Research project: Archiving performance

How to archive performance, an art form in which bodies share time and space? This is a question that is currently occupying many museums and artists, and one that involves both ideological issues and practical challenges.

At the end of 2018, multidisciplinary artist Otobong Nkanga approached the M HKA with the question how her live performances could enter into the museum’s collection while ensuring they would still remain ‘alive’.  The CKV has seized this moment to start a research project on archiving performance and is cooperating with the Research Centre for Visual Poetics (University of Antwerp). Lotte Bode was appointed as project assistant.

From Where I Stand: Glimmer (2015, M HKA) van Otobong Nkanga. Foto: M HKA/ Christine Clinckx.

The Breathing Archive

Otobong Nkanga introduced the notion of ‘the breathing archive’, a non-traditional form of archiving that leaves room for growth and development of context-specific work.

  • In the framework of the Theatre and Film Studies programme (UAntwerpen), Lotte Bode wrote a master’s thesis on archiving the performance practice of Otobong Nkanga. Together with the artist, she analysed the specific qualities of her performances and used this as a starting point to look at how the practice could be archived.
  • Nkanga relates the archive to air, and that in itself is highly unusual. Together with Professor Timmy De Laet (UAntwerpen), Lotte Bode investigated the aesthetic and socio-political implications of the archive as a breathable entity. Their article will appear in Performance Research Volume 26, Issue 7 ‘On Air’ on 18 June 2022.
  • Lotte Bode made a compilation of the interviews she conducted with the artist for the e-pub Collecting performance. Performative practices of the 90’s by the museum confederation L’Internationale. She also comments on a number of key concepts in the ‘glossary of terms’. This e-pub is compiled by Joanna Zielińska, Senior Curator at M HKA, and will be published by Valiz in 2022, at the conclusion of the four-year Our Many Europes (OME) programme.

Otobong Nkanga, professor Timmy De Laet and Lotte Bode. Photo: Bram Goots (2022).

The Constituent Museum

Following the pilot research project with Otobong Nkanga, Lotte Bode started a broader research into the ways in which a cultural institution such as a museum or an archive institution might archive performance art, using the M HKA as a case study. Drawing on the M HKA’s own efforts to (further) transform itself into a ‘constituent museum’, she examines how placing relationships at the heart of an institution also offers possibilities for structurally integrating performance art into the collection, and which (active) role artists and institution staff can play in this. To this end, she explores the challenges that a museum such as the M HKA experiences in handling performances, the way in which performances are incorporated into the collection, and the different archival methodologies used.

  • Lotte Bode presented her research in a lecture at the conference ‘On the State of Research at Museums’ (3-4 December 2021). This international conference was organised by Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź and the National Institute for Museums and Public Collections.
  • A post-conference publication with a contribution from Lotte Bode will be published in parallel with the conference. The publication will appear in the autumn of 2022.
  • At the M HKA, Lotte Bode headed the acquisition process of Augenmusik (2016) by Katya Ev, a performance of which the M HKA manages both the documentation and the re-enactment rights. Lotte Bode assisted Katya Ev in structuring the archive of the performance and in developing guidelines on how Augenmusik could be exhibited as an archive installation. One particular component of the archive consists of a video conversation between Lotte Bode and Katya Ev, in which the artist explains the central aspects of the performance. And finally, they worked out a draft version of a protocol for re-enactment: a text that describes the conditions that must be met in order for the performance to be re-enacted.

Augenmusik (2016, in the streets of Paris) from Katya Ev. Performer: Camille Porte de Bercy. Foto: Mathilde Geldhof.

SymposiumArchiving Performance: Between Artistic Poetics and Institutional Policy’

Prompted by the need to share expertise and exchange experiences, the CKV together with the Research Centre for Visual Poetics organised a symposium on archiving performance art. Internationally renowned artists, curators, archivists and academics such as Otobong Nkanga, Louise Lawson (Tate) and Annet Dekker (University of Amsterdam) discussed why and how we (can) archive performance in an institutional context. Some of the most challenging aspects were explored in three different panel discussions. By discussing these matters from different perspectives and backgrounds, the symposium provided an opportunity to reflect on established methodologies versus new imaginative possibilities for collecting and archiving live performance.

  • A summary of the symposium can be found here
  • The programme of the day, including a description of the discussion topics and short bios of all participating speakers, can be found here.