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.

We are very much looking forward to Ada’s finished work and hope to post it here later in the year. In the meantime, you can follow Ada’s progress over at her blog.

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.

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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

How do we document performance?


This post is by Louise Wallace, who attended our Symposium on Documenting Performance on 31/10/16. Here Louise writes about the presentations, and the concepts of ‘whose point of view’, and ‘who for’, in respect to documentation. This post first appeared on Louise’s blog (a library odyssey) on November 6th.

On Monday I attended a symposium at City, called ‘The Future of Documents: documenting performance’. As both a library school student and someone with an embarrasingly large collection of theatre programmes and tickets, this was bound to be a fascinating and enjoyable event! The day left me with a lot to think about, especially the different ways in which we document performance, whose point of view we are documenting, and who we are doing it for.

The first speaker of the day was Toni Sant, and he called for a focus on “documentation” rather than just “documents”. I think that for me this means thinking about the purpose of documentation and what future users will get from it, rather than being dismissive of traditional “documents” themselves.

What we might think of as traditional documents related to performing arts are scripts, programmes, posters, photographs, technical plans, designs, reviews and articles. Liz Harper told us about her work at the Royal Albert Hall, and how their archives are used for education and promotion. A wonderful example of this is the mural by Peter Blake, composed of photos of performers drawn from the archive, which now adorns the entrance hall.

Interactive version and quiz of the Peter Blake mural: http://appearing.royalalberthall.com/

It was exciting to hear from Jenny Fewster about the development of AusStage, a database of performing art events, venues and resources in Australia. Ramona Riedzewski from the V&A spoke about their collaboration, using AusStage as a basis for creating a database for UK performing arts. An “IMDB for the performing arts” sounds like it would be a fantastic resource for researchers, professionals and enthusiasts alike!

Video is another way of documenting performance, normally from the point of view of the audience. Archival videos are often filmed with a single static camera, such as those filmed for the National Video Archive of Performance held at the V&A, or for the British Library’s collection. Other, multi-camera recordings are made for commercial use, such as for National Theatre Live or Digital Theatre. Stacie Lee Bennett spoke about the use of hand-held cameras and GoPros in developing training resources for actors and dancers, using the camera to capture the performer’s perspective. GoPros were also suggested as a way of creating an immersive experience of a perfomance, with multiple possible viewpoints.

Sound recordings are also used as a way of documenting performance. Eva del Rey spoke about the British Library’s Drama and Literature recordings, which include gems such as the only known recordings of James Joyce’s voice (reading from Ulysses), as well as oral histories and audio recordings of live performances. The BL’s ‘Save Our Sounds’ project highlights the problem of format obsolescence and degredation (or “plastic-rot”) which affects archives such as these.

Listen to James Joyce reading from Ulysses: http://blogs.bl.uk/english-and-drama/2013/04/james-joyce-on-record.html

Audio recordings can be a better choice for documenting performance, as Yaron Shyldkrot demonstrated in his paper about theatre in the dark. In this case, there is a focus on the atmosphere of anxiety and isolation created by being in complete darkness. This feeling can be recreated more effectively using sound and headphones, rather than trying to film or photograph the performers.

It was great to hear about documenting another aspect of performance when Hansjorg Schmidt spoke about The Library of Light. I think it is exciting to explore the different ways of documentation that are possible, for example the use of network technologies, as explored by Zeta Kolokythopoulou in her presentation. She described the use of livestreaming and Twitter in Forced Entertainment’s Speak Bitterness, which encouraged audience members all over the world to partipate with their own contributions using the hashtag #FESpeaklive.

Article by Time Etchells of Forced Entertainment about Speak Bitterness: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2014/oct/16/speak-bitterness-confessions-forced-entertainment-live-stream-tim-etchells

An interesting comment came from an attendee, suggesting that we should not dismiss the effectiveness of a paper document over current trends for video and technology, for example the prompt book (a master copy of the script, annotated with the actors’ moves and technical cues), which may be a better record of a complex performance. It is important to think about who we are documenting performance for and what future users will want to get from it, whether it is the perfomers or companies themselves, audience or researchers, or all of the above.

The question of whether a performance can ever be truly documented, or if it is a unique live experience that cannot be captured is an interesting and, I expect, eternal one. However, the importance of the documention that is possible cannot be ignored, as was demonstrated by the breadth of possibilities explored at this event. I would like to thank all of the speakers, and I am sorry that I have not managed to mention every one in this post!

See the full programme and abstracts here.

The event on Storify.

APAC (Association of Performing Arts Collections): http://www.performingartscollections.org.uk/

Left in Sehgal’s darkness


This post is by  James Hobbs, who attended our Symposium about Documenting Performance on 31st October 2016. Here James reflects on the session presented by Yaron Shyldkrot, Documenting Darkness. This post originally appeared on James’ blog on November 4th 2016.

Left in Sehgal’s darkness

When the Berlin-based artist Tino Sehgal has a new exhibition, it can be hard to find out what is going to take place. He forbids any of the normal digital or paper trails of exhibition marketing and publicity: there are no videos of the work, no catalogues or wall texts. Even contracts with the exhibition organisers are verbal only.

Sehgal’s name came was mentioned in The Future of Documents: Documenting Performance, a symposium at City, University of London on 31 October 2016. Yaron Shyldkrot, who is working on a PhD at the University of Surrey, was talking about documenting darkness in theatre and dance, and the disorientation and uncertainty it creates for viewers. “You can’t be in the same picture as the dark,” as the writer and performer Chris Goode puts it. Sehgal has used darkness in some past works, which usually involve performers interacting spontaneously with spectators, leaving no physical residue once they are finished.

documentingperformance

Yaron Shyldkrot presenting at #docperform 31/10/16 by James Hobbs

The darkness of Sehgal’s non-documentary approach shone out for me during the day. It is an approach that “minimises discourse to maximise the experience”, the curator of his new show at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris says. The question of just who performances are being documented for was a recurring question through the day of the symposium. While many performers, choreographers and archivists recognise the importance of retaining at least some tangible form of memory of a fleeting moment, Sehgal turns that on its head, leaving us, metaphorically and sometimes literally, in the dark.

This way of working, it seems to me, is less about the artist leaving documented legacy (his approach is very well documented, if not his work), and more about his anti-market views and myth constructing. (Would he be as well known if he did allow his work to be documented?) But even in our age of the ubiquitous camera, he encourages us to focus on the moment of the performance rather than see it through a lens or discuss it to oblivion. And it certainly frees up time for archivists to get on with other things.

It was a great thought-provoking day – thanks to Lyn Robinson and Joseph Dunne for organising it.

Documenting Performance: a personal journey

This post is by my co-organiser and colleague, Joe 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

—–

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 {http://www.otha.org.uk/} 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 was and 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 zone 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 {http://eprints.lincoln.ac.uk/22280/}. 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 {http://www.voicesfromthevillage.co.uk/}.

Like Lyn, I am fascinated by what sci-fi and speculative fiction can 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?

 

Documenting Performance: the backstory

There are now just two weeks to go until ‘Documenting Performance’, our exploratory, interdisciplinary symposium on the concept of performance as a document, and the ideas, theories and practices around the documentation of performance. We are hoping that our initial event will spark further interest to form a longer term project, which we are calling DocPerform.

My initial feelings are positive, as for this event, both the response to our call for papers (27 abstracts, and I had to turn another couple away after the deadline) and the number of registered attendees (75) has been stunning. The event is now sold out, but we are running a wait-list so please email me [lyn@city.ac.uk] if you would like to come but have been unable to secure a ticket. If you are holding a ticket that you know you will not use, please cancel via Eventbrite, so someone else can join us.

We would like to say a very big ‘thank you!’ to everyone who has sent us ideas, and registered for the event. It was hard to make a choice about which papers to include, but I hope that everyone will agree that our Programme, showing the range of approaches to how we currently understand performance as a document, is pretty good! We are very excited about the day, and look forward to meeting new colleagues interested in documents and documentation.

My original idea was to host a series of seminars within our research centre, (Centre for Information Science) to examine how the conceptual view of the document is developing in the 21st century. The question of what is / is not a document is considered in work of Otlet, La Fontaine, Briet, Buckland, Lund, Latham, Gorichanaz, Robinson and other writers within the field of library and information science, with the earliest papers having been  written at the start of the 20th century.  The obvious and fascinating question would be ‘what next’? I subsequently felt, however, that it would be helpful to take a step back, and to consider whether any unifying perspective could be applied to the increasing number of entities already extant upon the documentary landscape. Such a framework would be valuable to any discipline concerned with the organisation and preservation of its domain output, and could also be used to help formulate understanding of future document types, real or conceptual.

My working draft of such a framework is shown at the end of this post. Several colleagues contributed to my ideas, and I would like to mention them briefly as part of the background to our forthcoming event.

When my friend and colleague Prof Adrian Cheok joined City a few years ago, I was inspired by his work on the multisensory internet, (transmitting the sensations of taste, smell and touch in addition to sound and vision via the network), and this, plus developments in pervasive computing, wearable technology, human-computer interfaces and virtual reality, brought to mind the idea of the library as the ‘Experience Parlour’. I came across this idea in The Library of the Future, a book by Bruce Shuman, written in 1989. In his series of scenarios for the future library, he suggested one where reading a good book meant actually living, or experiencing it. I wondered if this form of immersive document was one possible future for documents, and consequently for libraries and other cultural, collection orientated institutions.

Whilst science fiction provides us with many depictions of immersive documents, (for example the holosuite in the Star Trek universe), at the present time fully-immersive documents, wherein the reader perceives a scripted unreality as reality, do not exist. However, many of the entities to which we refer as documents offer the reader a partially-immersive, or complex, experience. These documents provide the reader (broadly interpreted to include related terms player, participant, viewer, audience member) 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.

A series of encounters over the past 3 years provided insight for developing a framework to help us understand what partially-immersive documents might be, and how they could relate to other documents.

Videogames

In June 2014, Adrian invited me to a seminar on the history of video games at the Daiwa Foundation. The enthusiasm with which players spoke of their interaction with early games indicated how strongly they identified with and enjoyed the ‘unreal’ worlds of the game. Whilst some games offered realistic environments, others offered clearly computer-generated spaces, yet the players still engaged time after time. Video games are an example of partially-immersive documents. They provide the ‘reader’ with a compelling world, but one which is clearly separate from reality. Even the most enthusiastic player knows the game world is constructed.

The playing of historical games was not the only point for consideration during the seminar; the issue of preservation was paramount, and discussion turned towards which characteristics of the games needed to be preserved. The list went beyond saving a copy of the software (computer program), conservation of its associated hardware or simulations of now-extinct computer operating environments, to ensuring that feelings, such as elation, despair, desire to win, anxiety, happiness or nostalgia, all possibly experienced by the player during the game, could also be guaranteed. The question then became more complex; are we attempting to preserve an historical game to be played afresh in a contemporary time, or are we attempting to preserve something more, by including something of the past environment, and even the experience/feelings of the player or players?

So, if we intend to record and preserve ‘experience or feelings’, do we mean that we are attempting to ensure that (re)playing the preserved game will generate the same sorts of feelings that were invoked generally in previous times, or are we attempting to reconstruct individual experiences of a game, exactly as they happened on a previous occasion, so that somehow the players or readers feel exactly the same as they did during a previous, specific occasion (for example the excitment of completing a level, or of a winning goal). If this latter reconstruction were technologically possible, it should also be possible to experience a game from the viewpoint of someone else, by replaying (and experiencing) their memory track, alongside the game timeline.

Experience is hard to define, and even harder to code for access and reuse. This level of enhancement to partially-immersive documents remains theoretical, but it is possible to imagine that a layer of ‘experience’, general or personal,  could be added to complex, or partially-immersive document formats. The concept of adding experience or feelings to a document, or record of a document (documentation), introduces the need for us to consider who the document or documentation is for. Whose point of view are we recording? In theory, a record could be made of every individual experience of every individual document, including the perspective creator(s) or author(s).

These concepts are reflected in recent developments in journalism, where 360 degree recording is used to film documentaries. The realistic, ‘immersive’ nature of these films enhances emphathy from the viewer, evoking feelings similar to those felt by those present at the time the recorded events took place.  See: Virtual Reality, 360 Video and the Future of Immersive Journalism, by Zillah Watson, 1st July 2015.

At this stage then, we have the concept that video games, or simple copies of video games are partially-immersive documents,  but that copies or recordings could also offer an additional layer of general ambience/sentiment, or personally specific thoughts and feelings. These enhanced copies, also partially-immersive documents, would be considered new documents in their own right, although associated with the original video game.

Interactive Narratives

At around the same time that I encountered the video games enthusiasts, I became aware of the convergence of video games with interactive fiction. These latter digital documents, which increased in popularity and number with the ready availability of consumer technologies such as smart phones and tablets, attempt to engage the reader by allowing input to or participation in the script. They offer interactive engagement across a range of platforms, and can reach out to the reader via texts, emails and phone-calls. Innovative software such as that which reads emotion from facial expressions can be used to tailor interactive fiction to the individual reader. The difference between an interactive fiction and a game is hard to specify, although one distinction I came across suggested that although many games have a narrative aspect to them, this is not required.

Interactive fictions are also partially-immersive documents, proferring experiences which are distinguishable from reality, yet which offer varying degrees of participation and immersion in compelling, unreal worlds. Like the worlds of video games, interactive narratives could be recorded with the intent to evoke time or context specific feelings, or indeed the feelings or experiences from a given player at a given instance.

Documentation

Technologies which underpin partially-immersive (and perhaps eventually fully-immersive) documents such as video games and interactive fictions, can also be used to record and preserve them. The most straightforward way to think of this is when making a copy of the software. In some ways, identical copies of video games or interactive fictions can be considered documents which are the same as the originals; compare with FRBR‘s ‘manifestation’ level for books, where the copies differ only at ‘item’ level. If we are thinking, however, also to record the ‘experience’ of the player or ‘readers’, then in adding layers of information to the original computer programs we are creating further new documents. Documents which contain a level of immersion, (experience, feelings) associated with a given reader, player, or creator.

Video games and interactive narratives can also be considered to possess temporality. They arguably exist only whils they are being ‘read’ or ‘played’. Whilst the concept of a book or paper may be considered to exist as long as its physical form is extant, there is the question of whether the video game or the interactive narrative exists as its computer program on some kind of storage media, or whether it only exists when being played. Similary, we could suppose a book only exists either in print or electronic format whilst it is being read, and that the ‘bookness’ is separate from its representative media. This is not a usual interpretation however. The concept of analogue documents, in contrast to digital, partially-immersive and immersive documents is important, and forms the basis of the draft framework suggested below.

Immersive Theatre

The increasing popularity in London and other cities for immersive and participatory theatre added performance to the mix of partially-immersive documents.

Performances, displaying some parallels with video games and interactive narratives, only exist for a given amount of time, and unless one counts their documentary containers, such as the written script, or computer programme and data records, they are intangible forms of document. Like video games and interactive narratives, a performance can offer varying degrees of participation, and feelings of immersion.

Several of my students were/are fans of immersive theatre, attending shows such as Punchdrunk’s ‘The Drowned Man’ and Thomas Otway’s ‘Venice Preserv’d’ several times over. I was invited to go along to a performance of Venice Preserv’d’ where I witnessed first hand the desire of the audience to participate in the show; they readily and willingly suspended reality to a significant extent. Again I thought of documentation, and how a performance could be regarded as a document being ‘read’ by the audience. To some extent, all performance is interactive/participatory, as the audience is reacting internally to the show even if they are sitting as passive observers. Some performance, however, offers the audience higher levels of interactivity, from singing along with the cast, to joining the actors for part of the show, and participating in the performance. Varying degrees  of participation in temporal events, also offered by video games and interactive fiction, are traits of partial-immersion, and a performance could therefore also be considered as a partially-immersive document. The boundaries of ‘what is a performance’ is a valuable discussion, but left for another occasion.

In the case of  performance, this raises the (unoriginal) question, that if the performance itself is a document, is documentation (recording) of a performance yet another document? And a further, also unoriginal question, does the documentation intended to reconstruct a performance actually create yet another performance? Would it be possible to recreat exactly a performance from the viewpoint of a ‘reader’ or audience member, in the same way as for recreating the exact experience of playing a video game at a particular time and place? We can consider too, the recording of a performance from the perspective of the creator, or of a performer.

When preserving or recording a performance then, are we documenting just the performance per se, or also the thoughts, feelings, and interactions of members of the audience? Should we attempt to garner something from the actors in each performance to improve the validity of the record? A performance is clearly more than something that can be represented by a script, photographs or a video recording. It is necessary, when documenting performance, to say something about temporality and participation (new to me, but of course unoriginal from other disciplinary viewpoints). We must distinguish between a record of somthing which is intended to be experienced for the first time by a reader, and a record which includes something of how it felt to have participated on a previous occasion. The embedding of thoughts and feelings within any sort of document has yet to be fully explored concpetually, as well as technologically.

Fandom

In September 2013, Ludi Price joined the Centre for Information Science as my research student, beginning her PhD on the information behaviour of cult media fans. Our work lead me to appreciate and consider the art of cosplay as a kind of performance, and thus a form of partially-immersive document. Clearly, there are links between cosplay and participatory theatre, and the question of should anything of this be documented, and if so how, appeared again.

Dance

Adrian invited Ludi and I to a talk he had arranged by the artist Choi Ka Fai, who was interested in recording patterns of the electrical signals which generate muscle contractions (is the body itself the apparatus for remembering cultural processes?). His idea was to attempt to record the movement of dancers, and to play them back on another dancer, to see if movement could be recorded and transmitted. If this is ever possible, it would allow one person to almost become another, experiencing not just a recording of a performance, but what it felt like to be part of it. This could in theory be one of the experiential layers added to the concept of the immersive or complex document, but the work so far remains experimental.

Immersive Documents

By this time, I had published two short papers on the concept of the multisensory, immersive document. Sarah Rubidge, Professor Emerita (Dance) at University of Chichester, came across these papers and subsequently contacted me. Sarah had been developing immersive, choreographic installations for two decades, and was interested in how to document such participatory experiential works beyond using words and photographs. Sarah’s ideas of using 360 degree camera recording or virtual reality to represent these forms of performance art were similar to my own ideas; that technologies such as VR, together with multisensory rather than merely multimedia recording, might allow us to more accurately document the experiential nature of performance and related works for future scholars, students and historians.

For the moment however, the work remains conceptual, as although 360 degree recording improves the visual experience of the record, multisensory recording, especially that related to the sensation of movement, is in its infancy.

Clearly if we could make a complete, multisensory recording of a performance, the recorded document could be read either to experience the work for the first time, or to experience it again as either yourself on a previous occasion, or as someone else.

Sarah also suggested that I attend the Digital Echoes Symposium at C-DaRE, the dance research group at Coventry University. Here I met several dancers and researchers, who were interested in the documentation and archiving of dance. One of these participants was PhD researcher Rebecca Stancliffe, who introduced me to a project called Synchronous Objects, where dance movements were converted into data, then into other objects for visual representation. Rebecca had found the work of Paul Otlet, and was working on the concept of what is a document from the discipline of dance, totally unrelated to LIS. The day was fascinating, and I learnt about new things to document, such as body memory, in addition to audience recollections and dancer insights. The way dancers perceive a performance, their work, is totally different from how traditional documentalists think of it.

Performance Art

Over the summer of 2016, I attended a course at the Tate Modern on Framing the Performance, led by Georgina Guy. Georgina led the class for four, weekly sessions, in which a group of us considered how Tate had displayed and documented a range of performance art installations. We were invited as a class to consider what we needed to know about a work, in order to store, archive, preserve, access, use and ultimately understand it. A fascinating field.

Data

My most recent encounter with partially-immersive documents came as I was preparing for one of my own classes, a session for a module called Digital Information Technologies and Applications. The theme was data. In thinking about how to demonstrate data, I came across several artists whose work used a data input to bring into being a constantly changing visual artwork. See for example: http://www.worldprocessor.com/ . Participation then, does not only imply human input, but also that of data.

Interdisciplinarity

Alongside all of this, I undertook some further literature reviews, looking for work relating to documents, and documentation of performance, but from outside the LIS discipline. There was plenty. Performance artists from all fields, theatre, dance, music, performance art, were all represented in the literature on documenting performance. All these previously unimagined colleagues working on documents and documentation from a completely different background to LIS. I started to think about an event to bring the two cohorts together. On mentioning my interest to a friend, Tia Siddiqui, she put me in touch with a colleague of hers, from Rose Bruford college, Joseph Dunne, who had a background in performance, but who was also interested in documentation. I told Joe my idea of a symposium for both LIS and Theatre and Performance advocates, to share ideas on how performance can be regarded as a document, and how we can best record and preserve such partially-immersive entities for reuse if and whenever necessary.

Joe agreed to work with me on the idea, and our first collaborative outcome is this symposium ‘Documenting Performance’. The event sits within the wider consideration of the document by researchers at the Centre for Information Science, and specifically considers performance, although that is not to say video games, interactive fiction and other examples of partially-immersive documents such as performance art or information art do not warrant attention, but perhaps for another day.

Pulling all of these threads together, I think we can understand a partially-immersive document as one which affords the reader a compelling and engaging environment, for which the boundaries between reality and the imaginery, scripted world are blurred. Such documents present in varied media formats, and some of their characteristics may overlap with those of fully-immersive documents. Partially-immersive documents are interesting, because they already exist, and because of the questions they raise in respect of description and indexing, recording, access, preservation and use. They push at the boundaries of traditional documentation and demand that we reconsider our definition of documents in the age of VR, AR and mixed reality. Documentalists need to embrace the characteristics of participation and experience in our work, if we wish to fully maintain the 21st century record of humanity.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of performance as a document is the capture and recording of the thoughts and feelings of those participating, whether as reader, (audience member), performer or creator, alongside the more usual physical representations such as a script, or a video. Understanding and rendering of this participatory layer is arguably what will allow us to move forward in the documentation of performance, in that it will move us closer to the construct of an acutal performance from a given viewpoint, so that we can offer a reader a more perfect copy of an original experience.

A (Draft) Unifying Perspective for Documents

It is perhaps helpful at this stage to construct a unifying perspective which includes all documents, encompassing also those which are neither partially- nor fully-immersive. I think we need two further categories: physical/analogue documents, and digital documents. The latter category being comprised of counterparts to the physical entities, and also of born-digital works.

As a starting point for discussion, we now have a unifying framework comprising four categories of documents:

physical/analogue

digital

partially-immersive/complex

fully-immersive

Exact definitions of these categories, and the identification of any overlaps or non-sensical implications needs further work. It is likely that the definitive placement of a given type of document within any given category will be problematic, as the interpretation of a document type will suject to context and viewpoint.

At first glance, the main categories seem self-evident. We can, for example, notice two main, straightforward ways in which physical or digital documents may be differentiated from paritally-immersive or immersive works.

Firstly, they are documents which do not change. That is, that a physical book remains the same book over time, as does a digital text, or artwork. No input or participation from the reader is anticipated, or even possible, so the work remains as it was originally created, unaffected by input or participative interaction.

Secondly, physcial/analogue or digital documents do not possess temporal characteristics, apart from those associated with the natural decay which affects all material objects. In contrast to a performance or an exhibition for example, which reach an end point beyond which, arguably, they no longer exist.

The straightforward delineation between the categories of documents becomes subtly problematic however, if we think more closely about the concepts implied by the axes of characterisation. Although the book (physical or digital) demands no active participation, are we not participating by the mere act of reading and construction of the bookish world in our minds? When we refer to a document as a physical entity, are we not implying the container, in contrast to the idea, the informational content, or the ‘bookness’?

Consider also temporality. Is it possible, for example, that the interpretation of a text changes as the reader ages? Is the document or painting encountered as a child the same as that encountered by the same person, but in adult life?

Whilst further thought is necessary, we can suggest that within each of the four categories of documents,  further characterisation can be made by placing every document at a point along each of four axes:

temporality: the document exists for a limited time

tangibility: the extent to which the document has a material form

degree of input or participation required: the extent to which interaction is afforded

immersion: the extent to which reality is suspended

The exact understanding of, and the scale or values for these axes are as yet undefined. How does participation relate to immersion? One can surely be immersed in a document, whilst remaining un-participative. There is unquesionably more work to be done to understand the nature of documents and the processes of documentation, and the draft framework above is suggested as a tool with which we can  elucidate and explore concepts at a more specific level.

DocPerform

This symposium, focusing on performance, is a part of this work. It is the first of the documentation events at City, although it has grown into a collaborative event, somewhat larger than I originally envisaged.

The symposium is divided into three sessions. Firstly, we look at some existing projects in key memory institutions. Secondly, we examine less traditional aspects of performance which we could try to document, and finally we consider some newer types of performance and ways to understand what we should be documenting. We hope that you enjoy the day, and that it will encourage learning and cooperation from both fields of LIS and Theatre and Performance.

Note: This post was updated on 9/1/17 by LR