edu/docam/vol3/iss2/
  6. Publication date for the issue is March 1, 2018.

Please contact lyn@city.ac.uk if you have any queries about DocPerform. Please contact gorichanaz@drexel.edu if you have any queries relating to Proceedings from the Document Academy.

Further information about the Document Academy.
Further information about CityLIS.

 

Documenting Dance: The Rite of Spring

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This post, by Adelaide ‘Ada’ Robinson, originally appeared on her blog “The Accidental Scientist“, on February 3rd, 2017. It is reposted here with permission.

The text outlines Ada’s idea to research the documentation of “The Rite of Spring” for her Independent Study module, which is part of the MA Library Science at #CityLIS.

Ada has a longstanding interest in ballet, and was inspired to combine her knowledge and enthusiasm for the art with her academic studies in library science, after attending the #docperform symposium last year.

UPDATE: 30/7/2017 Ada’s completed essay is now available Notes Made in the Theatre and in the Dark.

We also hope to encourage more dance documentation enthusiasts to join us.

You can follow Ada on Twitter @adafrobinson

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“So what does ballet have to do with library science?”

… Is a question people have been asking me a lot over the past week. Hopefully, I’ll soon have an answer. Welcome to Independent Study: dance edition.

img_2364

The question of how to document dance first came to me at the ‘Documenting Performance’ conference, (October 31st, 2016), which had a mix of fascinating talks by speakers from both LIS and performance studies. Topics covered included theatre, live street entertainment, darkness, and dance. Since that day – as a huge ballet fan and library science student – I’ve been thinking about the idea of documenting dance more and more.

While researching Stravinsky’s ‘The Rite of Spring’ for work, I found that there are over 150 different versions of the production. Different dances, set to the same music. However, the original Ballet Russes production, choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky, has been lost. When the time came for someone to attempt a first revival of the show, they found that no-one remembered the original choreography.

russian-ballets-at-paris-001

While this might be par for the course for some ballets – I have a children’s encyclopedia (featured in the first photo above) that describes a multitude of shows lost to the ages – you would have thought that the Rite would have escaped that fate. Because on May 29th, 1913, the first performance of ‘The Rite of Spring’ ended in a riot. Stravinsky’s innovative and intense music, coupled with Nijinsky’s avant-garde choreography (depicting a human sacrifice), terrified and incensed their first audience in Paris. It was a scandal that rocked the arts world, and was possibly the most talked about performance of its time.

My first question: And no-one thought to write down the steps?

Second question: How do you even write down choreography?

This forms the beginning of my as-of-yet-untitled Independent Study. The topics I am going to cover in my research – and in weekly blog updates – will be as follows:

  • How ballet choreography is documented and passed on to companies.
  • How/why choreography etc can be ‘forgotten’.
  • What methods different choreographers have used to recreate forgotten or lost productions.
  • ‘The Rite of Spring’ as a case study.
  • Why performance studies can be useful to LIS.

fullsizerender

(The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Ballet, Horst Koegler, OUP, 1977).

I go to the ballet a lot, and I’m pretty active in the balletomane community. However, I don’t know a great deal about how choreography works and how shows are documented. I have DVDs of certain productions, but I’m still not sure on how the choreography of classic ballets survived in the pre-camera era. That will be the first question I tackle, and next week I’ll update with a short review of my findings.

I also thought it would be fun to show videos of dancers in rehearsal at the end of each post, so here is a clip from a rehearsal of Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works, which is currently showing at the Royal Opera House. If you get a chance – go. I saw it last night and I think it’s one of the best modern ballets there is, and the score is absolutely beautiful too.

Alessandra Ferri and Federico Bonelli rehearse Woolf Works (The Royal Ballet)

On Documenting Performance and Suzanne Briet

This post was written by Tom Ash, and originally appeared on his blog ‘Adventures in Library and Information Science‘ on 28/11/16.

Tom’s reference to Toni Sant’s presentation, and indeed, Toni’s presentation per se, highlights the differences and connections between the concepts of documents, and the processes of documentation.

These terms appear straightforward in meaning, but on closer examination, prove more complex.

Briet suggests that the definition of a document may be considered from a wide conceptual basis, beyond a text, to include paintings, sculptures and even animals. The issue being whether the entity stands as ‘evidence in support of fact’.

It is widely deemed that the processes of documentation aim to record the endeavors and the outputs of humankind. To maintain ‘the record’. Documentation is about collecting, organising and interpreting the ‘evidence’ or the documents, to allow for use/reuse at a future time.

But what exactly do we mean by ‘the record’? Are there different sorts of ‘record’? Is ‘the record’ ever complete? How much ‘evidence’ is needed to form ‘the record’. Can a single ‘document’ fully represent ‘the record’?

We could consider that documents, in themselves, provide only a partial representation of an event, an idea or concept. That they only partially represent ‘the record’. Whilst the goal of documentation is to create, ideally, a complete record of an phenomenon or happening,  the work is undertaken within the context of the availabe ‘documents’. As complete a record as possible is facilitated by the instantiation, dissemination, indexing, organisation, understanding and interlinking of documents.

Ideally, one could imagine that the purpose of documentation is to create such an accurate record of an event, that the ‘reader’ (viewer, participant, audience, player), cannot distinguish between an original event and a ‘playback’ from the library or archive.

This latter experience is afforded by what I have referred to as  ‘immersive‘ documents.

There is much to consider here: how does documentation of a book, or a newspaper, differ from documentation of performance? Can we reconcile and even integrate the approaches to documentation, from LIS and performance studies?

The work of Briet, and other documentalists, is worth examination, and Tom’s thoughtful post here takes a step in that direction.

LR 29/11/2016

On 31st October #citylis hosted an fascinating event called The Future of Documents: Documenting Performance. The one day interdisciplinary symposium was intended to “bring together scholars, researchers, artists and practitioners from the disciplines of library & information science and theatre & performance, to share and consider respective conceptual views of documents, and the processes and procedures associated with documentation1

The event was ‘sold out‘ with attendees from a wide range of performance organisations as well as library and information scientists and a contingent of interested #citylis students, including myself, in the capacity of both technical support and attendee.

The event was organised by Dr Lyn Robinson and Joseph Dunne of Rose Bruford College, born out their mutual interest in the documentation of participatory experience, performance and partially-immersive, or complex documents, described by Robinson as:

“.. (these documents) provide the reader (player, participant, viewer) with a compelling and realistic world, but one which is delineated to varying extents from actual reality. The reader knows that they, and the document with which they are engaging, are a part of the real world (for want of a better phrase). This is in contrast to the experience delivered by fully immersive-document (as yet theoretical) where the reader cannot distinguish between the unreality and reality, and the interface between human and computer is invisible and frictionless.”2

The day was arranged into 3 acts or sessions. In the first session, Documents and Documentation, the focus was on how memory institutions document performance. Following on from that Exploring Performance as a Document looked at how we can document non-traditional aspects of performance. The third and final act, Beyond the Boundaries, considered what should be documented from newer forms of performance.

Performance Documents or Performance Documentation?

Following a warm welcome and introduction from Lyn and Joseph, the first session featured an excellent talk by Toni Sant, titled The Future of Documenting Performance: Plenty of Performance Documents but Not Enough Performance Documentation. Sant has a background in Performance Studies, (holding an MA and PhD from New York University) has also lectured on performance and digital technology, in Malta, New York, and most recently he has worked in the United Kingdom as Reader in Digital Curation at the University of  Hull.

In his talk Sant spoke about Documentation from a Library and Information Science perspective and referred to the work of Suzanne Briet, whose manifesto on Documentation Qu’est-ce que la documentation?, was highly influential to a number of LIS thinkers, particularly Michael Buckland, whilst earning her the nickname Madame Documentation. In talking about Performance Documentation Sant used Briet’s definition of a document as ‘evidence in support of fact’ 3 and:

“any physical or symbolic sign, preserved or recorded, intended to represent, to reconstruct, or to  demonstrate a physical or conceptual phenomenon” 

As Buckland states, in his article What is a “document?” the implication of Briet’s work is that Documentation should not be concerned solely with texts, but with access to evidence.3   Sant champions Briet’s work on documentation over those of performance studies scholars such as Peggy Phelan, who claimed in her writings that performance cannot be documented:

 “Performance’s only life is in the present. Performance cannot be saved,  recorded, documented, or otherwise participate in the circulation of representations: once it does so it becomes something other than performance”4

Sant went on to argue that documentation of performance is often an afterthought and that there is a tendency to mistake documents for documentation. Documentation he said is the process of storing and organizing documents (physical and digital)  in a systematic way to ensure long-term access.

Sant’s talk was a call to action, saying “forget Peggy Phelan” and arguing there was a need to focus less on documents and more on Documentation.

Connaissez-vous Suzanne Briet? 

Renée-Marie-Hélène-Suzanne Briet was born in Ardennes, 1 February 1894, but grew up in Paris. She was part of a generation of women who would come of age in the wake of the First World War. After spending time as a teacher, Briet began her career in Librarianship, at the Bibliothèque National in 1924, and would not only bear witness to but also influence the development of the Library profession in France as a result of its convergence with the field of Documentation. In his article Suzanne Briet:  An Appreciation Ronald E. Day claims that Briet’s vision of documents and documentation agencies:

“…constituted a revision of librarianship and a radical redefinition of what we consider to be documents.” 5

Recognising the importance of the work of the staff in the national  library, Briet wrote that it was the duty of librarians “to conserve, to catalog, to make [materials] accessible on the one hand; to orient and instruct on the other.6

Her time at the BNF coincided with a great sea of technological change, the year of her appointment (1924) saw the electrification of the 17th century Richelieu building,  she described the effect of this writing:

 “I attended the birth of electricity at the BN. . . . During winter season, and under cloudy skies, all work was impossible in the reading rooms and offices after three in the afternoon. . . . It was an unforgettable spectacle to see the green lamps burst into flower on the tables”7

Administrator Pierre-René Roland-Marcel’s efforts to modernize the services and structure of the BNF led to the creation of the Office of Documentation. In 1928 after remarking that the already ‘overburdened’ staff were struggling to answer written requests for information from the office, as it disrupted their normal activity flow, Briet was assigned responsibility for coordinating all such requests, assigning them to qualified Librarians or forwarding them onto the Office of Documentation, as necessary.8

In 1927 Briet was assigned the task of compiling a directory of special collections held across major French Libraries. At this time she was influenced by the Institute of Intellectual Co-operation (IIC) of the League of Nations, which made a number of recommendations regarding the establishment of national information centres in  national libraries. According to Naack these recommendations included:

 (1) each national library establish a “national information center” where   researchers could find out in which library or special collection the printed materials or documentation they needed would be located; (2) that the national information center be adequately funded and provided with card catalogues, printed bibliographies, biographical sources, union catalogues and directories of  special collections throughout the country; (3) that these national centers be in close contact with one another in  order to answer questions about resources within their home country and to centralize researchers’ requests for information that would need to be answered abroad.9

Over the next two years Roland-Marcel and Briet laid the foundations for such a centre at the BNF,  and developed plans for a Centre d’Orientation that would respond to requests for information from French and international researchers. From 1934 to 1954 Briet was in charge of the Salles des Catalogues et des Bibliographies, more commonly known today as Salle X.

Briet alongside chemist Jean Gérard was responsible for co-founding the Union Française des Organismes de Documentation (UFOD) in 1931, the french equivalent of  ASLIB or the American Documentation Institution.  Soon after she was tasked with surveying documentation centers across the country the results of which were published in a 1935 directory (Répertoire des centres de documentation en France).  In 1937 she attended the World Congress of Universal Documentation, in Paris, alongside other notable figures such as Paul Otlet, Henri De La Fontaine and H.G. Wells, the latter of whom gave a lecture in which he argued that his concept of the ‘world-brain‘(a form of world encylopaedia) was a precursor for the concepts under discussion at the conference.10 

In 1950 Briet became the founding director of studies for the  l’Institut National des Techniques de la Documentation, one of the oldest Library schools in France when the training programme of the UFOD was formally adopted by the prestigious  Conservatoire Nationale des Arts et Metiers. Briet herself was closely involved with the curriculum including being a teacher. The programme was spread over two years and:

“…included a general introduction to selection, acquisitions, cataloging, classification, indexing, diffusion, exploitation, and   reproduction of documents.   The second year focused on research and on documentation in the specialized fields, including the social sciences and economics as well as science and technology.”11

Following on from her interest in ‘professional education’, Briet was awarded a Fulbright grant to visit the United States from 1951 – 52, and whilst there she continued her survey of professional education. According to Maack, she also sought to understand the meaning of ‘reference work’, with a focus on technique rather than technology, and on users and reference services, rather than information retrieval.12

In 1954 at the age of 60, she took early retirement to pursue a 2nd career, as a historian, studying Rimbaud, Rimbaud’s mother and Jean, Comte de Montdejeux. When her memoirs, were  published, in 1976, she arranged them in alphabetical order, dispensing with a chronological order in favour of  presenting her recollections under key words, described by Maack as ‘idiosyncratic’.13

Briet died in Boulogne at the age of 95. When looking reflecting back upon her life and career she expressed the following as summary:

 “At the age of twenty, I had as my motto: ‘To weep perhaps, but never to hate.’ At forty it was: ‘To serve.’ At eighty it could be: ‘To return to the Spirit’ “(l’Esprit) (1976, p.30).

Pour Briet Qu’est-ce que la documentation?

Briet’s treatise on documentation which was published in 1951 by EDIT, the publishing arm of the UFOD, was not some lengthy treatise, but rather a slim volume stretching to around 37 pages long. It largely went unnoticed outside of France until the publication of Michael Buckland’s What is a Document? in 1997.

It begins with the definition of a document, not in terms of material objects such as the book that Paul Otlet, favoured, but by declaring, “Un document est une preuve à l’appui d’un fait” “A document is evidence in support of a fact.” She then provides a more detailed definition claiming that a document is:

“any concrete or symbolic indexical sign[indice], preserved or recorded towards the ends of representing, of reconstituting, or of proving a physical or intellectual phenomenon.”14

Briet’s definition, dispenses with the notion of tieing documents to a physical format and instead focuses on a wider definition of documents, giving an example as follows:

“Is a star a document? Is a pebble rolled by a torrent a document? Is a living animal a document? No. But the photographs and the catalogues of stars, the stones in a museum of mineralogy , and the animals that are cataloged and shown in a zoo, are documents.”15

Briet’s explanation of documents is that objects can be documents when placed into a system such as a taxonomy, catalogue, or indice. Most famously she claims that even an Antelope could be a document, in the circumstance of it being a newly discovered species placed inside a botanical garden:

“Let us admire the documentary fertility of a simple originary fact: for example, an antelope of a new kind has been encountered in Africa by an explorer who has succeeded in capturing an individual that is then brought back  to Europe for our Botanical Garden [Jardin de Plantes]. A press release makes the event known by newspaper, by radio, and by newsreels. The discovery becomes the topic of an announcement at the Academy of Sciences. A professor of the Museum discusses it in his courses.The living animal is placed in a cage and cataloged (zoological garden). Once it is dead, it will be stuffed and preserved (in the Musuem). It is loaned to an Exposition. It is played on a soundtrack at the cinema. Its voice recorded on a disk. The first monograph serves to establish part of a treatise with plates, then a special encyclopedia(zoological), then  general encyclopedia. The works are cataloged in a Library, after having been announced at publication…The documents that relate to this event are the object of scientific classifying (fauna) and of an ideologic [idéologique] classifying (classification). Their ultimate conservation and utilization are determined by some general techniques and by methods that apply to all documents-methods that are studied in national association and international Congresses.”16

Lastly she argues “The cataloged antelope is an initial and the other documents are secondary or derived.” By this reasoning objects such as paintings, sculpture, photographs and films are documents, and even a person being studied perhaps for scientific, medical or anthropological reasons could be described as a document. Michael Buckland, in his article about Briet’s definition argues that although she doesn’t make her rules explicit the following can be inferred about defining documents:

Briet’s rules for determining when an object has become a document are not made clear. We infer, however, from her discussion that:

1. There is materiality: Physical objects and physical signs only;

2. There is intentionality: It is intended that the object be treated as evidence;

3. The objects have to be processed: They have to be made into documents; and, we think,

4. There is a phenomenological position: The object is perceived to be a document.

This situation is reminiscent of discussions of how an image is made art by framing it as art. Did Briet mean that just as “art” is made art by “framing” (i.e. treating) it as art, so an object becomes a “document” when it is treated as a document, i.e. as a physical or symbolic sign, preserved or recorded, intended to represent, to reconstruct, or to demonstrate a physical or conceptual phenomenon?17

Wild Antelopes

Returning to performance and performance documentation, we must ask what can Briet’s rules and Buckland’s interpretation of them tell us about how we document performance? Taking the rules as defined above the performance itself is not a document, any more than a wild antelope running around the plains of Africa, but writings, photographs, sound recordings and so forth of the performance can be considered documents. And these documents can, it could be said, in the spirit of Briet’s original assertion, be considered as the “evidence in support of fact” that the performance exists or took place in that they are “intended to represent, to reconstruct, or to  demonstrate a physical or conceptual phenomenon”.

 – Fin –

References

  1. Robinson, L. (2016 )Documenting Performance: the backstory.
  2. ibid
  3. Buckland, M.K. (1997)”What Is a “Document”?”, Journal of the American Society for Information Science 48(9) pp. 804-809.
  4. Phelan, P. (2003) Unmarked : The Politics of Performance (1), Routledge, Florence, US. Available from: ProQuest ebrary. p.146
  5. Day, R, E. (2006) Suzanne Briet:  An Appreciation.  Bulletin December 2006/ January 2007
  6. Maack, M. N. (2004) The Lady and the Antelope: Suzanne Briet’s Contribution to the French Documentation Movement. Library Trends 52(4): 719-747 
  7. Briet 1976:66 in Maack 2004
  8. Maack
  9. ibid
  10. World Congress of Universal Documentation En.wikipedia.org. (2016). World Congress of Universal Documentation

  11. Maack

  12. ibid
  13. Briet, S. 1976 l’Esprit 1976, p.30 In Maack 2004
  14. Briet, S 1951 p.10 in Briet, S., Day, R. E., Martinet, L., & Anghelescu, H., G., B. (2006). What is documentation? : English translation of the classic French text. Scarecrow Press.
  15. ibid
  16. ibid
  17. Buckland, M.K. (1997)”What Is a “Document”?”, Journal of the American Society for Information Science 48(9) pp. 804-809.

Further reading

Documenting Performance: a personal journey

This post is by my co-organiser and colleague, Joseph Dunne. Here, he writes on the origins and development of his interest in documention of performance, and our shared research focus on the emergence of immersive documents.

Joe is on Twitter as @MemoryDetritus

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My interest in documenting performances and performance processes, and its links with LIS, can be traced back to when I was the research assistant on the CEDAR Project at UEL. CEDAR (Clustering and Enhancing Digital Archives for Research) used the East London Theatre Archive as a case study of how digitized theatre ephemera could be integrated into teaching and learning activities. A significant part of my job was to consult students, archivists, academics and theatre-makers in order to design a new online archive for use as a theatre-making tool and resource for historical research.

As I began my reading on theatre’s rather fraught relationship with archives, I soon began questioning the criteria I used to distinguish live performance from other art forms. Peggy Phelan’s infamous assertion that “performance… becomes itself of disappearance” (Unmarked, 1993, p.146) felt instinctively correct but troublingly essentialist. What of performance’s material remains? Are costumes, sets, props, even spaces, adjuncts to the “itself” of performance? Even if we accept these materials do not constitute the body-to-body transmission performance entails, is memory constitutive of non-live experience?

After CEDAR concluded I wrote the Performing the Archive module with Conan Lawrence at UEL. It was something of a hybrid course: we created exercises out of bits of archival theory, history, autobiographical performance, psychogeography, and of course theatre practice. We wanted the students to start seeing the archive as a fecund creative resource rather than a dusty collection. The big challenge was to give them what we called “ownership” over the archival material they were working with. I now understand this to be almost a permission to interpret artefacts in ways that did not have to conform to standard methods of historical analyses.

I remain drawn to Pearson’s and Shanks’s description of the archaeologist as an “active agent of interpretation” (2001, p. 11) for its implicative image of the past as a metamorphic, unstable object of study. A record of a performance does not, in this schema, represent past acts but is a durable fragment of the event itself. Any material borne out of the event could then act as a way of stretching a performance outside of the temporal-spatial live zone. Moreover, archival documents could allow a performance to become part of distributed mode of practice where many agents could participate in the evolving interpretation of the original by using the documents as the genesis of new practices.

These topics acted as point of departure for my practice research PhD Regenerating the Live: The Archive as the Genesis of a Performance Practice. I investigated how a dramaturgy based on some of the key principles of archivalism – preserving artefacts for knowledges to be generated in the future – could become the basis of a participatory dramaturgy. I lead workshops where groups documented sites and then translated the resultant documents into performance scores. I combined my practice-based investigations with my theoretical research in the audio-walk Voices from the Village.

Like Lyn, I am fascinated by the capacity sci-fi and speculative fiction has to teach us how to read the present. JG Ballard’s last novel Kingdom Come is set in the fictional motorway town of Brooklands. In the centre sits the mighty mega mall, The Metro Centre. Ballard describes Brooklands as “an end state of consumerism” where “[h]istory and tradition, the slow death by suffocation of an older Britain, played no part in its people’s lives. They lived in an eternal retail present, where the deepest moral decision concerned the purchase of a refrigerator or washing machine” (2006. p.8). Ballard could be describing the Athlete’s Village in Stratford, save for the fact that it’s history begins in 2012. More precisely, at the Olympic Games. I became fascinated by what the Olympic Legacy entailed for the residents of the host boroughs. In my audio-walk Voices from the Village participants were taken on an initiation process to see if they could become a legacy-maker. In the last act they are guided by the Documenter who shows them the future of Hackney Wick.

Both the sites and the audio recordings were documents transmitting knowledge of a time and place that combined the fictive and the real. Immersive documents are not so much as read as participated in. The promise of participation filters through today’s digital landscape, but what is it we are participating in? It feels like more than an absorption of information and more like a joint act of interpreting metamorphic knowledge.

What does this do to our perception of reality? And what possibilities does this yield for performances of the future when the lines between creator and spectator are impossible to define?