Considering the archive is a place of storage, ‘made up from selected and consciously chosen documentation from the past and also from mad fragmentations that no one intended to preserve’[i], it would seem to conflict with the fleeting moment experienced in live performance. Yet performances produce remains that, in a sense, save embodied enactments from their own temporality. Formulating a definition of an archive’s function purely in terms of preservation fails to account for its ability to generate dialogic relationships between past and contemporary practices over time. Documents become archival when they leave a person’s or institution’s collection[ii] and become accessible to the public.  Material ceases to have a purely personal value when it undergoes a process of cataloguing and indexing, and then acquires new significances as objects of historical interest. Retrieving documents from the archive makes them contemporaneous because, through the subsequent readings of them, the knowledge they transmit engenders the re-living of past knowledge in the present.
For performance studies, the archive’s ability to create a continuity of past experiences into the living present has resulted in a reappraisal of the definitions of ‘liveness’, and has led artists and scholars to question where performance practice could potentially originate from. At the Performing Documents[iii] conference in April 2013, the artistic directors of the theatre company Every House Has a Door Matthew Goulish and Lin Hixson[iv] discussed how a performance might be created using documents in their paper Replay Object Image: Notes on 9 Beginnings[v]. Using a range of material from The Live Arts Archive[vi], the company restaged the beginnings of nine past performances and ‘reimagine[d] them [in] a new composition’[vii]. Goulish and Hixon stated that the authentic value ascribed to singular, ‘one off’ events is no longer important for audiences, because the event and the documents they produce are now considered as one object.[viii] Hence, performances possess the capacity to manifest in archival objects for the ‘the future of their (re)enactment’[ix]. Liveness, then, cannot be entirely defined by its ephemeral qualities.
The challenges archives and archiving pose to live performance’s ephemerality has resulted in a vital re-validation of performance as a transient and perpetually disappearing art form. The ease with which we can now record our activities and disseminate them to a vast audience using digital technologies has led to an increasing number of performance-makers to document their process using a range of media, suggesting live performance is no longer considered as the resultant product of an undisclosed process, but instead exists in a variety of manifestations with many points of access. The archive’s function as a preserver of the past and (in the Derridian sense) a place where history commences[x] suggests performance presence can be experienced beyond the spatial/temporal live event through the remains the archive preserves. Marina Abramovic’s performance installation Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present (2010) is a potent example of the latent tension between those artists and scholars who advocate a reappraisal of the function of archival remains – such as Baz Kershaw’s ‘distributed archive’[xi] – and artists such as Abramovic who consider an audiences proximity to the artist’s body as the most authentic (and, by extension, only) means of manifesting past performances into the present. Abramovic’s insistence on the proximity of an audience who are present to the artist’s body as the only true form of performance presence is a widely accepted view, yet also limits presence’s enduring effects by confining it to the living body. If performance is composed of acts, which are only meaningful once they disappear at the moment of their becoming, is documentation a betrayal of its ontology?
Peter Brook famously stated an ‘act of theatre’ commences when one man walks across an empty space whilst another is watching him.[xii] Brook’s emphasis on emptiness as the most useful point of departure for performance-making indicates a desire to begin with what is immediately available: space and living bodies. In Brook’s description, these pillars of live performance are crucial because they lack any history and are open to multiple perspectives and interpretations. Yet everything living possesses its own history, no matter how hidden or esoteric. Psychologist Esther Salaman describes us as ‘exiles from our past’[xiii]; the living, present body is a product of a continuous historical process. Nothing comes from nothing; the past does not disappear as long as fragments of it are preserved in some form. Live performance understood and validated as a temporal event is dependent on the past it emerged from, whilst achieving a fractured, non-unitary legacy for itself through embodied acts of transmission and hard documentation. Jeremy Deller fused these methods in his piece The Battle For Orgreave (2001).[xiv] As a historical reenactment and an archive, Deller demonstrated how an art work can exist in distributed forms. Critics noted how the performativity of the re-enactment was an effective way for audiences to experience historical events, whilst the archive recorded the ‘artist’s reinterpretation of these events seventeen years later’.[xv] The performance’s legacy was actualized as an archive to sustain awareness of its subject, whilst also demonstrating how documents pertaining to historical events can form the foundations of a live enactment. The Battle for Orgreave is, therefore, not entirely defined by its performativity, belying the notion audiences can only experience it as live.
By citing performance’s ‘liveness’ as the essential component in the production of knowledge and meaning-making, records of the event have until relatively recently been considered as pure representation and not the ‘thing’ itself. These arguments usually fail to define the elusive ‘thing’ of performances, so entwined as they usually are with an almost mystical sense of sharing the same space as the performance event. Jerzy Grotowski distilled the essentials of live performance to ‘what happens between actor and spectator’[xvi]. This is a typical example of the post war generation of performance practitioners who sought to create – to quote Peter Brook – ‘holy’ events actualized by the presence of living bodies. Philip Auslander cites presence as the overriding concern of avant-garde performance practitioners, stating ‘[o]ne of the major theoretical positions taken up by practitioners of the ecstatic branch of 1960s experimental theatre is that the actor’s presence before the audience is the essence of theatre and the use of any particular theatre makes of that presence defines it’s ideology’[xvii]. Rebecca Schneider states that the value placed on presence has resulted in an equally vociferous insistence on disappearance comprising live performances ontology[xviii].
The emphasis on disappearance as an integral component of performance has gone beyond a purely empirical consideration and has become an ‘ideological virtue’[xix] for those who advocate live performance as the closest art form to living experience. Basing critiques on ideological grounds makes any attempt to critique this inner truth meaningless as, within this schema, individual perception displaces critical discourse as the primary source of knowledge. Insisting that performance is an inherently transient (although paradoxically repeatable) event ultimately prohibits future readings and interpretations of past works. But, most crucially, these arguments conflict with the performance’s communicative structure.
Willmar Sauter describes performance as a ‘communicative event’ which is created and experienced simultaneously. Sauter proposes the aesthetic is communicated to an audience on the two levels of ‘perception’ and ‘reception’. Perception refers to the purely phenomenological processes at play as a result of how scenic elements (including the performer) are arranged, whilst reception refers to the result of these expressive forms.[xx] The message a performance contains is transmitted through its event status. Surely, then, memory is integral to the experience of liveness of it engenders this communication? Separating the spectator’s experience from their memories would mean that performance creates a ‘type’ of presence of almost imperceptible immediacy if it does not endure beyond its original manifestation.
Anything that transmits must necessarily possess the ability to be recorded so the content of the transmission can be recognized as a form of transferable knowledge. As Rebecca Schneider argues, transmission with no reception is ‘no transmission at all’[xxi]. A record which records but does not communicate is no record at all, just as performance without an audience communicates only to itself. Here, Derrida’s definition of the archive’s authoritative function conflicts with the live event understood as an event experienced for a singular time, with the former ensuring a authoritative historical version(s) of history whilst the latter glories in temporality’s profundity. As 9 Beginnings and The Battle for Orgreave demonstrate, events continue to transmit over time through records that can then engender new performances.
Presence can therefore be recognized as being successfully achieved when it most closely resembles the immediacy of lived experience: our experience of reality is one of a frequent awareness of the present’s lack of stability coupled with the knowledge it never completely disappears but is preserved for future retrieval. The neurologist Oliver Sacks explains humanities’ ability to record living experiences in organic memory is a vital faculty to orientate ourselves to reality, as our memories provide a narrative of lived experience and so make it comprehensible: ‘We [each have] a life-story, an inner-narrative – whose continuity, whose sense, is our lives. It might be said that each of us constructs and lives a “narrative”, and that narrative is us, our identities’.[xxii] Sacks goes on to explain memory does not preserve the totality of our lives, but instead stores images and impressions which do not possess the finite form of consignable documents; rather, memories exist in a state of perpetual potentiality:
"What, we may ask, could be played in such a way as to reconstitute an experience? Is it something akin to a film or record, played on the brain’s film projector or phonograph? Or something analogous but logically anterior – such as a script or score? What is the final form, the natural form, of our life’s repertoire?"[xxiii]
Clearly memory is not merely a storehouse of lived episodes but rather the intersection between a faded past and an unfolding future. The philosopher John Locke claimed experiential knowledge is reproduced through images and sense impressions, resulting in a fluid relationship between memory and the imagination as they are not the ‘real thing’, so memory is ‘actively co-opted as an agent for the imagination – the opposite of its traditional function as a means of accurate recall’ in the artistic process[xxiv]. The performance-making process is reliant on past practices to actualize the experiential presence of the live.
Anne Bogart argues that remembering is an integral part of performance making, stating the ‘act of remembering connects us with the past and alters time. We are living conduits of human memory’[xxv]. When we remember we ‘re-describe’ the present, and so gain different perceptions of our living experiences allowing us to constantly re-interpret them[xxvi]. The performer’s living body calls on its point of origin – embodied actions which have resulted in the performer’s present body onstage – to compose the live event. Likewise, the audience’s perception of live performance is married with the knowledge this experience is not wholly ephemeral as it persists within living memory. Memory is an integral component of the performance event because it ensures presence affects are not confined to a specific space and time.
Eugenio Barba acknowledges the importance of memory and legacy in his essay ‘Eftermaele: That Which Will Be Said Afterwards’, stating ‘what really matters is what will be said afterwards when we who work at the task are gone’[xxvii]. He expands on this theme in ‘The Essence of Theatre’ citing the ability of ephemeral acts to be passed on to an audience via embodied acts of transmission, which determines the event:
"[T]he essential lies in the transfiguration of the ephemeral quality of the performance into a splinter of life that sinks roots into their flesh and accompanies them through the years…The toxic secretion penetrates their psychic, mental, and intellectual metabolism and becomes memory. This memory constitutes the unimaginable and unprogrammable message that is handed down to those who are not yet born."[xxviii]
Barba’s focus on the affects of performance presence is a shift in emphasis from performance understood as a durational event; to use Sauter’s terminology, Barba focuses less on perception than on reception. Barba clearly considers legacy as an integral component of the performance event, as its effects are what ultimately endure. The preoccupation with legacy runs throughout the essay as Barba’s argument is infused with the desire to communicate the importance of those immaterial aspects of performance, the components which transcend pure materiality into living experience. In Barba’s analysis, performance does not disappear at the moment of its becoming[xxix], but instead ‘sows a seed that grows in the memory of every spectator, and every spectator grows with this seed’[xxx]. Obviously, one’s life is not consignable, leading Barba to ask ‘[w]hat then remains of theatre? The essential can only be mute. It is action but it cannot be communicated’[xxxi]. How, though, can these seeds be described as remains if they are unable to transmit a message?  If the content of the transmission cannot be recorded then knowledge of the performance essentially disappears and so is not a true legacy because it does not endure beyond the original act of transmission.
Philip Auslander argues that definitions of the live have only been made possible by recording technologies which have had a profound effect on an audiences engagement with performance as they are now ‘modeling their responses to the live event on those expected of them by television’.[xxxii] Thus, live performance is not wholly distinct from the ‘economy of representations’[xxxiii] documentation is part of; live performance is now part of the ‘economy of repetition’. In other words, performances are now constructed and experienced with the knowledge that they will be seen by a future, unseen audience[xxxiv]. Such a sense of anticipation has resulted in the language of reproduction entering into discourses of the live, as notions of singular and unitary art works have been problematized by artists increasing preoccupation with documenting rehearsals and performance artists creating their own archives: ‘It is not realistic to propose that live performance can remain ontologically pristine or that it operates in a cultural economy separate from that of the mass media’[xxxv].  As Auslander indicates, any definition of the live must include definitions of its reception. In this sense, each reading of an archival record rewrites the past, as the knowledge it contains becomes part of the unfolding present.
Participatory performances place a greater significance on the dynamic, intersubjective exchange between performer and audience over those visual elements that more easily enter into an economy of representations:
"[T]oday’s participatory art is often at pains to emphasise process over a definitive image concept or object. It tends to value what is invisible: a group dynamic, a social situation, a change of energy, a raised consciousness. As a result, it is an art dependent on first-hand experience, and preferably over a long duration (days, weeks, months)."[xxxvi]
Claire Bishop’s use of the word ‘invisible’ references those aspects of performance that are unrepeatable. In Bishop’s analysis, the spectator’s presence inside the event constitutes the performance; this means that attempts to define performance’s ontology that does not include the audience’s subjective experience redundant. Her assertion that one must be present goes beyond the necessity of more ‘traditional’ performances, which communicate via a repeatable performance score, and are received by a clearly defined group of spectators, by making audiences co-devisors of the spectacle. To discuss presence as a tangible entity is to misunderstand that its value rests in its inability to become entirely present, as notions of presence are inextricably linked to the promise of absence; one is inconceivable without the other. To discuss performance presence in terms of disappearance is to treat both states separately, rather than acknowledge the fluidity between both. Performance becomes itself through its ability to persist beyond the temporal event through the potentially limitless material manifestations it resides in beyond its origin, but never retaining its original manifestation.
As I mentioned above, the audience’s memory does not easily lend itself to wider accessibility, which is crucial if performance is to achieve any sort of legacy. However, recording technologies make performances communicative aspects difficult, if not impossible, to capture. We are vital tools for accessing the past as the ‘barrier of the ephemeral remains’ and ‘only the living human can retrieve and reconstitute the live event’ because we are subject to the same degree of alteration and impermanence as the past.[xxxvii] Likewise, proximity to the event does not produce more ‘authentic’ interpretations of performances. As Matthew Reason explains: ‘Being there, like the thing itself, does not speak for itself. Instead it is the archive, along with various representations of performance contained within the archive, which give performance form and meaning and that speak about performance’[xxxviii]. In this sense the archive, as a vessel for potential encounters and interpretations of the past performance, share similar qualities with the impermanence of performance presence:
"Occuring in relation to situated acts, “presence” not only invites consideration of individual experience, perception and consciousness, but also directs attention outside the self into the social and the spatial, toward the enactment of “co-presence” as well as perceptions and habitations of space…Presence…is not a function of unity and synthesis; not the untroubled occupation of place, or a definitive being here or being there; but is performed in the persistence of being across division and differentiation."[xxxix]
The archive and performance presence are not, then, diametrically opposed entities, with one attempting to create an authentic and ‘real’ experience and the other preserving the pale representations of living experience. Both have a complex and dynamic relationship with what precedes them and is produced by them. Presence is undoubtedly an integral component of live performance, but I propose it is not a ‘type’ of presence which is antithetical to archiving. On the contrary, the necessity for performance presence to transmit to a receiver compliments the archivist’s process of preserving material for the future[xl]. ‘Rather than a passive simulacrum, the researcher can regard documentation as a dynamic phenomenon, at once bound up with yet standing apart from former liveness and capable of performing its own presence’[xli].
To conclude I will briefly examine aspects of Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present, which addresses many of the issues I have raised. In this performance installation, Abramovic displayed objects, photos and film excerpts from her private and professional life throughout the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Live re-enactments of Abramovic’s pieces from the 1970s were performed alongside them, whilst Abramovic was sat by a table. Visitors to the gallery were invited to sit opposite her in the central square of the museum. Placing herself in a museal context was an attempt to replicate an artifact’s historical resonances without recourse to social interaction, indicating Abramovic’s distrust of explaining her work or providing rationales to placate art historians and critics, whilst eluding her own celebrity status. Instead, she chose to present her living body as the optimal encounter between her oeuvre and the museum visitors.
At a very basic level Abramovic was present in the sense she was sharing the same space as the audience and was apparently unmediated by any form of technology, yet was nevertheless framed and read within the museal context, so in effect was mediated through the lens of ‘heritage’. On a more fundamental level she did not necessarily create those presence effects discussed above because the audience encountered the ‘work’ (i.e. Abramovic herself) through pure proximity to the artist and performance re-enactments. By re-enacting past work by younger dancers and presenting herself as the persistent factor of her art, Abramovic presented the past as a stable and constantly retrievable series of artifacts. Audiences encountered these artifacts in such a way which prohibited alternative readings of them through Abramovic’s propensity to create a legitimate legacy with herself as the sole author. Hence, Abramovic’s process of retrieving past presences did not result in alternative presence effects, opting instead to replicate a sense of originality. But as Amelia Jones contends, the original event can never be made present because it never truly existed, as that would make performance a practice analogous to reproducible art objects rather than events:
There cannot, therefore, be a re-enactment that faithfully renders the truth of this original event. Where would such a version of the live event reside at any rate? In the minds/bodies of the “original” performer(s) or spectator(s)? In the documents that seem indexically to fix in time and space what “really” happened? In the spaces where it took place?[xlii]
Even the most faithful re-enactments must contend with the barrier of the ephemeral that prohibit any sort of authentic experience of live performance. In this work, Abramovic pointedly demonstrates her distrust of objects as useful material to touch and re-manifest the past, believing performance is only ever alive at the moment of its becoming, which is instantaneously coupled with its own destruction. Jones argues that in the absence of re-enactments objects are what persist. The re-enactments in The Artist is Present were only meaningful inasmuch as they successfully repeated past gestures, sounds and words. The still presence of Abramovic only serves to reiterate an art work’s stasis as long as the artist’s voice determines how it is accessed:
The belief that the meaning of the body in action can only be known to the spectator through its authentic live enactment, performance theory suggests, contradicts the fact – and a fact explicitly admitted and highlighted in Abramovic’s project – that this body’s actions can only be known if they are recognizable, if they are reiterating or repeating previous gestures that have salience to viewers, as coded from acceptable traditions.[xliii]
No attempt was being made to generate new forms of knowledge by opening the work up for the visitor’s re-interpretation. In this context, the archive becomes a mere storehouse where the past can be safely consigned to and retrieved at will, with no consideration of how the past alters as a result of that retrieval, nor how the archive is a place of commencement as well as storage. The archive is not a place where practices end, but is a site of dynamic exchange between the origins of the present and the potential of the future. By considering the archive as a generative entity, the one who consults archival material can function as an enactor of the past through their living experience, now partially composed of the knowledge they have received from a document. It is those relational – and therefore immaterial – qualities, between the record and the reader which render the archive truly present.
[i] Carolyn Steedman, Dust (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001), p.68
[ii] A collection might begin as a photo album and be added to over a person’s lifetime, or just as easily be a series of ephemera kept in an institution’s storeroom.
[iii] Bristol University, Performing Documents, 2013, retrieved 13 February 2013,
[iv]Matthew Goulish and Lin Hixson were members of Goat Island theatre company and formed Every House Has a Door in 2008
[v]Matthew Goulish and Lin Hixson, Replay Object Image: Notes on 9 Beginnings, presented at thePerforming Documents Conference. Bristol University and Arnolfini Arts Centre, 12-14 April, 2013
[vi] The archive is based at Bristol and is one of the largest theatre archives in the world. See for a complete list of their holdings
[vii] Every House Has a Door, retrieved 3 September 2013,
[viii] Matthew Goulish and Lin Hixson, Replay Object Image: Notes on 9 Beginnings. Presented at thePerforming Documents Conference, Arnolfini Arts Centre, 13th April, 2013
[ix] Rebecca Schneider, Performing Remains: Art and War in Times of Theatrical Reenactment Performance (Oxon: Routledge, 2011) p.108
[x] Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press,1996)
[xi] Baz Kershaw, Theatre Ecology: Environments and Performance Events (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p.77
[xii] Peter Brook, The Empty Space (London: Penguin, 1968), p.1
[xiii] Esther Salaman quoted in Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat (London: Picador, 2011), p.151
[xiv] Orgreave, a mining town in Yorkshire, was the site of a violent clash between miners and the police during the 1984-1985 miner’s strike
[xv] Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship (London: Verso, 2012), p.35
[xvi] Jerzy Grotowski, Towards a Poor Theatre (London: Methuen, 1968), p.32
[xvii] Philip Auslander, Presence and Resistance: Postmodernism and Cultural Politics in Contemporary American Performance (Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1994), p.36
[xviii] Rebecca Schneider, Performance Remains, Performance Research, Volume 6, Issue 2, 2001, pp.100-108
[xix] Matthew Reason, Documentation, Disappearance and the Representation of Live Performance  (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), p.9
[xx] Willmar Sauter, The Theatrical Event: Dynamics of Performance and Perception (Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 2000), pp.5-6
[xxi] Rebecca Schneider, Performing Remains: Art and War in Times of Theatrical Reenactment (Oxon: Routledge, 2011), p.99
[xxii] Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat (London: Picador, 2011), p.117
[xxiii] Ibid, p.154
[xxiv] Joan Gibbons, Contemporary Art and Memory: Images of Recollection and Remembrance (London: IB Tauris and Co. Ltd, 2012), p.2
[xxv] Anne Bogart, A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art and Theatre (New York: Routledge, 2001), p.22
[xxvi] Ibid, p.39
[xxvii] Eugenio Barba and Sarah Delconte, Eftermaele: ‘That Which Will Be Said Afterwards’. The Drama Review, Volume 36, Issue 2, 1992, p.77
[xxviii] Eugenio Barba, The Essence of Theatre. The Drama Review,Volume 4, Issue 3, 2002, p.16
[xxix]Peggy Phelan, Unmarked: The Politics of Performance (London: Routledge, 1993), p.146
[xxx] Eugenio Barba, The Essence of Theatre. The Drama Review,Volume 4, Issue 3, 2002, p.17
[xxxi]  ibid, p.18
[xxxii] Philip Auslander, Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture, 2nd edition (Routledge: New York, 2008), p.27
[xxxiii] Peggy Phelan,Unmarked: The Politics of Performance (London: Routledge, 1993), p.146
[xxxiv] Philip Auslander, Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture, 2nd edition (Routledge: New York, 2008), p.27
[xxxv] ibid, p.45
[xxxvi] Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship (London: Verso, 2012), p.4
[xxxvii] Baz Kershaw, Theatre Ecology: Environments and Performance Events (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p.79
[xxxviii] Matthew Reason, Documentation, Disappearance and the Representation of Live Performance (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), p.40
[xxxix] Gabriella Giannachi, Nick Kaye and Michael Shanks, Archaeologies of Presence: Art, Performance and the Persistence of Being (Oxon: Routledge, 2012), p.1
[xl] Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996), p.36
[xli] Baz Kershaw and Helen Nicholson, Research Methods in Theatre and Performance (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011), p.164
[xlii]Amelia Jones, The Artist is Present: Artistic Reenactments and the Impossibility of Presence. The Drama Review, Volume 55, Issue 1, 2011, p.19
[xliii]ibid, p.33