Performing Documents: modelling creative and curatorial engagements with live art and performance archives

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: School of Arts


Many archives of live art and performance have been or are being produced, as this contemporary form becomes valued by museums or collections internationally gaining significant cultural capital. AHRC funding has or is enhancing a number of key resources, through conservation, cataloguing and digitization, making them accessible to potential user-groups: e.g., Bristol's recently completed project to digitize the National Review of Live Art Video Archive and the award for 'It was forty years ago today...': Locating the Early History of Performance Art in Wales 1965-1979. Performing Documents will research and facilitate a further significant advance in the understanding, engagement with and use of these archival materials and performance archives more widely. Where traditional scholarship has tended to appraise archives in relation to art-historical narratives and read documents as the textual remains of past events, this project will produce models for the investigation of this archival material through practice-as-research. Thus the project will advance an understanding of existing archival holdings through their relationship to current and future creative practice, in ways that will deepen academic, professional and public engagement with what remains of this ephemeral work. Specifically, the project will explore the potential for knowledge transfer from the Live Art and Arnolfini Archives; it will develop practical models for the future use of this material for a wide range of communities of professional users, including scholars, practitioners and curators. It will also develop strategies for the exhibition of these materials and ephemera, such that culturally significant, event-based art can be understood and communicated across generations of artists and scholars, as well as to a broader public.

Practical approaches to historiography will be explored through three distinct dialogues between renowned professional practitioners and scholarly practitioner-researchers, and between academic and cultural industry partners. The first workshop will focus on artists' re-use of their own archival materials; the second on artists' use of other artists' documents; the third on the exhibition of documents and performance ephemera using curatorial practice as its mode of enquiry. Each enquiry explores a distinct approach to engaging with these documents: they model a set of experimental tools for future creative use and re-use. The project will enable audiences, scholars and professional practitioners to access these workshops through a series of symposia and showings, which will make these processes public, alongside ongoing online documentation. The third workshop concludes with a two-day conference that will be synchronized with an exhibition and performance of selected outcomes. This will draw out and make public significant discussions and comparative reflections from the previous symposia and add a wider call for international academic engagement with the project's questions. A co-authored and edited book, combining DVD, will compile documentation and reflection on the practical inquiries, essays from the investigators and developed conference papers. Published by a leading publisher, this will be distributed internationally across the various sectors involved.

Collaboration between the Department of Drama & Theatre Collection (UOB), the Drama Department of Exeter University & cultural-industry partners Arnolfini & Inbetween Time Productions (Bristol) will provide extensive access & dissemination to the various academic & creative-industry constituencies as well as major public engagement. The project's impact will be enhanced by its exhibition and performance outcomes being included in the Arnolfini programme and Inbetween Time international festival of live art (2012). This festival will include a contextualizing archivaldisplay and additional commissioned re-enactments by national and international artists.

Planned Impact

Performing Documents will impact on the academic and creative- and cultural-industry sectors' use of live art and performance archives, on curatorial and cultural industries' approaches to showing past ephemeral and time-based art, both in the UK and internationally, developing ways of enhancing re-exhibition in accessible, engaging and performative ways, preserving forms which might otherwise disappear from cultural visibility, unlocking the legacy and value of documents held in collections and communicating the work to future audiences.

This collaborative partnership is ideally placed to facilitate and maximize knowledge-exchange between academic and creative- and cultural-industry constituencies: impacting on scholars (Universities of Bristol and Exeter); museum or gallery-based archivists (Theatre Collection and Arnolfini); professional practitioners; public-arts curators (Arnolfini & Inbetween Time Productions). The partners house internationally significant archives: Arnolfini Archive, Live Art Archives and Exeter Digital Archives.

Insights will be transferable to a wide range of archives and museum-holdings, especially those investigated and visited internationally through the survey (RM1). Models for creative use and the re-purposing of documents will be applicable to a range of collections, enhancing public engagement more generally (RM2).

An international call and bursaries will enable emerging professional practitioners to participate in the workshops alongside doctoral practitioner-researchers. Working with the PI, CIs and renowned artists, Tim Etchells (Forced Entertainment), Lin Hixson and Matthew Goulish (Goat Island), they will gain new insights applicable to their own professional work. The workshops, in interrogating the practice of participating artist-consultants, will enable professional development, enhancing their work with collaborators in their own companies, and through their pedagogy (Hixson and Goulish' Summer School, Art Institute, Chicago).

Through Cole's dialogue with Kaye new tools will be developed for the effective installation and re-exhibition of performance documents and approaches to programming re-enactment and re-use, applicable in future Arnolfini exhibitions and disseminated to other gallery and international festival contexts with which Inbetween Time Productions, Arnolfini and the investigators are networked.

The project's impact will be significantly enhanced by inclusion in the Arnolfini's programme and the Inbetween Time international festival of live art (2012), specifically including additional commissions curated by Cole engaging with the project's core questions. These will facilitate further exchange with professional arts-communities nationally and internationally.

Existing international links (made through the digitization of the NRLA Archive, Performing Presence and JISC-funded workshop/symposium Digital Documentation and Performance) will be developed with consortia working with media art and performance: e.g. Forging the Future: New Tools for Variable Media (Berkeley Art Museum & Franklin Furnace) and Inside Movement Knowledge (International Choreographic Arts Centre & Netherlands Media Art Institute).

There will be considerable opportunity for public engagement with the research processes and outcomes: through the symposia, conference and exhibition held at Arnolfini in the context of this international arts centre. Exhibitions attract 35-45,000. The project website, hosted on Arnolfini's web platform, will make the process accessible remotely to international audiences, scholars and practitioners, through notation, observations and related dialogues. National and international reviews of the exhibition are guaranteed.

Documentation of the outcomes will be accessioned into public collections, Arnolfini Archive - housed in Bristol City Council's Pu


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Title 9 Beginnings 
Description In response to the invitation from Performing Documents, Every house has a door created a performance titled 9 Beginnings, which restaged the beginnings of 9 historical performances by 9 different artists or companies found in the Arnolfini archive and University of Bristol's Live Art Archive, and re-imagined them as a new composition. The creative team included the director, Lin Hixson; the dramaturg, Matthew Goulish; two performers, Selma Banich (Croatia) and Sebastián Calderón Bentin (Panama); and three UK-based participants (one assistant director and two choreographed stagehands). 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2012 
Impact There were two performances (14th and 15th September 2012) of the outcome of Every House Has a Door's investigations at Arnolfini (Bristol), audiences totalled 250. 
Title 9 Beginnings: Chicago 
Description A new performance work emerging from approaches developed by Every House Has A Door with their original performance of "9 Beginnings: Bristol", as part of Performing Documents strand Re-make. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact There were three performances of this new work (23rd - 25th January 2014) at the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry University of Chicago, with audiences totalling 139. Performance-makers Lin Hixson and Matthew Goulish applied the processes they had investigated in Performing Documents with the Live Art Archives (Theatre Collection) and Arnolfini Archive to the Randolph Street Gallery archives housed at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. 
Title After After Richard Hughes 
Description A risograph print work by artist Clare Thornton, produced as part of her contribution to the Performance Re-enactment Society's contribution to Performing Documents strand Remake. The risograph print work is illustrative of the artist's process of of layering and appropriation and restaging of works from the Arnolfini Archive. 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact This work was variously exhibited at the following exhibitions: A3 Works, Motorcade Flashparade and London Art Fair, with over 30,000 visitors. The processual investigation begun in Performing Documents was thus disseminated to both a wider public and visual-art audience. 
Title Do The Wild Thing! Redux by Bodies in Flight 
Description Responding to the project strand, Bodies in Flight return to their own archive, lodged in the Theatre Collection, University of Bristol. Do the Wild Thing! (1996) was Bodies in Flight's eighth project and the first led by a specific research concern: to explore the encounter at the heart of all performance between flesh and text, between discursive and embodied practices. Four of the original collaborators returned to this show about desire and voyeurism to produce new works each in their own medium - dance, photography, text and video. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2012 
Impact This installation ran from 7th to 22nd December 2012 at Arnolfini (Bristol), and was experienced by over 500 visitors. 
Title Group Show 
Description Performance Re-enactment Society (PRS) presented an intangible exhibition curated from Arnolfini's archive and displayed through performance, choreography, conversation and exhibition tours. This was an intervention into the archive, which remade the institution's history as fiction. Group Show was selected from an imagined Arnolfini collection of visual art and performance, bringing together works from different times that were not originally shown together, as a new event. In the galleries and behind the scenes, PRS shared the research they carried out whilst in residency as part of Performing Documents. For this project PRS are Paul Clarke, Tom Marshman, Clare Thornton, with dance artist Laura Dannequin and ushers from Arnolfini. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2012 
Impact Shown at Arnolfini (Bristol) from 14th to 16th September, these actions were experienced by 500 visitors. 
Title Jog Shuttler by Blast Theory 
Description A 9-screen video installation, involving a bank of screens plays looping unseen experiments, half-formed ideas and well-known work, in a large grid. Responding to the project's Redux strand, Blast Theory revisit their own archive: What links the footage or the ideas behind it is not immediately clear, other than it has all been generated by the same artists' group over the last 21 years. Navigating through fragments of Blast Theory's archive, viewers impose their own edit by sifting, shuttling and looping, making sense of it for themselves. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2012 
Impact Running from 7th to 23rd December 2012 at Arnolfini (Bristol), this installation was experienced over 500 visitors. 
Title Reading Franko B: Moments in Love 
Description Reading Franko B: Moments in Love was an exhibition examining the contents of Live Art artist Franko B's archive. The exhibition was a fragmented narrative of his creative and personal histories, asking: who is Franko B? What do we perceive about his identity through the archive? What relationships does this provoke between audience, document and artist? ... Why do we fall in love with him? Curated by PhD researcher Cara Davies, in association with the Theatre Collection, the exhibition showcased a diverse range of the documents in Franko's archive, challenging what they embody and disseminate about his artistic practice and the contexts he works in. This was the Theatre Collection's first ever exhibition from the Live Art Archives and in particular the Franko B archive. Franko's archive has been housed at the Theatre Collection since 2008, and hosts an extensive set of documents, which not only preserve official documentation of Franko's performances/visual artworks/exhibitions, etc. (from the 1980s to 2008) but also documents of a bureaucratic nature, his personal life and the wider cultural/political context of the time they were created. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact This exhibition was presented at the University of Bristol Theatre Collection from 14th March to 12th April, and was experienced by 200 visitors. 
Title Still Moving: Moving Still 
Description A new bespoke version of Sara Giddens' dance-work contribution to Performing Documents strand Redux, made for Dance in Galleries event at Nottingham Contemporary. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact A durational performance on the 19th October 2013 at Nottingham Contemporary Gallery as part of Dance in Galleries event was experienced by up to 300 visitors. In this version, choreographer Sara Giddens developed her element of Performing Document's Do the Wild Thing! Redux installation for the setting of Nottingham Contemporary, including additional performers. The work reached both visual art and dance audiences. 
Title Understanding Negative Dialectics 
Description A new version of performance work, co-commissioned by Performing Documents as part of the Replace strand and Arnolfini as part of Version Control, by artist Felix Gmelin. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact This durational performance in the galleries of Arnolfini (Bristol) on 13th April was experienced by over 100 visitors. 
Title Untitled (After Violent Incident) 
Description Performance co-commissioned by Performing Documents as part of the Replace strand and Arnolfini as part of Version Control, created and directed by Tim Etchells [Forced Entertainment]. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact This durational performance on 14th February 2013 opened the Version Control exhibition at Arnolfini (Bristol) and was experienced by over 100 visitors. 
Title Version Control 
Description Large-scale exhibition, co-curated by Nick Kaye for Performing Documents strand Replace and by Tom Trevor and Axel Wieder, Arnolfini Bristol. 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact This was a major building-wide exhibition at Arnolfini (Bristol) exploring Performing Document's research strand Replace, which investigated curatorial approaches to the creative re-use of performance and live art archives. Running from 2nd February to 14th April 2013, the exhibition was experienced by 50,000 visitors, taking the project's outcomes to a wider public and visual art audience. 
Description Performing Documents focused on how to engage as a creator or curator with these performance and live-art archives, modelled through dialogues and workshops with professional practitioners, curators and researchers. Three workshops each explored a particular engagement through creative practice: Remake focusing on artists working with the archives of others, undertaken by Clarke with Every House Has A Door and PRS; Redux on artists returning to their own archives, undertaken by Simon Jones (Professor of Performance, Bristol) with Bodies in Flight and Blast Theory; and Replace on curators and producers working through exhibition, undertaken by Nick Kaye (Professor of Performance and co-investigator, University of Exeter) with Arnolfini and IBT. Findings resulted in articles, public talks, performances, installations, exhibitions, symposia (September and December 2012) and a conference (April 2013), producing the first systematic consideration of the theoretical, methodological and curatorial implications of these questions around creative use and re-use of archival material.
Exploitation Route The project's findings are of interest to scholars of performance and live-art practice, curators of archives, particularly in terms of how their holdings may be re-used by artists in order to develop new audiences and enhance visitor appreciation of archives.
Sectors Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description Two one-day symposia and one three-day conference (September and December 2012, and April 2013) were held to disseminate the findings around creative engagement with archives, as well as facilitate knowledge exchange between arts practitioners and scholars. Attendance figures were 76, 89 and 113 respectively, of whom 55 were artists or practitioner-researchers and 11 were from arts organisations including Theatre Bristol, Cube Cinema [Bristol], Plymouth Arts Centre, Live Art Development Agency. The director of Arnolfini says: 'Performing Documents was an exemplary research partnership, which culminated in a series of internationally-significant live art commissions, a major group exhibition entitled Version Control. [The] project had a direct impact in providing an extended period of inquiry into these practices, in the context of a shared research culture. It has enabled the institution to examine its own assumptions and conventions in relation to the archive and live art [and] led to a continuing strand of research looking at the changing relationship of performance and exhibition.' Knowledge developed in the project was applied by Clarke and Gray in partnership with theatre company Uninvited Guests, who were commissioned by Tate Britain to produce The Last Judgement audiovisual installation, as part of the John Martin: Apocalypse exhibition (September 2011 - January 2012). Visited by 150,000 people, 'The show pushes at the boundaries of conventional gallery experience and will create, we hope, fresh insights into this singular figure from art history.' (Tate curator, Daily Telegraph, 2011.) Clarke worked with collaborators from PRS on Group Show, and Jones with Bodies in Flight on Do The Wild Thing! Redux, producing performances and an installation (Arnolfini 2012) inspired by archival documents. These were conducted in dialogue with professional artists from Every House has a Door and Blast Theory, who produced their own new works, 9 Beginnings (two performances) and Jog Shuttler (installation), which 3,463 people saw. Arnolfini's curator of performance wrote: 'The project successfully brought unique debate, discourse and performance commissions to Arnolfini that would not have happened otherwise, bringing many stimulating ideas to the table that will go on to resonate with the artistic and curatorial performance community.' The public exhibition of material from the Franko B archive, held in the University of Bristol Theatre Collection, curated and produced by Cara Davies, doctoral student on the project, continued to develop protocols for handling challenging material, defined as containing religious, sexual or violent material, in an accessible public exhibition format. This research was used to inform and then further developed in the following two research projects. 1. Wellcome Funded Scoping Study - Challenging Archives: The Franko B Archive - A case study to develop new methodologies for enhancing access to, engagement with and the curatorial care of body-based art and archives: £19,994 Awarded Sept 2015 PI Jo Elsworth, CI Bex Carrington. In September 2016, the Theatre Collection successfully completed this Scoping Study project, to explore the complexities of archiving body based performance archives, taking as its case study the archive of internationally renowned performance artist Franko B. Challenges posed by archives such as Franko's range from procedural questions around the conservation of bodily fluids, to decisions around access (both physical and online) of sexually explicit content and/or depictions of 'medical' procedures and/or practices such as bloodletting. 2. Wellcome Funded Research Resources Challenging Archives- delivering research access, public engagement and the curatorial care of the Franko B archive: £136,049 (including £23,116 Provision for Public Engagement) December 2017 LA Jo Elsworth, A Julian Warren. In consultation with the artist, this project will catalogue and conserve his unique, research rich archive and make it accessible to meet established demands for research and public dissemination. The nature of the documentation, however, presents a set of particularly complex legal, ethical and practical challenges for archival and museological practice. These challenges, reflecting FB's work, are interdisciplinary, and run parallel to those faced by other medical and LGBT+ collections containing similarly challenging material. As part of the project we will develop guidelines/methodology for curatorial care - and research access to - such material: an advisory committee of curators, academics, lawyers and regional medical humanities network representatives will support us and a case paper will be published at the end to serve as a model for other 'challenging' archives. This second Wellcome project will run from April 2018 - April 2020. Outputs will include a detailed archival catalogue (available online) and the repackaging of the collection to archival standards, the preservation of audio-visual content through digitisation and/or the migration of new formats where required, conservation of costume/clothing (including the creation of be-spoke packaging) and paper items requiring attention. Also a public engagement programme to include an exhibition (including a series of public 'in-conversation' events, a publication (from the writer-in-residence) and a one-day, multi-disciplinary symposium. We will also publish a report aimed at other archives/museums, that will record the project learning around managing a complex, 'challenging' or 'sensitive' collection, where the collection content raises particular legal and ethical considerations, both internally for the administrative procedures of the collecting organisation and externally for presenting this material to audiences.
First Year Of Impact 2011
Sector Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Policy & public services