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"The Artist is Present": Artistic Re-enactments and the Impossibility of Presence

Amelia Jones

TDR: The Drama Review, Volume 55, Number 1, Spring 2011 (T 209), pp. 16-45 (Article) Published by The MIT Press

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The Artist is Present

Artistic Re- enactments and the Impossibility of Presence Amelia Jones

Figure 1. Marina Abramovic;: The Artist is Present, 2010. Performance view, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2010. (Photo courtesy Marco Anelli)


TDR: The Drama Review 55:1 (T209) Spring 2011. 2011 Amelia Jones

The live act is most often privileged as delivering an authentic and present bodyas the 2010 retrospective of Marina Abramovic;s performance art career at New Yorks Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Marina Abramovic;: The Artist is Present reveals instantly in its title.1 The exhibition galleries were staged with the actual van she and her performance partner from the 1970s, Ulay, drove across the Australian desert, signaling the brute presence claimed for the performance ephemera that dominated the retrospective of this important artist from Serbia, now based in New York City. The galleries themselves, with melodramatically darkened walls, were filled with spotlighted vitrines containing objects presumably deployed in the original performances and with screenings of digital video transfers of contemporaneous film and video documentation. One entire large gallery was replete with photographs of Abramovic; from her birth onward and ephemera relating to her life. In addition, the galleries, controversially, included several live re- enactments of the artists 1970s performances by younger dancers andperformers. Most dramatically the center of MoMAs large dazzlingly white modernist interior courtyard (visible in a spectacular vista from the galleries above) featured Abramovic; sitting in a chair across from another chair in which museum visitors could engage with her live-ness.2 The visitation element, for which she sat every day the Museum was open, and for the entire time it was open, enacted the presence of the artist in a literal way. The retrospective as a whole, curated by Klaus Biesenbach in close consultation with the artist, extended Abramovic;s interest in (often her own) performance histories, and her claims for the authenticity of live art and the emotional impact of durational performance.3 However, in this case, the dependence of Abramovic; and MoMA on documentation (before, during, and after the actual time of the exhibitions display) to spread the word of her presence and its supposedly transformative effects, points to obdurate contradictions in the recent obsession with live art, its histories, and its documentation and re- enactments. The museums web documentation (paralleled by dozens of spontaneous websites put up during the show to

1. Claims of presence and authenticity are extremely common in discussions of performance art both from art historical and performance studies points of view. For example, lm and art history scholar Catherine Elwes noted in 1985, [p]erformance art oers women a unique vehicle for making that direct unmediated access [to the audience]. Performance is about the real-life presence of the artist [...]. Nothing stands between spectator and performer (165). I dont want to scapegoat Elwes, an important theorist of feminist performance, here; in making these claims, she is completely typical of most writing on performance art particularly in the art context from the 1970s through the 1990s and even into the present. 2. The rst weeks Abramovic; had a table placed between herself and the other chair, explicitly re-staging the performance Night Sea Crossing (a series begun in 1981), which she and Ulay had enacted at various venues around the world, sitting across from each other with a large table in between. She removed the table partway through the roughly three-month length of the show (14 March31 May 2010); according to her dealer, Sean Kelly, whom I spoke with while I was waiting in line to visit the artist, this was because she felt the table distanced her psychologically from the individuals she faced (Kelly 2010). 3. Assistant Curator Jenny Schlenzka claried the process of the shows organization (Schlenzka 2010).

Amelia Jones is Professor and Grierson Chair in Visual Culture at McGill University in Montral. She has organized exhibitions on contemporary art and on feminist, queer, and anti-racist approaches to vis ual culture. Her recent publications include the edited volumes Feminism and Visual Culture Reader (Routledge, 2010) and A Companion to Contemporary Art Since 1945 (Wiley-Blackwell, 2006). Fol lowing on Body Art/Performing the Subject (University of Minnesota Press, 1998), Joness books include Irrational Modernism: A Neurasthenic History of New York Dada (MIT Press, 2004) and Self Image: Technology, Representation, and the Contemporary Subject (Routledge, 2006). Her current projects are an edited volume Perform, Repeat, Record: Live Art in History (with coeditor Adrian Heatheld) and a book tentatively entitled Seeing Dierently: Identication and the Visual Arts.


Impossibility of Presence

MoMA clearly promoted The Artist is Present show by putting forth, and even exaggerating, the artists own claims for the transcendent and mythical effects of her presence; their website, which went live during the show and is still active, proclaims: A pioneer of performance art, Marina Abramovic; (born Yugoslavia, 1946) began using her own body as the subject, object, and medium of her work in the early 1970s. For the exhibition Marina Abramovic;: The Artist is Present, The Museum of Modern Arts rst performance retrospective, Abramovic; performed in the DonaldB. and Catherine C. Marron Atrium every day the Museum was open between 14 March and 31 May 2010. Visitors were encouraged to sit silently across from the artist for a duration of their choosing, becoming participants in the artwork. [...] The Artist is Present is Abramovic;s longest performance to date. (MoMA 2010)

document personal experiences and/or photographs of other visitors) draws on the claims for presence made by the artist herself and yet reveals the dependence of any concept of presence on (in this case web) documentationincluding, on MoMAs own website, a gallery of photographs of visitors who sat across from Abramovic;. These contradictions play out not only in Abramovic;s recent project, The Artist is Present, but also in Seven Easy Pieces, her important 2005 series of re- enactments of 1970s performances at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. My critical investigation has a political motivationnot to debunk Abramovic;s practice, but to use her bold and assertive work, which casts a raking light on the dilemma of performance histories, to explore the limits of what we can know about live art. Paradoxically, Abramovic;s recent practice, in its desire to manifest presence, points to the very fact that the live act itself destroys presence (or makes the impossibility of its being secured evident). The live act marks the body, understood as an expression of the self, as representational. Thus, as someone who sat across from Abramovic; in the atrium of MoMA, surrounded by a barrier like a boxing ring, itself surrounded by dozens of staring visitors, cameras, and lit by klieg lights, I can say personally I found the exchange to be anything but energizing, personal, or transformative. Though I felt aware that the person I have met and whom I respect as an artist and cultural force was sitting there before me, I primarily felt myself the object of myriad individual and photographic gazes (including hers), and the experience overall was very strongly one of participating in a spectaclenot an emotionally or energetically charged interpersonal relation, but a simulation of relational exchange with others (not just the artist, but the other spectators, the guards, the managers of the event). For me this felt like an inadvertent parody of the structure of authentic expression and reception of true emotional resonance that modernist art discourse (brought to its apotheosis in institutions such as MoMA) so long claimed for modernist painting and sculpture. If anything, as a visitor to The Artist is Present I felt vaguely sorry that Marina was subjecting herself to something so exhausting. And depressed and a bit distressed at the spectacularization (albeit largely self-induced) of a body and a body of work I have long admired, as a historian of art and performance. If anything, I found myself wanting to revert to reading books about performance to escape the noisy emptiness of this real live art experience. Presence as commonly understood is a state that entails the unmediated co-extensivity in time and place of what I perceive and myself; it promises a transparency to an observer of what is at the very moment at which it takes place. But the event, the performance, by combining materiality and durationality (its enacting of the body as always already escaping into the past) points to the fact that there is no presence as such. I felt this paradox strongly as a visitor at The Artist is Present. This paradox haunts performance studies and other discourses (such as art history) seeking to find ways to historicize and theorizeto exhibit and selllive performanceart.

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Looking at Abramovic;s re- enactments in Seven Easy Pieces and her self-presentation in The Artist is Present, I find that what her recent projects expose, in spite of claims in the media to the contrary, is that there cannot be a definitively truthful or authentic form of the live event even at the moment of its enactmentnot even (if this could be imagined) as lodged within the body that originally performed or experienced it. 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? When one puts the questions this way, it becomes painfully clear that there is no original eventor that there was, but it was never present.4 The difficulty of positing the truth of performance as lying in the minds/bodies of the original performer was exposed by Abramovic;s own admission, when I interviewed her in 2007, about her 2005 re-enactment of her 1975 performance Lips of Thomas: When you re-do your own work you can really see the bigger picture; the first time you cant see whats going onyou are just doing it. I think this re-enacted performance was much better than the original. I really did the best I could, I think, at that time, but I didnt have the consciousness I have now. (in Jones forthcoming[a])5 At the time of the original, in the mid-1970sa period when performances in the European and North American context were raw, often undocumented, and frequently spontaneous Abramovic; performed in small galleries in Europe for a select art world audience. Today she is at the forefront of an industrial-strength institutionalization of performance histories. What her body contains of the original event is (by her own admission) unavailable to conscious retrieval. What we get in the re-enactment is a willed aestheticization of the original versions of Lips of Thomas. Re-enactment, currently a hugely popular strategy in the art and performance worlds and beyond (as signaled, importantly, by Abramovic;s own Seven Easy Pieces), activates precisely the tension between our desire for the material (for the others body; for presence; for the true event) and the impossibility of ever fixing this in space and time. The re-enactment both testifies to our desire to know the past in order to secure ourselves in the present and the paradox of that knowledge always taking place through repetition. It thus exposes the paradox of that knowledge, proving our own inexorable mortality: the fact that we are always reaching to secure time, and always failing. The interest in re- enactments marks the current fascination with retrieving live events that took place and are now known only through archival documents, film and video clips, interviews, and so on.6 In the art and performance worlds this has taken the form of an obsessive

4. These points are made by Jacques Derrida in his deconstruction of the philosophy of presence in the work of Edmund Husserl. Derridas deconstructive strategy is to raise the spectre of nonpresence at the core of every present moment: the presence of the perceived present can appear as such only inasmuch as it is continuously compounded with a nonpresence and nonperception, with primary memory and expectation (retention and protention) (1973:64). It is in this sense that presence only exists as a fantasy or a construct to anchor us (phantasmagorically) in the now, and (playing on the phrase in the blink of an eye to call forth the idea of the instant), Derrida notes that as soon as we admit nonpresence into the instant, we admit that [t]here is duration to the blink, and it closes the eye (65). 5. The 2007 interview with Abramovic; will be published as The Artist as Archaeologist: An Interview with Marina Abramovic; in Perform, Repeat, Record: Live Art in History (forthcoming[a]). 6. Beyond art and performance there has been a huge surge of interest in re-enactment societies that restage historical events, such as the Civil War in the US. See the history of re-enactment in terms of these more popular uses


Impossibility of Presence

interest in histories of performance or live art, ephemeral works that expose the contradiction between durationality and aestheticsbetween the passage of time and the materiality that art discourse requires to substantiate the value of works of art as unique. My argument here is that the re-enactment actually establishes itself from the get-go as simultaneously representational and live (it is a live re-doing of something already done in the pastit is a reiteration, a performative re-doingand one that itself becomes instantaneously past, raising questions about its own existence in time and in history).7 In so doing it exposes the impossibility of our desire for the situation Abramovic; proclaims in the title of the MoMA retrospective: The Artist is Present. While the artist may be sitting before us in a chair for as long as we wish to confront or engage with her (as Abramovic; did as the central part of the retrospectiveand 30 years earlier in Night Sea Crossing opposite Ulay) questions are raised, such as: What does this putting in proximity of artist and viewer mean? And, more philosophically speaking, do we know what we mean when we claim someone is present? And, finally, what are the ideological implications for such claims of presence? The re-enactment also exposes the centrality of the marketplace in all of these expressions; one could argue the impulse to re-enact or document the live act results largely from the pressure of the global art market attached to the visual arts.8 This market pressure inspires the range of methods that have been developed to document the work and/or its re- enactments and thus to secure the work its place in the markets of objects and histories. Even the seemingly purely intellectual and political motivation of performance studies scholars or art historians to secure important performance works in history is linked to the pressure of the market; after all, writing academic books and art criticism that substantiate particular performance careers is a practice itself linked to marketing. Re- enactments have a particularly fraught relationship to the visual arts, the discourses and institutions of which revolve around static objects (hence the challenge performance art posed in the first place to modernist beliefs and values in the 1950s and onward). In contrast to the situation with the visual arts, music, dance, and theatre have an entirely different r elationship to temporality, the body, objecthood, and structures of history making. These arts always acknowl edged their reliance on the script that passes down through time to be redone.9 While almost all dance and musical concerts (except the rare entirely improvisational event) are re- enactments of previously written and/or known songs, some performative re- enactments of dance and/or musical eventsnotably the work of Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, who hire actors to restage famous (singular) performances of famous rock gigs, such as David Bowies

in Howard Giless A Brief History of Re-enactment (2009). Performance art scholar Rebecca Schneider is producing new work on historical re-enactment societies in relation to performance theory (forthcoming). 7. Here I am referring of course to the now classic theories of the performative drawn from J.L. Austins How To Do Things with Words (1967) and elaborated by Derrida and Judith Butler in their theories of performance. See Derridas, Signature Event Context (1982:30930); and Butlers 1988 Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory (in Jones 2010:48291). 8. It is precisely the material forms, static and commodiable, of works of art that make the stakes of art criticism, theory, and history so high in their attempts to ward o embodiment and durationalityand performance is borrowing these structures in the recent surge of exhibitions and texts written on the topics of performance documentation and re-enactment, in which of course this essay to some extent participates. On the commodication of the artwork and the artist, see my essay The Contemporary Artist as Commodity Fetish (2006). And on the distinctions between a performance studies and art history approach to performance see my article Live Art in Art History: A Paradox? (2008). Amelia Jones 9. On music, performance, and liveness see Phillip Auslanders Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture ([1999] 2008), and Jonathan Sternes The Audible Past (2003). And, on the trend towards re- enactments of experimental dance from the 1960s and 1970s, clearly related to the interest in re-doing performance from this period (as the two were intertwined), see Joan Acocella, Think Pieces: Return of the Judsonites (2010).


Abramovic; has described Night Sea Crossing as an attempt to bring Eastern models of temporal experience to Western viewers; in this description she notes her time with Ulay engaging aboriginals in Australia and Tibetan monks as the backdrop for her creative urge to establish presence: I spend time with Tibetans or Aborigines, or decide to be just by myself on a little island somewhere in the Pacic. And there I get the energy and ideas for art. Then I come back to Western society and serve as a bridge. [...] When I say the East, I think of nature too. Here in the West nature is already very disturbed. But if you go to the Sahara or to the Gobi Desert or the Tar Desert in India, there is still this purity of nature and pure vibrations that call. I need that to develop my mind and to reach the level on which I can create (in Wijers [1990] n.d.). Here, Abramovic;s language familiarly recalls that of the European modernists with their yearning for a more truthful experience, found often among primitive culturesa belief system that strikingly parallels the desire for live art to deliver presence. As much postcolonial and poststructuralist theory suggests, ideologically, a belief in presence as articulated in this way is in fact an artifact of European early-modern to modern belief systems, conditioned through European colonization of Africa and other parts of the world.

penultimate performance as Ziggy Stardust in 1973deal explicitly with these tensions among music, performance art, and the visual arts. Forsyth and Pollards work has been featured in recent shows on performance re-enactment in art galleries, but it deals with the expansion of rock music events into visually elaborate performances. Histories of performance art proper (that is, the genre defined discursively in these very histories by authors such as Roselee Goldberg) have tended to devolve around a handful of iconic photographs and textual descriptions, or in some cases film or video footage. Artists such as Chris Burden in the early 1970s set the stage for such approaches by documenting their work (in Burdens case) with single iconic images, brief textual accounts, and relics.10 Until recently, this reliance on these documents and descriptions by performance historians and curators was rarely scrutinized or questioned for the way in which it paradoxically reduces the celebrated live act to singular (and commodifiable) objects of display and exchange. While Burden, as an artist, can be viewed as ironic in his deadpan reliance on these material remains, art historians, curators, and performance studies scholars miss the point if they simply take these remains as proof of some singular version of the event (or, even worse, as somehow the event- cum- artwork itselfwith Burdens photographs, texts, and relics now displayed, bought, and sold as uniqueartworks). In contrast to this common situation within histories and exhibitions of performance up through the 1990s, the massive resurgence of interest in performance art and its histories over the past five years has increasingly been worked through in relation to some variation on a newly developed re-enactment formatwhether this means literal performance works, redone by the same or a different author, or elaborate and often more conceptual homages inspired by earlier works, as in the restaging of Allan Kaprows Happenings during the retrospective Allan Kaprow: Art as Life at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, in 2008.11 Abramovic;s

10. Burdens practice in the 1970s marked an unusual awareness of the importance of addressing the issue of future presentation of past performances. He commented extensively on his awareness of documentation and his use of relics in a recent phone interview (2010). 11. These re-stagings took Kaprow Happening scripts as jumping o points, recognizing the impossibility of freezing Kaprows work with exemplary or iconic movements, moments, or images. As Suzanne Lacy, a former student of Kaprow, put it: The conundrum of Allans work is how to move it into the museum, which was so fraught for him. I wanted to capture the part of Allans work that was the most signicant to him and the most ephemeral. And that is the experience of his work as it becomes part of, and lives on in, someone elses memory (in Finkel 2008).


Impossibility of Presence

Figure 2. Iconic photograph of Trans-Fixed. Chris Burden, Transxed, 23 April 1974, Venice, California.

Figure 3. Chris Burden, text and relics for Trans-Fixed, 1974; as displayed at the Ronald Feldman Gallery in the exhibition Chris Burden: Relics, 1976. Relic: 2 nails; Case: 6 7/8 x 6 1/4 x 6 1/4 inches. (Courtesy of Jasper Johns Collection, New York, New York)
Text reads: Inside a small garage on Speedway Avenue, I stood on the rear bumper of a Volkswagen. I lay on my back over the rear section of the car, stretching my arms onto the roof. Nails were driven through my palms into the roof of the car. The garage door was opened and the car was pushed half-way out into Speedway. Screaming for me, the engine was run at full speed for two minutes. After two minutes, the engine was turned off and the car pushed back into the garage. The door was closed.

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Seven Easy Pieces, is the most celebrated and best-known example of this surge of re- enactments. In Seven Easy Pieces Abramovic; re-enacted six major 1970s body art works at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, including one of her own earlier works (Lips of Thomas) and produced a new performance as the seventhpiece. While Abramovic; was herself an active performance artist in the 1970s, a period of explosive development in contemporary performance art, a number of younger generation artists have also used the re- enactment format over the past decade. Interestingly, many of these younger artists choose to re-do political events (although there are many re-enacting performance art works as well).12 Examples of the strategy of redoing political events include: British artist Jeremy Dellers 2001 The Battle of Orgreave (restaging the failed British miners strike of 1984, using some of the original police and strikers as actors in the re- enactment); US artist Sharon Hayess recent project having herself photographed with signs from historic protests standing on the sites of the original events;13 and Stockholm-based German artFigure 4. Jeremy Deller, The Battle of Orgreave, 2001. Commissioned and ist Felix Gmelin, whose Color produced by Artangel. This is the archive of the work in one of its permutations, Test, Red Flag II (2002) restaged for videotape a 1968 activist pro- as installed at Tate Britain, London. ( Tate, London, 2010) test in which students from West Berlin, organized by his own father (who was their professor), ran through the streets of the city passing a red flag in a relay. Deller, Hayes, and Gmelin re-enact political actionsin Gmelins case also an event of direct personal relevance within the aesthetic context of the art gallery. To some degree in this way they reify these acts into art, freezing temporal events into things (albeit in some cases maintaining an aspect of the temporalas in Gmelins video and the Deller/ enactments presented in visual arts and/or Figgis film).14 While, at their most compelling, re-
12. I have compiled an extensive timeline of re- enactments and performance art history exhibitions for the forthcoming Perform, Repeat, Record: Live Art in History, eds. Adrian Heatheld and Amelia Jones (see Jones forthcoming[b]). 13. On Hayess work and the important protest re- enactments of Mark Tribe and his Port Huron Project, see Schneider (2010). 14. There is an interesting generational issue with the political re- enactmentsmost of the artists involved in this kind of work were born between 1960 and 1970; most of the events re-enacted took place during the heyday of political activism, during the 60s and 70s, and in the UK up through the failed 1984 miners strike, which marked the death knell in Britain for 1960s ideals of political change. I would conjecture, having been born in 1961 myself, that these artists are redoing their own formative yearsyears of intense politicizationas a way of insisting on the importance of those histories both politically and personally. This return is partly nostalgic and partly political: we want to know how to be political in a world in which there are no longer clear binaries or guidelines. Impossibility of Presence 23

erformance contexts interrogate the previously accepted bases for documenting live artworks p and political events, they are also ironically themselves turned into conventional aesthetic displays in their presentation in galleries via forms of documentation. In the best cases the artists actively acknowledge this contradiction. Deller, for example, selfreflexively interrogates this tendency brilliantly by including in The Battle of Orgreave project a vast range of events, things, and processesfrom objects and images relating to the initial Thatcher-era strike, which is now refigured into his artwork as an event of historical importance being re-enacted; to relics and documents from the re-enactment performance itself, all of which are displayed in museums in various configurations as the piece itself; to the film as transmitted over BBC television, showed in cinemas and art galleries; to the pieces presence on the web (see Deller n.d.).15 Crucially, The Battle of Orgreave itself is continually changing and is never presented as a final or fully coherent work or object, even though it consists of documents, objects, and other material traces of prior re- enactments. Notably, too, while many of the other re- enactments tellingly substitute the re-enactor as new author of a unique and ultimately static (documented) work, Deller himself does not feature in a noticeable way either as part of the re-enactment or the public relations materials circulating around the film, its most visible documentationthe work in its infinite permutations does not tend to devolve back to a singular body, though it does only have coherence in relation to the author-name JeremyDeller. Dellers project crystallizes the paradox of re- enactments in the art contextthe fact, precisely, that they activate the impossibility of presence in relation to the visual arts while also pointing to the impossibility of the ephemeral event ever being known as such in any but highly contingent and unreliable human memory and in the events reified forms. As Jacques Derrida has noted in his interrogation of beliefs about presence in European philosophy, the visibility and spatiality of performance (as itself a kind of redo of real life) can only ever be experienced through the senses; presence, the live body in performance, is representational (see Derrida 1973:64, 65). And as artist Rod Dickinson has noted in relation to his art practice, which includes restagings of famous psychology experiments from the 1960s: The audience is presented with something inherently contradictory in that they are being presented with something live and happening in real time, yet they know that this is an impossible scenario, since the event has already happened (in Pil and Gallia Kollectiv 2007). These are vastly different examples of re- enactments in the art and performance worlds, from Deller to Dickinson to Abramovic;. The latters Seven Easy Pieces project (as we will see) scrupulously engages live art histories through documentary, archival, and interview research and proposes to recreate original art performances authentically in the present (which itself becomes immediately past). And Seven Easy Pieces was by no means the first or the last of this type of re-enactment. In fact, one would be hard put to establish a beginning for the re-doing of an iconic art performance, since almost all performance artworks were performed more than once in their earlier incarnationfor example, Yoko Onos influential Cut Piece was enacted in Tokyo and New York in the mid 1960s; it has since been reinterpreted by a number of younger artists, and by Ono herself in 2003 in Paris (see Jones forthcoming[b]). In other instances, such as the Kaprow case noted above, former colleagues, students, and other artists reinterpret works from scripts that were never meant to produce artworks in museum settings. A huge range of types of re- enactments drawing on visual arts conceits and institutional contexts thus exist. In contrast, Deller re-stages a political event and then through exhibition display and film aligns documentation of this re-staging with ephemera from the original event; Dickinson redoes famous social psychology experiments as art. Each type of project seems to be motivated differently, engages different audiences in different ways, and has different aesthetic and political
Amelia Jones

15. For an important reading of the piece as a mode of Marxist political activism see Neil Cummings and Marysia Lewandowska, A Shadow of Marx (2006).


effects. Key to all of them, however, is an interest in how time, memory, and history work and how or whether we can retrieve past events (in their political [viz. Deller], social [viz. Dickinson], and/or personal/aesthetic [viz. Abramovic;] power) by redoing them in some fashion. In all cases of re- enactments the question of what happens when art, political, or social scientific events are redone in a gallery or museum context is crucial. Surely re-doing past non-art events in an art context shifts our understanding of their meaning and significance more dramatically than the re-staging of former performative artworks in new art contexts. But there are some potentials and dangers common to all types of re-enactment. Although all of these restaging gestures have interesting critical potential, they also have the potential to flatten out or aestheticize the act (precisely by evacuating the act of its original political specificity) and thus to reduce or erase the acts potential for provoking awareness or for transformation or change. Even in the case of re-done body art works (made, after all, in a loosely aesthetic or art context) the act of aestheticization can violently eradicate their political potential. The Happenings, for example, were never meant to be aesthetically pleasing. I leave aside for now a detailed analysis of the nuances of how different re-enactment strategies might be seen to functionin the end, the most important point to note is that each project would have to be evaluated for its very specific modes of retrieving past acts, and within its very specific, ongoing contexts of production and reception. In this way, the strategy of re-enactment can activate the disavowal at the heart of our relationship to live art in productive ways: we know the performance (even the re-enactment performance itself) is always already in the past even if we are watching it now, and yet we carry into our writing about performance a belief in the possibility of constituting meanings (and knowledge about the event) as if these reside somewhere permanently and can be retrieved in their full essence for the present momenta belief central to the development of art criticism and art historical models of interpretation out of 18th-century aesthetics (most importantly, Immanuel Kants 1790 Critique of Judgment [1986]).16 Even the most sophisticated performance theorist/historian argues her points as if her interpretations hold water somewhere in relatively fixed form, as if they are not dependent on material traces after the immutable always already gone character of the act establishes its non presence in the world. In the rush to privilege the supposedly unfixable ephemerality of the act, most scholars or critics writing about live art will tend to downplay (if not completely disavow in many cases) our reliance on photographic and filmic documentation, textual descriptions, and our own memories of live acts witnessed. This tendency is understandable (if regrettable), for, after all, while live performance is clearly of interest partly because of its liveness, its apparent confirmation of presence, there seems to be little point intellectually or politically in engaging with works in a way that truly accommodates the fact that their ephemerality makes them forever inaccessible to full knowledgethis would be to throw our hands up and admit defeat at the hands of time. It is worth returning briefly here to the most influential theory of aesthetics in EuroAmerican thought. In the terms of aesthetic theory sketched by Kant over 200 years ago in Critique of Judgment, we must act as if we can interpret these works through a judgment that compels agreement; we must act as if the works are graspable in some full and knowable (fixed) way even though our entire point is often that they are ephemeral and impossible to retrieve except through moments of subjective perception and interpretation.17
Impossibility of Presence 16. See my discussion of this xing tendency in these discourses of the visual arts in my essay Performance: Time, Space and Cultural Value (2009). 17. Kants Critique of Judgment, due in part to its profound inuence on 20th-century modernist art criticism, is still a benchmark for understanding the obdurate contradictions at play in the human (subjective and sensory) relationship to things in the world that we want to call art, which we thus want to have an objective or universal meaning and value. Kant attempts to resolve this impossible contradiction by noting [t]he universal voice is [...]


Frozen/Live Art
The re-enactment projects noted here negotiate the paradoxical fact that the live act itself both claims and destroys presence; the live act is always already passing and the body in action, understood as an expression of the self, is thus representational. In the context of the visual arts, the live body in action always already, in the words of Robert Legorreta, becomes frozen art (in Flores Sternad 2006). All the most interesting artists deploying performance, in my view, understand this and play with it self-reflexively. (Burden is a strong examplehe seems to be opening out precisely the contradiction Kant noted 200 years ago in how art comes to mean through acts of encounter.) The re-enactment foregrounds the desire for the live and the tendency of the live always already to become frozen art, a paradoxical situation that is exposed in the case of Abramovic;s Seven Easy Pieces, the performance and documentation of which epitomizes the tendency to present the re-enactment itself as the site where the authentic meaning of the original event is to be found (as ephemeral yet here now, as past yet present). Abramovic; herself has consistently remarked upon the contradictions at play in such an enterprise: redoing is still performance and performance is somehow living. For me the performance only has sense when you perform; otherwise its dead (in Jones forthcoming[a]). This kind of poignant statement indicates that the performance is only alive at the very moment of its enunciationindicating the necessary failure of any attempt to secure this truth historically or personally. And of course the re-enactment, itself a performance, is plagued by the same encroachment of pastness (the erosion of the present at every instant, its freezing into something knowable and over). Thus Seven Easy Pieces as a wholethe performances; the press put out by the museum and articles written about the event; the documentation of the event through photography, audio, and film recording; and the catalogue and film made after the factpivots around the artists use of past works, and of the institutional setting of the Guggenheim and the sites of documentation, to situate the artist within a newly ratified discourse of performance art histories. Reciprocally, Seven Easy Pieces works to substantiate the artist as a genius of re-enactment and (as the MoMA show, five years later, was to indicate) of performing the presence of the artist. Seven Easy Pieces retrieved the past to substantiate a mythological structure of present meaning and value summed up by the author named Marina Abramovic;. The Artist is Present functioned to confirm the way in which the artist-gallery structure (with the viewer to some degree an extra) functions to reciprocally confirm cultural status, in this case via the authenticity of live art. By delivering Abramovic; to us, The Artist is Present ended up exposing the lie of the promise of live art to secure presence. In order to explore how this process of meaning-making functions with Seven Easy Pieces, here I perform a necessary but I hope adequately self-reflexive interpretive and textual reenactment of sorts of Abramovic;s re- enactmentsfor any textual description and analysis is inevitably a form of reiteration that itself participates in the work as it circulates in discourse. In contrast to my direct experience of The Artist is Present, I did not view any of the Seven Easy Pieces performances live, though I have seen and read every form of documentation available to me. So my retelling is based on the large amount of existing documentation, and on an extensive interview I performed with the artist in 2007. And of course I document these complex durational re- enactments here with still photographsbelying the range of documentary strategies Abramovic; deploys in these projects. Accordingly, I use illustrations sparingly here, directing the reader to the wealth of documentation I describe (particularly in the catalogue accompanying the show).

Amelia Jones

only an idea ([1790] 1986: second moment, section 6,) and yet an idea that we must claim to be true. His simultaneous claim and disavowal is a productive model for the contradictions I am sketching here in relation to re- enactments.


The term frozen art was articulated by the Chicano activist and artist Robert Legorreta, aka the cross-dressed diva Cyclona. Two of Legorretas collaborators, Gronk and Patssi Valdez, formed the core of Asco, the activist Chicano/a performative art group in Los Angeles from the early 1970s to the late 1980s, which also included Harry Gamboa and Willie Herrn. Legorreta spoke at length with Jennifer Flores Sternad about the uidity of his work, along with that of artists Gronk, Valdez, and Mundo Meza, enacting elaborately costumed cross-gendered personae such as Cyclona in theatrical settings for the making of photographs and then paintings. Legorreta notes of these projects: What we were doing was capturing live art and putting it into photographs, and then sometimes it would go from the photographs onto canvas or different media. Usually a work of art was already created, like a mural or a painting, and then we would do something live in front of it in order to be part of the artwork. Then we made that into a photograph as one art piece. We coined it frozen art (in Flores Sternad 2006:482). Legorretas project, along with his collaborators, enacts precisely the consciousness of history I am interested in here, as well as showing an awareness of the failure of the live to stick outside of its representational modes.

It is limiting but also perhaps in some ways appropriate that I did not see the works at the Guggenheim; because of this limit, I am much more aware of how circumscribed my access to the events of the seven nights in November 2005 isin this case, I cannot comment on my feelings or experience as I did above in describing sitting across from the artist in The Artist is Present. Neither experience, however, feels more truthful or more authentic to me as I attempt to understand how each project functions socially, aesthetically, and politically. (This is not at all to say I think people who were at the Guggenheim, even those rare few who might have been there every night for the seven-hour duration of each re-enactment, have a full or truthful access to the performances. But they certainly have embodied memoriesas mediated and unreliable as these would no doubt bethat I do not.18) I am writing of the works of Seven Easy Pieces clearly on a discursive level, not on a level of embodied memory (whatever that may be or mean; phenomenology and neuroscience aside, I am not sure we have any idea). No illusions of truth, of restating the authentic moment through words drawn from memories, here. For Seven Easy Pieces, Abramovic; researched five relatively well-known pieces by other artists from the history of Western performance art and rethought one of her own.19 Each of the works was re-enacted by Abramovic; for seven hours (from 5:00 pm to midnight) over each of six nights, with the seventh night consisting of her newly commissioned piece entitled Entering the Other Side (in which she inhabited a gargantuan blue dress, occupying the vortex-like center of Frank Lloyd Wrights famous spiraling building of the Guggenheim). The works she re-enacted were (in order of their re-performance): Bruce Naumans Body Pressure (1974), a piece never known to have been performed by Nauman himself, which originally consisted of a poster exhorting visitors to press themselves against the gallery wall; Vito Acconcis Seedbed (1972), in which he had a ramp built in a gallery in New York, and laid under it masturbating in response to visitors entering the gallery space, his voice projected through a sound system; VALIE EXPORTs c. 1969 Action Pants: Genital Panic, in which she supposedly stalked the male spectators at a porn theatre in the late 1960s wearing crotchless pants, a disheveled wig, and holding a gun; Gina Panes The Conditioning (1973), an endurance piece in which Pane laid on a metal frame over lit candles that burned her back; Joseph Beuys 1965 How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare, a performance in which the artist, adorned with his trademark elements of honey,

Impossibility of Presence

18. On this point, see my article Presence in absentia: Experiencing Performance as Documentation (1997:1118). 19. Relatively in the sense that performance histories have only recently begun to be established, and so these works are nowhere near at the level of visibility in specialized histories or the more popular consciousness of contemporaneous artworks such as Andy Warhols celebrity portraits or even Barbara Krugers feminist appropriation art.


gold leaf, iron, and felt, cradled a dead hare, whispering to it, while viewers peered in through a glass window in the gallery door; and Abramovic;s own 1975 Lips of Thomas, a semi- narrative performance involving her performing a number of actions, including cutting a star in her stomach with a razor, whipping herself, and lying on an ice cross. I note all of these with relatively loaded descriptions because each raises different questions in terms of an original versus reenacting body, an original versus re-enacted work, and thus about the meaning and value of the bodies and works at issue in each case. For Abramovic; to re-enact a work that, as far as we know, was never actually performed by the initiating artist (the Nauman piece) is clearly of a different order from her redoing a well documented work in the history of performance art (the Beuys or Acconci works), a work by a woman artist herself marginalized due to her gender and sexuality (Pane), a work which itself might never have occurred as such (see below on EXPORT), or an earlier work by the artist herself (Lips of Thomas). The importance of Seven Easy Pieces lies in part in the care with which Abramovic; chose, researched, and explored the limits of each type of situation she was evoking in redoing the works.

Figure 5. Marina Abramovic;, Entering the Other Side, commissioned for Seven Easy Pieces. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2005. (Photo by Attilio Maranzano; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery and the Marina Abramovic; Archive)

The research, presentation, performance, and documentation of each piece begins and ends with the reiterative devices of representationfor Abramovic; just as for me, a researcher and scholar of performance. This is evident if one looks closely at the catalogue, where each of the Abramovic; redos is presented through the following means: brief documentation of the original performance (typically for performance histories, through still photographs and textual information); brief indication of Abramovic;s research process; extensive photographs of Abramovic;s re-dos along with texts transcribing both Abramovic;s own speech during the performances (17 pages long in the case of Seedbed ) and the words of audience members, taped by volunteers mingling among the crowds. Abramovic; admits in an interview with Nancy Spector (also published in the catalogue) that the research to find the facts about the original piece was not always satisfying or complete (in Spector et al. 2007:22), and she laments in the 2007 interview I did with her that VALIE EXPORT inexplicably refused to discuss Genital Panic withher.20
20. In my interview with Abramovic;, she explained further: So the VALIE EXPORT thing again; I was the most critical and most careful about this piece because in reality she stated that she originally performed the piece in this theatre at the erotic lm festival in Vienna, but at the same time she made the poster as well. Genital Panic is a great contradiction [in terms of the issue of live versus documented performance] because she also made the photograph in her studio and there are lots of dierent images of that poster. And she wouldnt give me any clear answers when I asked her about it (forthcoming[a]).

Amelia Jones 28

In fact, it is worth noting that, due to EXPORTs refusal to give her further information, Abramovic;s re-enactment of EXPORTs piece had to be based on a handful of very limited existing remaindersa few famous black-and-white photographs of EXPORT sitting with her gun and wearing action pants. Abramovic;s belief in the truth of the original event is revealed in her comment to Spector on this conundrum: It was really difficult to determine the facts about the original piece from all the archeological evidence. Looking at the images, you see that one was a pose for the poster, one was the real performance in the theatre [...]. In the end, I thought, given the circumstances, it was best for me to create an image. (in Spector et al. 2007:22; emphasis added) Abramovic; reveals her desire to recreate the supposed performance that took place in the actual porn theatrebut this historical fact about the real performance has, since Abramovic;s project was performed and documented, now been exposed as a myth by art historian Mechtild Widrich, who interviewed the photographer of EXPORTs documents, Peter Hassmann, and discovered that apparently she never actually went to a porn theatre but told this story later as a mode of embellishing the performative images (Widrich forthcoming). In this extraordinary case, we seem to have evidence (again one must be careful in claiming facts) that the original artist, EXPORT, performatively enacted through discourse and photographic imagery a performance that never took place as mythically described. Widrich is one of a new generation of art history and performance studies scholars who are poised to begin to understand the significance of such gaps and contradictions, reveling in the impossibility of knowing for sure rather than claiming to find final meanings. EXPORTs refusal to speak to Abramovic; simply exposes further the extent to which our understanding and beliefs about past works are always contingent on what information is available to usas Widrichs research makes

Impossibility of Presence

Figure 6. VALIE EXPORT, one of several photos of Genital Panic/Action Pants, 1969 (Peter Hassmann, VALIE EXPORT Archive), as reproduced in the online version of New Zealand Art Monthly (Gimblett 2005). This reproduction and caption shows the tendency both to repeat stories circulating around EXPORTs photograph and, after Abramovics 2005 re- enactment, to label EXPORTs work in relation to the re-enactment.


Figure 7. Marina Abramovic; performing VALIE EXPORTs Genital Panic/Action Pants at Seven Easy Pieces. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 2005. (Photo by Kathryn Carr; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery and the Marina Abramovic; Archive) clear (and, who knows, perhaps Widrich or I will be exposed later on for believing Hassmanns story...and so on...). Speaking her work through mythification, EXPORT, like Deller, has shown a sharp attention to how history worksmaking the images mean something discursively but in contradiction (or at least contrast) to what occurred with the physical body and in material spaces at the time (as far as we can know, again a knowledge itself gained from memories conveyed by others and documentary traces). EXPORTs self-mythifying act prompts later reenactors such as Abramovic; to fantasize the work in ways that may or may not be connected to an original durational event. EXPORTs Genital Panic unfolds as part of a reiterative ever-expanding network of meaninggenerating ideas, images, and beliefs that themselves relate to an ever-metamorphosing concept about what constitutes the original event.21 If time is sequential (which, since Einstein, is a doubtful proposition anyway), then the sequence here is based on an original that began (as far as we now know) as a lie. If temporality is understood more as a network of ideas that expands outward but always from multiple rather than singular origins, and origins that only exist as themselves represented in history and memorya Bergsonian layering rather than a point-to-point teleologythen the impossibility of Abramovic;s project of retrieving something authentic from an original event becomes clear.22 This conundrum, this gap between the original and the re-enactment, to my mind makes Abramovic;s project much more interest21. See also the photographic redo of the EXPORT piece by artist Eve Fowler, who photographs a fellow woman artist (named as Hardy) posing like EXPORT with action pants (del Carmen Carrin and Dawsey 2008). This text typies the way in which EXPORTs self-mythologizing circulates, as evidenced by the way the authors describe the c. 1969 EXPORT piece: In that performance, Export removed the crotch from a pair of pants and wore them to a movie house, proceeding slowly through the aisles, challenging male viewers to confront the real thing instead of passively watching the fragmented bodies of women on the screen. 22. Bergsons Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness ([1889] [1913] 2005) is a mindblowing rumination on precisely the human tendency to make sense of the world by creating temporal sequences in space, codifying the layers of durationality that are otherwise constantly in ux.

Amelia Jones 30

ing than if we simply buy into and repeat claims for her authenticity and truthfulness as she retrieves earlier works from the past.

Documentation as Reification?
This problem of reification or fetishization of the very kind of art said to be privileged because of its ephemeralityor, otherwise put, the problem of live art in history and in the marketplace (of ideas as well as of artworks)is crystallized by Abramovic;s extensive use of documentation to secure Seven Easy Pieces a place in art history, even as she, and the curators and promoters of the work, propose these performances as securing the authentic meaning of original live works by re-entering them into the domain of temporality through the re-enactment format. The paradox here of course is that the re-enactment itself is durational and thus always already over, its meaning and value in history just as contingent and problematic as that of the original performance. Abramovic;s careful management of the documentation of Seven Easy Pieces, particularly her central role in arranging the production of the catalogue and film, indicates her clear concern with its fixing in history in a very particular way. Along with the catalogue, which includes some of the extensive still photographs and text documenting the project, the feature-length 2007 film by professional filmmaker Babette Mangolte seems bent on establishing the presence of the project in history through the semi-material durationality of cinema.23 As a critic who attended Seven Easy Pieces notes dryly, The filming of Pieces was itself a performance, with Babette Mangolte deftly choreographing a fleet of cameras and crew (Burton 2006:56). Seamlessly edited together, with the most stunning color camera work (clearly involving multiple cameras, carefully placed and their movements carefully choreographed), the highly artsy film is a far cry from the grainy black-and-white super 8 footage taken by a single, often static, movie camera common to most 1970s performance documentation, for those works that were even documented at all (many werent). Several scholars have already noted the bundle of contradictions surrounding Seven Easy Piecescontradictions, I want to stress, that make the project more not less important for considerations of writing performance histories. As art historian Jessica Santone has noted of the project, The medium of the documentation that Abramovic; produces, authorizes or uses is there fore part of a layered, knotted set of materials all hovering around the idea that some orig inal precedes the current documentation (2008:148). Art critic Johanna Burton, citing the museums claim in the brochure handed out on the final night of the project that the artist is present, here and now, acerbically notes, [y]et she looks, for all the world, like a picture(2006:56). The sheer volume of materials produced by Abramovic; and her team (including the curators of Seven Easy Pieces, Nancy Spector and Jennifer Blessing) indicates that the artist is more aware than most of the impossibility of this very ideal she sets for herself, but at the same time continues to make what I would argue to be untenable claims for the authenticity and presence of live art.24 The film version of Seven Easy Pieces thus begins with the claim [p]erformance,
23. I am deliberately evoking Gilles Deleuzes Bergsonian take on cinema ([1983] 1986 and [1985] 1989). In Deleuzes terms, Mangoltes lm seems to me to reside somewhere in between the movement image of early cinema and the time image of more recent cinema in that it both insists on the moment-to-moment photograph or instant, frozen (the potential for a still photographic document is pressed on the viewer at every moment of the lm) and activates the temporality of cinema and live art as self-implicating (it is very clear that one is watching an art lm of sorts, the temporality of which is constructed through editing and camera work). Time takes place both in a narrative sense and, through editing and point of view, through depth of the duration implied in the vignettes representing each re-enactment. 24. By Abramovic;s team Im referring to everyone from the curators of SEP, Guggenheim employees Nancy Spector and Jennifer Blessing, to her critical supporters (such as the essayists in the catalogue) and the funding body that partly sponsored the show (in the latter regard, the press for the exhibition thus noted: Funding for Seven


Impossibility of Presence

ime-based art, features the physicality of the artists body in front of a live audience, t confirming her insistence on both temporality and the presence of the physical body and the proximity of this body to the audience in live art. But, again, the project itself, with its dependence on the film and an array of supporting representations, begs the question crucial to all live performance art of how presence can survive duration; the fact that this claim for physicality is made in an obviously representational medium highlights this contradiction. In her introduction to the large and beautifully produced Seven Easy Pieces catalogue, Abramovic; crystallizes the tension at work in beliefs about performance by moving back and forth between noting the belief in the authenticity of the live event (in the early seventies, [...] most of us believed that any documentation [...] could not be a substitute for the real experience (2007:9), presumably of the performer as well as of audience members) and yet acknowledging the impossibility of sustaining this belief if one has any interest in promoting this work after its original performance ([l]ater on, though, our attitude changed. We felt the need to leave some trace of the events for a larger audience). Abramovic; poses the issue of re-doing performances as a questionCan we treat the instructions of the performance like a musical scoresomething that anyone who is properly trained can re-play? (9)but then proposes the goal of establishing a stable grounding for performance art in art history, noting that the only real way to document a performance art piece, presumably to ensure its place in this history in its truthful, authentic, embodied, live form, is to re-perform the piece itself (Abramovic; 2007:11). Elsewhere she explicitly details her role in choreographing the documentation of the work, begging further the question of why these efforts would be necessary if the liveness is its only authentic mode of being. Abramovic; notes: With Seven Easy Pieces I spent a lot of time working with the filmmaker, Babette Mangolte, to produce good documentation. I had a static movie camera that filmed each piece in its entirety over the seven hours and then I had three other cameras moving around. I also had numerous still photographs taken, which we used for the book. And I gave instructions to the photographer on how to take each photograph. (in Jones forthcoming[a]) On the one hand Abramovic; claims to be retrieving the authentic original event in her reenactment of it (deferring through copyright to the original performers)and several authors in the catalogue reiterate these claims; on the other hand, she is explicit about her interest in and dependence on documentation both for the retrieval of what she can know about the original and for the dissemination of knowledge about her own reworked versions of it. On the one hand, Abramovic; more than anyone knows from experience that performances can never be fully known (even while they are taking place, even by the artist herself), and that time itself is the key issue in the enactment and retrieval of performances. In her interview with me, she thus noted that successful performance demands duration and that [t]he only new element I bring to the [re-enacted] piece is time, the element of time, which is my interpretation; she admitted as well the impossibility of retrieving full histories: the resurgence of interest in performance is due to a lot of different things; looking back to that history, we cant really see or isolate what exactly happened at the time either. On the other hand, Abramovic; and the authors in the catalogue claim that by re-enacting an earlier performance its true meaning can be retrieved, and then it can be written into art history. Catalogue author Erika Fischer-Lichte thus notes that with each evening of Seven Easy Pieces Abramovic; created a completely new, original artistic event, which, in some respects, referred to performances of the past, but by no means repeated them (2007:42). Abramovic;s events are thus originals even while they are, paradoxically, repeats. And just before this claim, Fischer-Lichte draws on Abramovic;s own language of energy and the authenticity of the live to insist that the project affirms moments of
Amelia Jones Easy Pieces has been generously provided by the Marina Abramovic; Leadership Committee (Guggenheim Museum2005).


presence [...which] happen when the performer brings forth his body as an energetic body that releases energy and allows it to circulate in the space and to energize spectators so that they sense the performer as well as themselves not only as intensely present, but as embodied minds (42; emphasis added). Drawing on the premises of a particular kind of live art from the 1970swhich promoted a concept of live performance as a kind of mystical transferal of life forceFischer-Lichte thus seemingly inadvertently raises another contradiction, and the paradox of live art in history, or live art placed in art institutions and discourses of aesthetics, rears its head again.25 The original ity of Abramovic;s energetic bodyits very (supposedly) authentic presencein fact opens to otherness (the otherness of the initial author, the otherness of interpreters and spectators from then and now), and thus to the impossibility of its own wholeness and coherence (and of its originality). The belief that the meaning of the body in action can only be known to the spectator through its authentic live enactment, as performance theory suggests, contradicts the factand a fact explicitly admitted and highlighted in Abramovic;s projectthat this bodys 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 accepted past traditions. While Fischer-Lichte, taking her cue from Abramovic;s own statements, wants to claim originality for an act that in fact has been repeated from the past, this very repetition reveals the fact that there is no original act lodged somewhere as an authentic, immutable presence. As suggested briefly above in my evocation of Kants theory of aesthetic judgment, the basis for aesthetics is the drive to cohere the subject in relation to the objects of the world deemed to be art through the sleight of hand securing this subjects judgments of these objects passed off as universal (and thus reciprocally confirming the subjects judgments as true).26 The paradox of Abramovic;s project is that she and her team want to situate her work within contradictory frameworksboth within these terms of aesthetics, presenting the work in the heart of the international contemporary art world and constructing around it the accoutrements of the typical art museum exhibition to disseminate it through the catalogue and film, and within discourses of live performance art, with their privileging of the live, durational, and ephemeral. Seven Easy Pieces is reified and at the same time celebrated for its confirmation of the truth of presence and ephemerality (the energy of the live engagement). The two frameworks as constructed and mobilized are discursively and institutionally incompatibleor at least do not fit together without a lot of contortions and contradictions, as well as disavowals of what is at stake in such an enterprise (most abstractly, cultural capital; on the most base level, careers and economic security). Abramovic;s investment in aesthetics has paid off brilliantly. She has been one of the key figures in bringing performance art histories into the institutions of art, fully and with all of the contradictions this entails. She has fully entered the most conservative modernist institutions within the art academy, as the Guggenheim and MoMA exhibitions confirm.27 But, as suggested, Abramovic;s work is built on a fundamental contradiction. Her very desire to secure the truth and value of her re- enactments (as themselves ephemeral, and then ceas[ing...] to exist
25. For a wonderful and sophisticated exposition on live art as a mystical transferal of love and energy, see Lea Vergines classic Il Corpo Come Linguaggio (1974), which includes a (very bad!) English translation. 26. On this centering tendency of aesthetics, see Jacques Derridas Truth in Painting ([1978] 1987) and Luc Ferry, Homo Aestheticus: The Invention of Taste in the Democratic Age ([1990] 1993). 27. As an aside, the fact that Abramovic; explicitly repudiates feminism might explain the willingness of curators at MoMA, an institution that has hosted almost no retrospectives of work by women artists and certainly none by feminists, to promote her career through such a show. See Interview: Klaus Biesenbach in Conversation with Marina Abramovic;, where the artist answers Biesenbachs question did you or do you consider yourself a feminist? with the categorical, Absolutely not, never (in Stiles 2008:20). Impossibility of Presence 33

after the moment, available only to visitors at the Guggenheim during the run of the show) is belied by her very construction and promotion of them through representation in the book, film, and so on (in Jones forthcoming[a]). Her desire to secure herself a position in art and performance histories, while understandable, results in the reification of Seven Easy Pieces and the author-function Marina Abramovic; as commodities (commodities that, it is crucial for me to foreground, I am in turn benefiting from here in my own writing of this essay, which furthers my own career). Given this dynamic, at the very least, we need to reconsider the central claim of mainstream performance art discourse, which has been to suggest that performance, through its temporality and ephemerality, escapes the marketplace. Abramovic; has become the new author-name through which all of the performances she claims to be authentically returning to their artistic origins are coming to mean and be valued. This is signaled by the fact that, for at least two years after Seven Easy Pieces took place, if one initiated a search on Google images (the most common way today of looking for information on live or other artworks) of Beuys hare to find information about Beuyss How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare, from 2005 to 2007, most of the images on the first page of the search results were of Abramovic; re-performing the piece at the Guggenheim. From around 2005 to 2009, if one were to search Google images for the lesser known works that Abramovic; restaged, such as Gina Panes The Conditioning (under the search terms Gina Pane Conditioning)not a single image of the original performance or even of Panes work in general would come up; even today, in September of 2010, most of the images that appear with such a search (Pane Conditioning) are of Abramovic; redoing the piece in 2005 (this in spite of the fact that the Pompidou Center in Paris exhibited documentation of and relics from Panes original as part of their large-scale show of art by women, elles@centrepompidou in 2009).28 This set of questions raised is itself reiterative, returning us around the circle of our inquiry to the questions with which we began: Where is the truth of works such as Panes The Conditioning? Does it reside in the now long-dead body of Pane herself? In the memories of those who attended the original event? In the relics and photographs that remain of this eventthe metal bed on which Pane laid over the lit candles; the series of images displayed in a grid of photographs by the Pompidou? Or, as our most common resource for learning about the past in our computer-literate society, Google search engine, suggests, does the truth of Panes work actually reside in the photographs, texts, and film documenting the now also past re-enactment by the much more internationally famous artist Marina Abramovic; (whose fame largely resides now in her capacity to reopen the question of historical meaning in performance art through these very re- enactments)? This entire discussion points to a difficult and recalcitrant problem with live art, and one that is brought to the fore precisely by the attempt through re-enactment to in some way secure the original (or even a new) authentic meaning for the piece. As this conundrum suggests, the re-enactment is not the event itself and, even more strikingly, is itself durational and always already gone.

Reiteration as the Presence that Can Never Be Full in/to Itself

Re- enactments, like the live in general, might seem to promise an escape from commodificationcertainly Abramovic; does not by all appearances aim primarily to promote the historical performance first and foremost as a commodity. But of course, as I have argued, that is what her re- enactments (and thus by extension the originals, through her) become, particularly as they circulate out from such a major art institution as the Guggenheim, and via the carefully choreographed professional photographs, film, and book that she produced in relation to Seven
Amelia Jones

28. The Pane piece, such as it now exists in the form of documents and the relic of the metal bed, is owned by the Pompidou.


Figure 8. A 2009 Google Images search of Pane Conditioning yields no images of the original (Gina Panes The Conditioning, 1973); most are of the 2005 re-enactment, with Abramovic; as Pane. (Screen grab by Amelia Jones) Easy Pieces. In fact, as I have suggested here, due to the very visibility it has gained through public relations and its various forms of documentation, Seven Easy Pieces, along with The Artist is Present, have become the most visible vehicles in the production of Abramovic; as (arguably) a marketing term, a brand name. Abramovic; herself has been very clear on how her work is to be bought and sold, indicating her awareness of the market and the importance of positioning her work in a specific way within its structures. Abramovic; has explicitly noted, in relation to the re- enactments of Seven Easy Pieces, that she gained permission from each artist and paid copyright fees where necessary in order to obtain the proper right to re-do the work.29 She told me in our 2007 interview: With my lawyer I made a statement that I would only make photographs of my own work and never of anyone elses, so that I wouldnt benefit financially if the original ideas were not mine. [I am] absolutely not [selling the photographs of myself performing other artists works]. And yet, in the May 2006 interview printed in the catalogue, she tells Spector that her work can be purchased by museums such as the Guggenheim: the museum [...] can buy the documentation, including video, photographs, and objectsand the permission to re-perform the piece in the future, with precise instructions made by the artists [...]. [A]rtists, in their lifetimes, must supply extremely strict instructions [to this end] (2007:25).

Impossibility of Presence

29. She also noted in my interview with her that Chris Burden, whose Trans-Fixed she hoped to re-enact, refused her permission and hence his piece is not one of the works referenced (in Jones forthcoming[a]). Burden has a slightly dierent memory of the situation, emphasizing the impossibility of retrieving the past in any nal way; he stated to me in an interview that when Abramovic; asked him if she could re-enact the work he said to her: You dont [legally or morally] need to ask me and you dont need my permission; you can do whatever you want, but now that you are asking me Im saying no because its absolutely meaningless for you to do that performance or it has no meaning. [For me, by redoing the work] It becomes a parody and I think stupid (Burden 2010:18).


Abramovic;s project thus raises crucial questions not just about the abstract aesthetic or cultural value of particular performance practices, or even of particular author-functions (in the Foucauldian sense), but about the economic and legal value ascribed to works of art and performance as attached to particular author-names.30 Far from romantically ensuring that the original act exists in some pure form, never becoming commodified, the re-enactment attenuates its temporality in the re-doing of it at a later time and so itself ends up channeled into the very same structures of capital that, in fact, made the original available historically (art galleries, books, magazines, art history discourse, etc.). As Sven Ltticken asks: Like other performances, re- enactments generate representations in the form of photos and videos. Is it the fate of the re-enactment to become an image? And are such representations just part of a spectacle that breeds passivity, or can they in some sense be performative, active? (2005:5). While the inevitability of repetition in the securing of a historical presence for art that takes place over time also seems to lead inexorably to the marketplace, perhaps it is not inevitable that it leads to the horrifying mind-numbing qualities of the capitalist spectacle as theorized in much Marxian postmodern theory from Guy Debords Society of the Spectacle in 1967 to the work of Jean Baudrillard in the 1970s and 1980s...and perhaps unfortunately echoed in the spectacle presented in The Artist is Present. Resisting the simplistic notion of any commodification as necessarily damaging to progressive political goals (including the goal of keeping key events in British history such as the 1984 miners strike in some way alive in British culture), younger-generation artists such as Jeremy Deller (born in 1966) have recognized and begun to negotiate the structures of capital and the related structures of repetition and reiteration that underlie any performance project articulated in relation to the discourses and institutions of the visual arts. Belgian artist Francis Als (born in 1959) has also shown a strong consciousness of issues of history and the role of the marketplace in staging live works, writing of his epic piece When Faith Moves Mountains (2002) that five hundred volunteers were supplied with shovels and asked to form a single line [ move] a sixteen-hundred foot long sand dune about four inches from its original position [near Lima, Peru]. Als continues after this description to note that in the aftermath of such live events, [w]e shall now leave the care of our story to oral tradition[...]. Only in its repetition and transmission is the work actualized (2002:1089). But the contradictions of this stance are evident as well. As art historian Grant Kester has noted of Alss practice, it is precisely in the circulation of the event-as-image before a global audience, as Als writes, that he is able to accrue the symbolic capital necessary to enhance his career as an artist (forthcoming). A similar point has been made about the work of Tino Sehgal, who is on record refusing to have any of his performative events (each of which is re-done any number of times by different actors in different, usually gallery, sites) officially documented in photographic or textual form; and yet, as some critics have pointed out, this refusal itself has become a marketable trope attached to Sehgal as author-name.31 Whether an original choreographed event per the Als or a deliberately re-enacted one per the works in Seven Easy Pieces, it is precisely this contradictory accrual of symbolic capital

30. Foucault elaborates the notion of the author-function in What Is an Author? (1969) to describe the way in which author names function to secure coherence in relation to a constellation of discourses and expressions attributed to this author (1977: see esp. 12427). 31. For a caustic and intelligent critical review of Sehgals practice see Mira Schor (2010). See also Caroline Bems more forgiving analysis of his work as, through repetition of similar pieces (without scores, documents, or receipts of any kind), activating the vicissitudes of liveness (2010). And for a critical comparison between Abramovic;s and Sehgals practices, see Caroline Joness Staged Presence (2010); see also Carrie Lambert-Beattys discussion of Abramovic;s MoMA piece in the same issue, Against Performance Art (2010). In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that Caroline (my sister) and I discussed my work on Abramovic;s practice early in 2010 before The Artist is Present had burst forth onto the scene; her essay innovates in her attention to the particularities of the global art market, her current research project.

Amelia Jones 36

by the artist through the live event (the assigning of value to that which, as ephemeral, supposedly cannot be commodified) that I have discussed above. As Kester argues of Alss magnificent and hyperbolic performative events, and as one might argue about Sehgal and Abramovic; as well, large-scale public performance events and re- enactments can and do participate in the marketplace. They are at the center of what business theorist Jonathan Schroeder has called the role of artists as brand managers, actively engaged in developing, nurturing, and promoting themselves as recognizable products in the competitive cultural sphere (2005:1292). Is there any way out of this circuit through which the live gets turned into capital? I have suggested that Dellers project, in its self-reflexive acknowledgment of the art world as a marketplace, at least proposes possible ways of navigating these structures without fully succumbing to the political evacuations of the full-blown spectacle, which reifies the live as artwork (whether in the MoMA atrium or elsewhere). A final comment on Abramovic;s recent work will clarify how I see her project sitting in this larger picture. The marketing dynamic surrounding Abramovic;s career was highly evident in the advertising and staging of the third key Abramovic; project of the last five years, Marina Abramovic; Presents at the University of Manchesters Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester 319 July 2009, produced as part of the Manchester International Festival and curated by Abramovic;.32 I did attend Marina Abramovic; Presents and also witnessed the public relaFigure 9. Marina Abramovic; conducting The Drill at Marina tions machinations leading up Abramovic ; Presents. Whitworth Art Gallery, July 2009. (Photo by to and following the event, as I Joel Chester-Fildes) lived in Manchester at the time and worked at the University (though I played no role in the planning of the event). Marina Abramovic; Presents took place over 16 evenings at the gallery. Each evening visitors, who were told in advance in no uncertain terms that they had to stay for the entire four-hour duration of the evening, were given white lab coats on entry.33 The program included a workshop run by Abramovic; herself for the first

32. The Whitworth website notes that the event was curated by Abramovic; and the Concept by Abramovic;, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Maria Balshaw, the latter being the director of the Whitworth (Whitworth Art Gallery 2009a). It is worth noting here that a fourth major re-enactment event dominated by Abramovic;s name took place in January 2010 at the Plymouth Arts Center, UK. Entitled The Pigs of Today are the Hams of Tomorrow, the event was organized with the Marina Abramovic; Institute for Preservation of Performance Art and the Performance Re-enactment Society (PRS; a UK-based collective). In the PRS portion of the event participants were invited to focus in on a particular moment or image from a memorable performance, and bring an object to recreate it at the event, in order for a series of new works to be produced through original performance photographs (Plymouth Arts Center 2009). Pointing to another conation between an event supposedly about performance histories and the author-name Abramovic;, the event was followed by the publication of a book, Marina Abramovic; and the Future of Performance Art, edited by Paula Orrell (2010). Interestingly, however, Abramovic; herself ended up missing the actual event and apparently appeared only via video conferencingmuch could be said about such virtual presence of the artist at an Abramovic; event. 33. I complained about this to my colleagues at the Whitworth who kindly told me, condentially, that they were legally required not to lock people inthat I could thus leave if I must. This secret information did not alleviate my sense of being strong-armed into experiencing in full a durational event whether I wanted to stay or


Impossibility of Presence

hour, rather alarmingly entitled The Drill, which relied heavily on setting up, in Abramovic;s terms, energy exchanges between and among audience membershaving us, for example, stare into each others eyes for five minutesand between herself and her audience.34 After The Drill, visitors were set free for the three subsequent hours to navigate around (and in some cases within) a series of site-specific performances in various parts of the Gallery by 13additional artists: Nikhail Chopra, Ivan Civic, Amanda Coogan, Marie Cool Fabio Balducci, Yingmei Duan, Eunhye Hwang, Jamie Isenstein, Terence Koh, Alastair MacLennan, Kira OReilly, Fedor Pavlov-Andreevich, Melati Suryodarmo, Nico Vascellari. Each of the 14 pieces (including The Drill ) was reiterated each night across the run of the show. While the artists were fully credited in more detailed publications on the work, the public relations for the exhibition (which included most notably large billboards and posters all over the city of Manchester, with smaller versions even in the womens toilets at the Whitworth!) featured a glamor ous portrait of Abramovic; holding a kind of mini-me, without the names of the other performers (as Abramovic; put it ruefully during the conference organized for the event (for which I did participate as a panelist), I am a good marketing figure). At this conference she also made the quite poignant point that her obsession with documentation and history is linked to her own background growing up in the former Yugoslavia: Figure 10. Marina Abramovic;, ME & ME, 2008. I am from communist background, we docImage used on advertising for Marina Abramovic; ument everything.35 This comment points Presents, Whitworth Art Gallery, July 2009. (Photo to a potentially strong connection between by Marco Anelli; courtesy Sean Kelly Gallery and the Abramovic;s particular views about hisMarina Abramovic;Archive) tory, documentationand surely about the marketplaceas informed by her experience growing up in a communist regime. I leave this point aside for scholars such as Branislav Jakovljevic who know more about conditions in the former Yugoslavia, which Abramovic; left in 1976 for Amsterdam, to address.36 But clearly the dominant 20th-century Euro-US model
not. The entire event felt coercive, though some of the performances were powerful and among the most inspiring interventions into a specic gallery setting (the Whitworth was completely cleared of all permanent collection items) that I have seen. 34. The feeling of this Drill for me was of a parody of the kind of brainwashing Americans imagine the Soviet government to have purveyed in the era of the iron curtain. There are possibly links between Abramovic;s method and her youth in Yugoslavia, with parents who had positions high up in Titos government; Branislav Jakovljevic, a Serbian performance studies scholar now working in the US, conrms that this link has explanatory value (2010). Michael Benson has noted Abramovic;s practice as expressing the last gasp of Titoism, in reference to the MoMA staging of the artists presence (2010). 35. Abramovic;s comments were made with self-deprecating humor at the Real Time/Real Documents symposium on 12 July 2009. Typical of galleries and museums today, the Whitworth has a bookshop which expanded this sense of the artists ubiquity by including vast arrays of postcard images reiterating this doubled Abramovic;, as well as shelves of books on the artist. Amelia Jones 36. In personal correspondence with Jakovljevic over the summer of 2010 he shared some of this knowledge and his thoughts on the specics of the position and signicance of Abramovic;s work in Yugoslavian and, later, Serbian cultural histories.


of avantgardism, which requires a skeptical or critical view towards the market and/or high art institutions epitomized by MoMA, is not very helpful in understanding what Abramovic; is doing, or where she seems to be coming from, in her recent practice. Most interestingly for my arguments here, a few weeks after the July 2009 event at the Whitworth, Marina Abramovic; Presents was re-enacted in the gallery through a series of large video projections (with Abramovic;s installed at the center, and in the largest format), called (ironically) Real Time/Real Documents.37 The labeling of this exhibition of documentary evidence as assertively real while also, simultaneously, noting the status of the real time performances as now being reiterated as fixed documents, surfaces some of the contradictions involved in staging and restaging such a project. In this way the organizers of Real Time, curator Mary Griffiths and gallery director Maria Balshaw, who are colleagues of mine and were thus forced at various points to engage with my cranky interrogations, at least ironicized the shows foregrounding of Abramovic; and her claims for presence, by insisting that the re-enactive documents and the video footage themselves be labeled oxymoronically as Figure 11. Real Time/Real Documents, follow-up installation to Marina real.38 Abramovic; Presents. Whitworth Art Gallery, August-September 2009. Real Time/Real Documents (Photograph by Tony Richards) crystallizes the importance of re-enacting and documenting past works, but also the paradox of doing so while still relying on discourses of authenticity and presence. Finally, and perhaps most worryingly, the Real Time project and the entire discourse and public relations surrounding the Marina Abramovic; Presents event points to the crucial political stakes in the re-staging of performance events. Even in Real Time (organized by a

37. Real Time/Real Documents was installed in the galleries at the Whitworth from 1 August to 6 September 2009. The footage of Abramovic;s The Drill clearly dominated the exhibition space. The only other artists project that was projected in digital video on an equal scale was that of Nikhil Chopra; the rest of the projects were displayed on modestly sized monitors on the gallery walls. 38. The Real Time show was advertised as follows: The works performed as part of the epic exhibition of performance art, Marina Abramovic; Presents [...] have been video recorded in real time (Whitworth 2009b). The problem with this conceit is that it masks the fact that the videos played in the show are fully edited from footage made by more than one camerathe real time element is faked (or, rather, an illusion of immediacy and the ow of time is produced through editing and camera placement). What, after all, is real time as displayed on videotape? It should be noted that I played a role in Real Time in the embarrassing form of appearing on an additional video monitor in the same exhibition space; the monitor was showing a tape of the conference in which I participated during the run of the event, with Abramovic;, Adrian Heatheld, and co-organizers of Marina Abramovic; Presents, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Maria Balshaw, on 17 July 2009. Watching myself staged in the same space as the beautifully edited and crafted footage of the performances was not a nice feeling, but did remind me of the elusiveness of ones utterances, which are always startling to hear (apparently coming out of ones own mouth, even worse) at even a slight temporal remove.


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curator highly conscious of issues of exclusionnot the least because of my constant prickly interventions!) all of the documentation of the 13 other performance projects is subordinated to Abramovic;s presence via the large-scale film of The Drill. Highly memorable pieces by major performance artistssuch as Kira OReillys magnificent twist on the nude descending the staircase, in which, with incredible restraint and muscular control, her naked body fell excruciatingly slowly down a dramatic Victorian staircase at the Whitworth over the three hour duration of the show each eveningare largely lost to history (it is difficult even to find information on the internet on the individual projects other than The Drill, and there is unfortunately no catalogue documenting the exhibition).

Reclaiming Histories: to put the performance into the museum

Expanding on her ambitious founding of the Marina Abramovic; Performance Center in upstate New York and her recent re-enactment efforts, Abramovic; has thus recently noted: I really feel that I have almost the historical function to put the performance into the museum and then other people after me can really understand performance in mainstream art (in Abramovic; and Anderson 2010).39 Reinforcing this idea of Abramovic; as the genius of performance art, and the key figure responsible for its history, one breathless review thus claims: Forcing herself to endure beatings, starvation, and psychological violence, [Abramovic;...] has defined the role of the performance artist as that of the daredevil performer, the one who risks death and emerges intact for the benefit of her viewers (Goldstein and Russeth 2010). While one can certainly appreciate Abramovic;s seemingly heartfelt desire to play a key role in historicizing performance, as the reviewers comment reveals overall such hyperbolewhich flies in the face of, in fact, the very messiness and resistances complex performance practices such as Abramovic;s, at their best, provokeweakens rather than strengthens our understanding of live arts effects. The reviewers hyperbole (sadly typical in the case of writing about Abramovic;s work), draws uncritically on outdated language from modernist aesthetics, claiming a kind of transcendence for the creating artist as genius: as such, it adds absolutely nothing to our understanding of how performance actually functions either in the moment of its liveness or as (inevitably and instantaneously) historically experienced. As undeniably important to the history of performance art as Abramovic;s practice is, ambitious claims for her practice (by herself and others) end up, ironically, freezing her work in time. Arguably, the spontaneity and durationality of the best of the works she re-enacts is mitigated through the continual staging and restaging of Abramovic; by Abramovic; and others. The power of the works she redoes initially came from the various ways in which they surprised, confused, pressured, or otherwise destabilized gallery visitors or (in the case of pieces done in public) unsuspecting members of the general public. All such potential to provoke a productive feeling of unease in viewers is, of course, lost in re- enactments such as those of Seven Easy Pieces, which are accompanied (if not, largely driven) by large-scale public relations campaigns proclaiming their own importance, and which themselves take place in large and fully sanctioned art institutions and are conceived and performed for representational apparatuses such as catalogues, photographs, and films. Returning explicitly to Jonathan Schroeders identification of a shift towards the role of artists as brand managers (noted above) the stakes of forming a respectful but forceful critique

39. For more examples of the hagiographic press, see Andrew Goldstein and Andrew Russeth, Present and Past (2010); and James Westcott, Artist Marina Abramovic;: I have to be Like a Mountain (2010). Amelia Jones

Figure 12. (facing page) Documentation of Kira OReilly, Stair Falling, 2009. Part of Marina Abramovic; Presents. Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester International Festival, 2009. (Photograph by Marco Anelli)



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of this increasingly monolithic construction of Abramovic; along the lines of the artistic genius capable of delivering the true history of past performance events are, in my view, clearnot as a commentary on Abramovic; herself, clearly an important (if contested) figure, but as a critique of the tendency noted in this essay of the art world and broader popular media to draw on a notion of performance as delivering presence precisely by freezing it as a commodity (often via the figure of the artist, as here), and a tendency to gloss over or ignore this blatant contradiction in what is going on. The stakes of this critique should be pretty clear, but one last example will further support my arguments: just before the MoMA retrospective opened, the New York Times Home and Garden section featured a lifestyle story about Abramovic; and her two high-end living spaces (a large loft in Manhattan and a country home in upstate New York). The final picture of the photographic slide show (the usual array of images of impeccable modernist spaces) displays Abramovic; herself posing coyly in a black mini-dress in the chic kitchen doorway of her loft (Louie 2010). The fact that this story debuted before the opening of the retrospective indicates a public relations project in full force constructing Abramovic; (certainly with her participation) as both genius and celebrityand thus as brand manager, who in turn serves the museums desire to market performance as the latest thing in modernisms long teleologyin a decidedly non-ironic way. Still, as this analysis I hope has shown, the performative re-enactment, when critically engaged, can remind us not only how closely all cultural expressions are tied to the marketplace in late capitalism, but of questions of history in relation to performance art that are extremely important politically. This interrogation points to broader questions of how histories get written, and why we continue (in the supposedly postmodern age of the 21st century) to fall back on mystifying language of presence and energy exchange. The following questions are raised by looking at the current rage for re- enactments, and the work of Abramovic;, more critically: What performances get talked and written about in the culture as a whole? Which get written into history and in what ways? How and why do historians write certain things into the present, exclude others, and continually fix and re-fix the meaning of objects as well as events in order to bring them into a continually refreshed present? And how does that hallowed present (the guarantor of artistic presence) inevitably include and even depend on the circuits of the marketplace, which itself makes and informs histories as we know them? History and even memory are themselves re- enactments, scriptings of the past (based on relics, documents, remainders) into the (always already over) present. Crucially, re- enactments remind us that all present experience, including (as Kant recognized) the apprehension of things called art or acts called performance, is only ever available through subjective perception, itself based on memory and previous experience (we could not apprehend or make sense of the world around us without relating it to past experience). All eventsthose we participated in as well as those that occurred before we were borncan only ever be subjectively enacted (in the first place) and subjectively retrieved later. There is no singular, authentic original act we can refer to in order to confirm the true meaning of an event, an act, a performance, or a bodypresented in the art realm or otherwise. We are always already in the now, which can never be grasped, and yet all experience is mediated, representational.
Historian R.G. Collingwood famously argued 50 years ago that history itself is always re-enactment. For Collingwood, history can only be known through the performative identication of the historian with his subjects: How does the historian discern the thoughts which he is trying to discover? [...] There is only one way in which it can be done: by re-thinking them in his own mind (1956:215; see also Dray 1995). And, as Robert Blackson puts it in Once More...With Feeling: Reenactment in Contemporary Culture, reecting on false memory experiments in relation to artistic re- enactments, memory, like history, is a creative act (2007:31).

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While often posed as confirming the truth of the past, paradoxically re- enactments activate the now as always already over, the present always already turning into the futureand both continually escaping human knowledge. Politically, the best we can do might be at least to acknowledge this paradox self-reflexively rather than covering it over by clinging to an outdated, modernist notion of presence that relies on a mystified notion of artistic intentionality and that ultimately relies on and reinforces the circuits of capital.
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