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.
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.
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
This post was written by current CityLIS student Tom Ash. Tom collected the Tweets shared around our hashtag over the duration of the conference, 6-7th Nov 2017, using a popular application written by Martin Hawksey. The post will be of value to others interested in collating and and archiving twitter activity surrounding an event, user or hashtag. The text first appeared on Tom’s personal blog, and is reproduced here with kind permission.
The Tool creates an archive of all tweets using a chosen keyword or #hastag in Googlesheets, which you can then explore interactively using the TAGSExplorer. This produces and interactive network graph style visualisation allowing you to explore twitter activity around your chosen hastag or term.
You can also explore the #docperform hastag using the TAGSExplorer
You can also explore the full archive via the TAGSArchive
In addition to this you can also the Storify created by @lynrobinson of the event which I have linked to here.
Documenting Performance (DocPerform) is a project organised and run by Department of Library & Information Science, (CityLIS), at City, University of London. The 2017 symposium was held from 6th to 6th November 2017 and aimed to bring together a multidisciplinary group of people, with a shared interested in understanding and developing the ways in which performance, as part of our cultural heritage, can be created, recorded, preserved, re-experienced and reused. The symposium is intended to collate a representative body of work in this area, to foster new partnerships and collaborations, and to support the dissemination and implementation of ideas generated.
Two of our current CityLIS students, Hanna James and Matt Peck, have combined their writing talents to create this joint review of the presentations which were given on Day 1 of DocPerform 2: New Technologies, held on 6th November 2017.
The review exemplifies the benefits of joint, reflective writing, as each writer responds to the comments and thoughts of the other. It seems to me, as though the whole reaches beyond the sum of its parts as a result.
The work describes clearly the challenges and responses to the documentation of performance, as understood and investigated by our fabulous speakers.
This blog post first appeared on both Matt’s and Hanna’s personal blogs, and is reproduced here with kind permission.
HJ: The music flowed like honey when Lynnsey Weissenberg started playing her fiddle. It was an instantly intelligible experience to my senses: a ‘here and now’ experience. Once it was over, it was over, and no two performances are exactly the same. The performance itself did not leave any artefacts behind, but left the audience with their own memories of the performed piece (and, in some cases, photos or videos on their iPhones). For that reason, the power of documenting performances lies not only in preserving the performance (or a shadow of it), but also the creative process and even the theatrical experience. On the first day of DocPerform2 (6 November 2017), the speakers talked about the challenges, the opportunities, the twists, the value, the functions and many more about documenting performances. In this post, my CityLIS course-mate Matt Peck and I will reflect on and recap the presentations of the day. Matt and I have different writing styles and points of view. Through juxtaposing our writings, we draw up the diverged focuses in one post and collectively constitute a multi-dimensional picture of the day.
MLP: The final presentation included a film from C-DaRE’s Resilience and Inclusion Online Toolkit. The video explores the dance-making practices of several disabled dance artists, and the lead creative, Kate Marsh, is interviewed on camera and speaks about coming to terms with owning work that her body produces. It is something of a paradox that she is not one of the featured performers in the video, but its choreographer, positioning her as the intellectual owner of the work belonging to other bodies and being recorded and filmed by other bodies entirely. For me, the tension between individual subjectivity and possession was a thread throughout a number of the sessions and gets to several fundamental challenges of documenting performance. These include establishing clarity on whose point of view is being represented and mediated and determining appropriate (and useable) attribution for that point of view.
HJ: Virtuosity is undoubtedly a possession of individual dancers, while subjectivity of the creative process is seen as an important element of archiving. We saw speakers discuss documents unintended to be archival materials but nevertheless attributed to form part of a totality and thereby made into or considered as documents. In the case of Siobhan Davies’s archive, also presented by C-DaRE’s Sarah Whatley, rehearsal materials together with other hidden items such as lighting cues and speaker layout, reconstructed and translated Davies’s creativity. The interface of the digital archive was designed to meet the users’ needs as a virtual environment that endeavours to provide contextual information for better understanding of the artist’s performances. This typifies much of the archivists’ work: pinning down the creators’ subjectivity whilst bearing end users’ point of view in mind.
MLP: Issues of this type were present from the outset — the AusStage and Irish Traditional Music Archives both reflect attempts at representing the multi-faceted nature of performances, and one of the key challenges they both grapple with is demonstrating the centrality of the humans involved in their respective art forms. Both presentations made compelling arguments that this focus on the individual is important. On the stage, that might be making explicit the links between theatre professionals who rely on a personalised network to achieve their respective creative visions, while the ontology Lynnsey Weissenberg described had people at its centre because they are critical to the evolution and spread of song renditions or playing styles. These developments retain links to their originators and must be acknowledged in record-keeping to allow archive users to trace how social networks map on to music creation and transmission.
HJ: Indeed, Lynnsey Weissenberg’s LITMUS project is fascinating in terms of her designation to capture the people-centred relationship of traditional Irish music and dance that fit RDF. The predicate in the RDF triple is employed to denote the relationship one derives from the allegory/story telling characteristics of the heritage. At the same time, it seeks to find a solution to the non-uniform language (English/Irish) and geographical attributes. It also attempts to decipher and foreground the context in a way unfulfilled by existing vocabularies such as American Folklore Society’s Ethnographic Thesaurus (AFSET). These hierarchical linked data act as keepers preserving the intricate elements in Irish music and dance, just as the digital marks in Ramona Riedzewski (V&A) and Jenny Fewster’s (AusStage) project of building an IMDB for performing arts.
The relations between memories, mementos and digital marks (Credit: Jenny Fewster)
Riedzewski talked about taking up the role of being the custodian of mementos (e.g. script with handwritten comments) during the process of building the database, which encapsulate (personal) memories surrounding theatre performances. While documentation of these mementos provides a fixity to artistry, the virtual gallery breaks the national boundaries and allows sharing of these memories in the infosphere. This characteristic of digital archive is also relevant to Pam Schweitzer’s The Reminiscence Theatre Archive, a deposit of interviews created between 1983 to 2005. These records are not only materials for theatre production during that period, but also are containers of the interviewees’ personal memories. Their survival owes to Schweitzer’s relentless effort and is given a refreshed life in education and research.
MLP: Marc Kosciewjew’s paper, the most theoretical of the day, focused on material literacy, which linked nicely with the National Theatre archive’s efforts to document the craft-making process for costuming and other theatrical properties. Illuminating the origins of materials used on stage can both support future research and contribute to actors’ development of their respective performances. The work of the James Hardiman Library in NUI Galway demonstrated other ways in which subjectivity can be reclaimed, highlighting collection items that help users to recreate characterisation techniques such as a stammer shown in an actor’s modified play script. It became clear in these talks, and others, that the documents were not just of the performance, but of the performers themselves. Indeed, we heard from several sources about a hesitancy of professionals to refer to archival material lest their own visions be compromised or unduly influenced. This brings the notion of ownership of a body’s product full circle: another body fears creative contamination by coming into contact with that product.
HJ: Kosciewjew’s presentation also brought about the notion of understanding – the materiality of document and performance is intertwined with materialism, things. Michael Buckland conceptualised information as knowledge, process, thing. Kosciewjew spoke about how documents illuminate the context of information, integrate teaching and research. We saw a second triangular flow chart in Erin Lee’s (National Theatre) presentation “Should theatre disappear like bubble?”. The diagram embodied a three-way dialogue of archivist, academic and practitioners in using archives for teaching, research and preservation.
A three way dialogue in preserving NT archives (Credit: Erin Lee)
On the flip side, Barry Houlihan (NUI Galway) showed us how an array of documents of the Irish Theatre Archive had been used to engage new scholarship and reminded us that, for a user, whether a curious undergraduate or an established academic, the starting point is the same – to discover new knowledge. As the stammer example Matt quoted above, users gain an extra strand of knowledge about a production, which is unobtainable from just reading a book of script borrowed from a library. Hence, curation and the way to stage materials is instrumental in research and learning. Moreover, the discovery process is reinforced by user’s proficiency in using the digital discovery tool. In other words, archival literacy is pivotal to the success of an archive.
MLP: Willing documentation and re-presentation of first person experiences were a focus of the afternoon sessions. We saw that in one form as submissions to the IDOCDE database, which allows dance instructors to use their own words to narrate their movement and teaching practices. But it may also be formalised through interview for later dramatic reenactment by a company such as the Reminiscence Theatre. Alternatively, as we saw in the DARC Practice performance, it may involve oblique narration, gesture and self harm. Each of these represented a highly personalised form of expression, the mediation of which creates documents of its own. We saw examples of this throughout the talks, nicely described in the end by Sarah Whatley as ‘accidental archives’. That could occur in the present — Ernst Fischer offered the fabric he cut out of his shirt — or in historical practice. The Reminiscence Theatre, for instance, conducted interviews in order to produce its verbatim scripts for stage presentation, but the interviews themselves, whether transcribed or recorded, operate in manifold ways: capturing an individual’s history, documenting the moment of the interview encounter, and demonstrating a particular methodology of theatre-making. But even when the archiving is evidently more intentional, such as the filming of theatre productions for commercial or practical purposes, André Deridder offered a useful reminder that the artefact is merely a simulacrum of the live act and should not be confused as its equivalent. Rather, he suggested it may be an entirely different work, and even if there is no apparent change to the performance itself, to the extent its representation has been mediated through both the camera mechanism and the subjective choices of operators and editors, that seems right.
HJ: IDOCDE’s Mind the Dance project (John Taylor) and DARC (Ernst Fischer and Manuel Vason) also demonstrate that documenting performance does not need to be discursive. Mind the Dance functions rather as a reflective repository used for contemporary dance education. Taylor exemplified this with Kerstin Kussmaul’s article comparing body work to the architectural design concept of tensegrity, to deploy symbolic nature in communicating an art form. DARC, an open source archive for artists based in London, testifying the act of documentation is a creative process in its own right. At the symposium, Ernst Fischer and Manuel Vason treated us to a live performance with themes relating to documentation and photography. Vason, a known photographer/performer, has taken on two paradoxical roles single-handedly as a documenter and as a transitory artist. Fischer’s bloodily performance called upon me, an audience, to interpret the message it entailed. An apprehension about blood is an audience’s subjectivity, an immersive experience that left a mark in my memory.
MLP: Properly recognising the various contributions of the individuals that make a performance (and its ancillary documents) is a struggle for the information professional. There are questions about how to technically catalog materials, and Debbie Lee’s talk on FRBR and LRM was instructive. But even if those methods (or the triples approach described and proposed in the AusStage and LITMUS applications) were sufficient, there are still questions about ownership, whether the performer or some other type of copyright holder, and, for lack of a better term, accuracy. The archival process ultimately determines what is and is not important to preserve, and, as Kosciewjew described, the loss of one document may alter the interpretation of the broader story.
HJ: Librarians have a DUTY to describe documents accurately through cataloguing. Switching back to a more technical point of view in terms of documentation within an information technology environment, if performance itself as document, how can it fit in FRBR/LMR data models? Confronted by Debbie Lee, FRBR, a quaternary/high-level bibliographic record model developed by IFLA, has an intrinsic problem in dealing with the relationship of live performances and recordings. FRBR/LMR does not satisfactorily distinguish between work and expression in every given context. When performance is treated as work, there is much distortion to the aboutness of the manifestation. It is hardly an uncanny resemblance of Weissenberg’s LITMUS project. Both papers are showcases of the fact that there is still much effort required to take data relating to performance out of the silos.
The relationship of recordings and performance was also brought up by André Deridder. Is recording simply a shadow of theatrical performance? Or is it something new? Deridder commented conscious audio-visual record rework a stage performance. He used the Belgian artist, René Magritte’s renowned painting “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” to illustrate that a representation is NOT the original object. The act of recording a performance meant to be live with purposeful arrangements (e.g. lighting, sound, camera angle and even presence of audiences) creates an expression on its own and renders different experience to the audience.
MLP: In the end, despite Peter Hall’s protestations, theatre (and other performance) should not disappear like soap bubbles. For one, if nowhere else, it exists in memory. But the information professional has the responsibility to be clear about the limitations of the residue those bubbles leave. One of a document’s attributes as outlined by Buckland is its capacity for spawning other documents, and performance certainly operates in that way. Nevertheless, and perhaps more so than Briet’s antelope, performance is experienced differently in mind and body by each audience member. Documenting performance necessarily reflects the slipperiness between those different experiences. That can be a site of opportunity, but it should be recognised as such and not as an equivalent replacement for the lived experience of either the performer or the audience. Instead, any resulting documents in turn give rise to new performances and, naturally, new documents.
Just over a year ago, I penned the first entry for this website’s blog. My aim was to detail the backstory to my idea for the DocPerform project, as we planned our first, exploratory symposium. I wrote that we hoped ‘our initial event will spark further interest to form a longer term project’. I also hoped for participants.
I am pleased then, to now write, that today, CityLIS will host our second symposium DocPerform 2: New Technologies. Our 2017 gathering will run for two days, to allow for more presentations and ideas, discussion, reflection and planning.
Since the previous event, we have thought much about the concepts of documents and the processes of documentation, and the central place of these activities within the discipline of library & information science. In respect of new/future documents, we have focused on performance, and the likely impact of immersive technologies and behaviours. Over the course of 12 months, we have seen many developments in the technologies and social-cultural behaviours which first inspired our thoughts on immersive documents, and the processes which could support their amalgamation into mainstream library and information services. All of this has enriched our curriculum here at CityLIS, not least as a result of the new colleagues we have introduced as contributors to our master’s course modules.
Further, we are delighted to have appointed Dr Joseph Dunne as part-time lecturer in Library Science, to explore further the concept of performance as a document, and the documentary processes associated with the recording and archiving of the performing arts. Joe will also bring an external perspective to LIS, encountering and commenting on our work from the perspective of theatre and performance, and considering how we can communicate our work in recording humankind’s endeavours beyond the classroom and the profession, into the wider community.
Our first symposium collected together existing documentation projects from both the LIS and the theatre and performance disciplines. In our second event, we have elected to focus on theatre and dance, looking at how new technologies have changed the way in which we understand, create and experience performance, and consequently how we record, archive and preserve it as part of our cultural heritage.
Interestingly, despite significant developments in technologies and participatory behaviour, the documentation of performance appears to be somewhat reticent to move beyond record keeping as already understood. Maybe our work within the DocPerform project can change that, as we have drawn out some exciting conceptual ideas and prototypes for innovative use of technology for our Programme.
And finally, massive thanks to the DocPerform Team for making this happen, Joe Dunne, David Bawden, Sarah Rubidge, Ramone Riedzewski, and Ludi Price (admin magician). Thank also to Tom Ash for tech support and blogging, and to artist James Hobbs for our lovely logo!
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.
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 documentation“1
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 Bucklandstates, 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
“…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
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.