This is an extract from a paper presented at the Things to Remember Conference University of Nijmegan, Holland, 5-6- June 2014. A longer version of this article is being prepared for publication.
This paper comes out of a particular configuration of philosophical enquiry, an artistic project and bodily somatic practices informed by dance.
Living Archives is the academic research project housing this work, it is a 4 year project funded by the Swedish Research Council with a group of 12 researchers coming from arts, interaction design, social sciences and computing sciences. With this project, we look at archiving as a set of practices, we do not examine one particular archive. We have the freedom and privilege of stepping back and looking at archiving in all its complexity, respecting rather than tidying up what is nebulous or difficult to categorise. The overall project has 2 strands: Performing Memory and Open Data. Somatic Archiving has emerged from the Performing Memory research path, and in particular is informed by artistic research into affect that I began in collaboration with Jeannette Ginslov in 2010.
Digital technologies are woven throughout this work, but not as a primary focus or as a ‘solution’ to problems of archiving. Our funding comes from an initiative called The Digitalized Society, but in fact we are highly critical of digitization of cultural heritage. We are distinctly challenging what has been called the Logic of the Archive, those power structures that determine who enters the archive and who controls its contents. If we simply migrate to the digital we run a risk of reproducing the privileged topology of the archive. With Living Archives I would say we are producing our own logics – logics plural — because as a group of 12 researchers we do not always agree with each other, even if we collectively seem to be producing practical ‘counter-logics’ to archiving.
Somatic Archiving would seem to be a counter-argument to digital archiving, but it is addressed by using Augmented Reality browsers, networked digital mobile media, as well as dance improvisation and somatic practices (currently Rosen Method).
Today I will not present the finalized results of any study, I will provide you with 4 ‘ways in’ to the area, but I will focus on points 3 & 4 below.
1. improvisation & affect (AffeXity)
2. somatic materialism
3. clash between liveness and mediation (discourses from the field of Performance Studies)
4. surveillance and encryption
Having said I will not present ‘results’ or fully formed arguments, I will however offer a gestural understanding of how archiving can be opened up:
Standardly archiving is held to take place in a single direction – putting something in a box, or burying something in ourselves. The old logic applies here: placement, organization, exclusion
BUT is it possible to view archiving as also being the gesture of uncovering or retrieval – usually the domain of recollection or memory … remembering something?
FURTHER is it possible to view archiving as not just the loop placing and retrieving but sharing, in other words a social dimension – moving outwards.
A Clash between liveness & mediation
Revisting the logic of the archive, it is worth recalling how Derrida described it in terms of a topology meaning a placedness, ‘givenness’ or nomination to remain (Schneider 107). This can apply to who is nominated to be a dancer, where the performance is permitted to take place and who makes it into the official documentation – the archive. Appearing in an archive occurs in a myriad of ways: credited or not credited, named or not named, recognizable or not, faithfully reproduced or distorted (As we know, the Right to be Forgotten is a huge topic of debate at the moment, as we know).This points to Peggy Phelan’s book Unmarked (1993) where she considers whether it is always best to fight for representation, whether it might be wiser to permit a position of unmarked-ness, unrepresentation, non-documentation. This political side to her argument has been reduced and distorted somewhat in disagreements around liveness and media, but prior to discussing this I would like to introduce a recollection of my own to explain the topology of ‘who is nominated to remain in an archive’ and the sense that my memory is non-nominated. Excluded. Existing in a counter-archive.
I call this memory “The Pink Lady.”
This personal archival trace exists in visual form in my memory but not in video or photographic form. Perhaps the dancers involved have documentation – because what I am about to describe does come from a performance – but I prefer my memory and the affective field this recollection still invokes for me.
In April 2013 I attended a performance at the annual electronic music conference “Sonorities” held in Belfast at the Sonic Arts Research Centre. Ivani Santana and Franziska Schroeder collaborated on a piece called “Sound Me” which involved a live telematics feed between the theatre space in Belfast and a square outside NYU in New York City. The camera angle was provocative, a tilted surveillance of a busy square provided a view of people moving around a few ‘designated’ dancers doing a series of recognizably dancerly movement. These 4 or 5 dancing bodies were distinguished from the others, evoking the logic of the archive’s sense of being nominated to remain or nominated to be represented (after Phelan). We were supposed to be watching the dancers. Yet, more interesting to me was how the camera offered a view of people moving in general patterns, in fields of exchange: in particular there was a large woman wearing pink carefully walking backwards to get her friend in view of her camera. She was not performing as a dancer, she was performing to create her own digital archive and without knowing it she was performing for our visual archive, because the live feed was almost certainly recorded. Here we see the various layers of recollection: citing Schneider “An archive is a house of and for performative repetition” (109).
At that time, just over one year ago, I did not have my current sensitivity to archiving as always and necessarily underpinned by surveillance. I was still invested in the sense that it was politically and aesthetically desirable to include and attend to that which, and those who, previously have been marginalized and excluded from archives. I’ll get to this later, for now I want to chart how bodies are recording devices.
I worked for many years as a dancer exploring embodiment in the context of live performance with sensing or tracking technologies transforming my motions and kinesthetic qualities in real time. Improvising closely with systems for transferring my motion into sound, visuals or haptics was a creative act for me, these technologies rarely were set to record – although of course they could do so. There was the computational capability, we just decided to use the systems to generate an effect in real time and let the traces go. As a result we have little documentation of these performances, in the sense of detailed visual records. I worked from the standpoint of dance and philosophy so when I encountered the vociferous debate in Performance Studies around the live and the mediated it felt a little oblique to me, having always worked with technologies and live bodies. I should say also that, bizarrely, the academic fields of Dance Studies and Performance Studies have very little overlap.
Rebecca Schneider’s book ‘Performance Remains’ has become a key text for me and permits me to take this discussion constructively into our study of the practice of archiving (Living Archives) and helps to provide a way in to an understanding of what Somatic Archiving might mean.
She outlines the basic tenets of Performance Studies and proceeds to question (or I would say dismantle) them with devastating effectiveness:
Performance disappears and text remains
live performance is not a recording
the live occurs in a ‘now’ that is singular, immediate and vanishing
A brief sketch of a debate between two American Performance Studies scholars is a good way to understand a pernicious duality that has shaped the field: that between the live and the mediated.
In 1993 Peggy Phelan wrote Unmarked, it is a dense book and its more sophisticated layer has been hinted at above (the political power of avoiding representation, remaining unmarked) but it has become reduced to the equation of live performance with disappearance. With a celebration of the ethereality of liveness, with an entire generation of scholars celebrating theatre and dance as arts of disappearance. ‘At the Vanishing Point’ was Marcia Siegel’s take on this. In terms more relevant to archiving and memory studies, performance becomes representation without reproduction. It is independent from mass reproduction technically, economically and linguistically. Antonyms to liveness become documentability, recordability or mediatedness (Schneider 91-92). Corporeal memory is not addressed, it is reduced to loss, to forgetting. The message is clear with this reading of performance: If it cannot be recorded it is forgotten. Live performance becomes associated with immateriality.
Philip Auslander intervened in the debate in 1999 with his book Liveness and caused quite a bun-fight, or what we academics might prefer to call a controversy. He rejects the binary between the live and the mediated, asserting that the construction of the ‘live’ is an invention of technological reproduction. Mediation created the notion of the live. Live is im-mediate. It is not prior to mediation or recording, but is in a mutually defining relationship.
Schneider cuts through the argument with clarity, pointing out a conviction shared by these two adversaries: both Phelan and Auslander share the notion that the temporality of the live is the immediate present. Despite their disagreements, both of them position the live body as “not already a matter of record, neither is it a means of recording. Simply put, it is wrong to assume that the live event always and necessarily precedes the recording. She flips this onto its head and says that the live is also a record of precedent material (p90).
Expanding beyond the domain of Performance Studies, we find implications for archiving and for reflections on memory. There is a widely held and frequently unacknowledged supposition that lived experience requires recording in order to remain. This fuels the obsession with digital archiving and the unbelievable amounts of money that have been poured into digitization initiatives since the 1990s.
Somatic Archiving is based, at least in part, on the following 3 assertions:
The live records
Bodies remember and store this memory.
Bodies archive consistently and consistently prowl these archives, on a somatic and overtly conscious level.
Auslander, Philip. Liveness. London and New York: Routledge, 1999.
Derrida, Jacques. Archive Fever. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1998.
Phelan, Peggy. Unmarked. London and New York: Routledge, 1993.
Schneider, Rebecca. Performing Remains. London and New York: 2011.
(extract, June 2014)